I decided to publish this reply from Mike Erwin as a separate post. Join the discussion and express your opinions.
I disagree with the idea that a great tennis player automatically makes a great coach. I do believe those ex-players have something to give back but playing alone doesn’t qualify them to develop the next generation of American tennis players. I have worked with many former touring pro’s who were bad coaches/teachers. They got into coaching for the money, attention an ex-pro gets, and sadly for some because it’s all they can do. I have also witnessed many instances where the pro is trying to teach the student to play the way they played 20 years ago. The saying goes “experience is the best teacher’ not “the teacher with the experience is best’. I have also worked with Pro’s who were top players who are now top notch teachers and coaches. They use their experience playing to motivate their students but don’t promise to turn all of their students into the next superstar. I am currently partnering with a coach who was top 5 in the world in the juniors, top ranked in college, and who toured professionally. He was a player. He is now a teacher of the game. Some of the best stories he has shared with me are from when he was 5 and crying because his dad wouldn’t let him hit with the big kids and of times he battled against other young players who turned out to be professional players. Those things have shaped his thinking about the game and are great for the kids to hear but they hold no promise other than that every player can enjoy the journey.
As far as your question goes: How to create an ideal tennis academy? The answer is you won’t. The bigger question is can the collective “We” come up with a way to produce more Champions? Before I give my answer to that I’d like to give credit to the USTA for what they are doing to answer that big question. The USTA is giving players/parents more opportunities than ever. Players have chances to train with other players and parents are getting access to experts in coaching, sports psychology, and sports science. Those things are happening at the sectional level regularly at no cost to the families. USTA is also providing coaches and players with clear parameters for technique, footwork, and tactical development. The USTA gets a lot of grief but I must say that the clarity of their message and the delivery is much better than anything I’ve seen from either teaching pro organization. I have a few ideas for aiding in the development of future champions:
-Train and certify tennis coaches using the USTA parameters. Give the coaches the information so they can teach the players the right things.
-Require competition. The ratio of practice (lessons) to play in tennis is severely out of whack. I tell my players that you practice to play better so play!
-Instill discipline and self reliance. Coaches work with the player NOT for the player. Parents, STOP carrying their bag and fetching everything they need. When your player or son/daughter is playing a tennis match and looks at you like they have no idea what do it’s because you’ve done everything for them.
The things I mentioned above are simple and have been said before. They don’t come with a guarantee of professional tennis success. What they would bring is a culture change. We would have generations of tennis players with technique that would allow them to develop to a game style based on them personally and not based on limited technical ability. Our players would compete better. A lot can be said about strategy, but it still comes down to making more balls and winning more points than your opponent. You learn to compete by playing. Last and most important we would develop excellent people. Tennis is a great training ground for the real world. NONE of us can guarantee Grand Slam success, but we can do a great job and definitely enjoy the ride.