What Is The Biggest Challenge Tennis Coaches Face These Days When Working with Kids?

What is the biggest challenge tennis coaches face these days when working with kids?

For many it seems tennis parents are the ‘problem’ in kids sport.

But are they really? Could it maybe be, that in a lot of cases, actually the tennis coaches who could be more at fault?

I totally agree with most of you that there are some ‘crazy’ parents out there, and like you, have to work with, and deal with those same kind.


But something I find that contributes to a better way in coaching is when these 4 things are in place:

  1. consistent communication,
  2. proper explanation of the journey in regards to the development of child,
  3. your set standards and boundaries as a tennis coach,
  4. and where the parents place and position is in it all.

When this is clear, believe me, it makes for a healthier and more enjoyable experience for all.

All to often, I will hear tennis coaches complain about parents, but then when I ask them if they have first seen it from the parents angle, explained what you expect as a coach, spent some time with them and got to know them? – The answer is usually a muffled ‘no’.

Remember, that in coaching it’s not always about the X & O’s, but about people. I like to call it the ‘P & O’s’ (People and Simplicity).

Not just the athlete, but the parents and others involved in the child’s sports development. Success in the training and sports development of a child comes in 3 vital area’s – Harmony and support from the Parent and Coach.

It might not solve all the problems, but better communication and people skills go a long way to helping things.

Just food for thought.

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What Should a Tennis Parent Tell Their Child Before They Go on the Tennis Court?

What should a tennis parent tell their child before they go on the tennis court? Only this: “have fun”.

Ray Brown 150x150 - What Should a Tennis Parent Tell Their Child Before They Go on the Tennis Court?

Ray Brown

The reason is that a child has a way of misinterpreting almost anything a parent says. For example, if they say “good luck”, the child could think: They do not think I am good enough to win without luck.

If the tennis parent says “play your best”, the child can read this as: They think I do not play my best so I had better do something extra to win their approval. This can lead to a rapid series of unforced errors and a quick loss because the child is so stressed about losing their parent’s approval.

Kids can misinterpret anything a parent says to their demise. This is because the child is completely dependent on the parent for they safety, security and well being and so may be constantly on the lookout for any indication that this may be taken away.

It is irrational, generally, but kids do not think like adults and so the parent must chose their words carefully if they are to inspire their child to play their best rather than detract from it. “Have fun” is your best and safest comment as a parent.

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Command and Cooperative Coaching Styles in Tennis

John Cavill

John Cavill

Effective coaching doesn’t come in one form as every player is different and depending on the students and dynamics within the group. The coach has to select the best way to communicate to achieve the best results.

It is very often that coaches come to a session with an idea as to what they want to teach, but how can a coach offer a quality session if giving the players what they want and what they need are conflicting?

There are two clearly defined styles of the effective coaching, command style and cooperative

In the command style, the coach dictates what is going to be done, how to do it, and gives the solutions to any problems.

In the cooperative style, the coach presents the material in ways to get the student’s agreement, sets-up situations for problem-solving, and asks questions so students can be involved in discovering solutions.

The coach will tend to choose a style based on their personality.

A competent coach will be able to use both styles to adapt to the needs of the student, and to best fit the particular situation. Below is a better look at the different styles in more detail.


This style of coaching is when the coach leads the session and is the boss of everyone. Their role is to get the students to perform correctly by getting them to do what the coach says.
When the coach gives feedback it is always in the form of instructions (e.g. “Do this, don’t do that”, etc.) The student has little power or input in the learning process.

Advantages of command style coaching:

  • Potentially this style may get students initially to respond quicker, especially if they are new to the game and have lack of understand or knowledge of the game.
  • If a player is not concentrating then using the command style coaching may help them get back on track.
  • The coach may be able to minimize management time with younger children by simply telling them what to do and when.


  • Most players will only make short-term changes with this approach. For example, they may do something the coach suggested in the lesson, but not understand it (or believe it) enough to practice or use it on their own.
  • When a player has to adhere to the coaches demands all the time, this could damage a player’s confidence and self-sufficiency. The player could develop an over dependency on the coach to make the decisions for them rather than developing their own skills for problem solving and decision making.
  • Through this approach it is easy for the coach to become negative. They may not consider the learning process and get frustrated when a player can’t perform what they have been asked to do.


This style of coaching allows the coach and player to share in the learning process thus making it a team effort. The coach must create a learning environment where tactics and techniques are presented as problems to be solved to improve consistency or win more points. With the use of effective questioning, the players will discover and experience solutions. On finding these solutions, there are agreed objectives on what to do, and how to do it.


  • By having the players involved in their own learning process, their motivation is increased which also increases the chance that long-term changes will be made.
  • A closer relationship is created between coach and players which increases the amount, and quality, of information exchanged.
  • Players are less intimidated to explore ideas and ask questions.
  • There is a big increase in the amount of feedback from the player so they are more aware of how to improve the learning environment and individualize it.
  • With the use of questions, this approach helps the player to solve their problems and be less dependent on the coach. This is essential for being a tennis player as you are not allow to be coached during a match.


  • This method requires more expertise on the coach’s part because the process is much more interactive (e.g. rather than just going through the ‘steps’ of a stroke).
  • Some questions asked by the coach may be too broad and lead the player into lengthy, unnecessary discussion.
  • The coaches may talk too much and minimise the amount of time the player has to the practical work on court.
  • This method could be seen as having no structure or control, and students can do anything they want and rule the court (even though a lesson is fully ‘learner-centred,’ it should still be, ‘coach driven’).

More times than not, coaches’ use the command style approach as it is a lot easier but when asked to use the cooperative style, one of the major responses is that it takes too much time.

This isn’t necessarily true as long as the coach does things correctly. Learning how to play the game of tennis is the goal and not having robot players mimicking the ‘correct’ movements.

Problem solving, decision-making and tactical thinking are a priority in tennis and these are the skills we should be promoting within the sport.

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A Daily Mental Practice That Might Just Work

A Daily Mental Practice That Might Just Work

“Focus”…”Concentrate”….”Stay in the present”… these are all words and terms we use when coaching players from time to time. We have difficulty understanding why they get distracted and lose focus during various stages of their matches or in practice.

Coaching Pic

David Mullins and his players

We discuss the importance of the mental practice within coaching circles and seem to agree that our players’ performances could be greatly enhanced if they had the ability to more effectively handle pressure, stay present and find ways to manage their emotions.

Generally, we only talk about the need to develop these skills with our students after a close loss or a poor performance, then we go straight back to the practice court and work on how they are hitting the ball.

We send them to the gym to get stronger physically and maybe even a nutritionist to come up with a daily food plan but how many tennis players have a daily mental routine or practice? Not just a plan before or during matches but an actual daily practice to strengthen their minds and emotions.

Over the years my players have worked with various sports psychologists at different points of time, giving great advice and solutions and absolutely wanting the best for my players. However, I have seen very little follow through from my players in how they put these suggestions into practice.

This occurs because the coach and psychologist don’t often work together and both parties are missing valuable information to hold the athlete accountable for implementing these suggestions.

Secondly, if the athlete does not see instant success, or the practice/match becomes too challenging they are likely to abandon it and not give it the time it needs to make an impact on their game. In conjunction with this the coach sees all these other areas in their game that they feel more comfortable coaching.

These adjustments are  tangible to their eye, so they go back to coaching the technical aspects of the serve believing that if they tweak their serve that this will have the most impact on helping their serve hold up under pressure.

There has to be a better way, right? Well there is, it is called mental practice of meditation or “mindfulness training” (if the word meditation conjures up images of yogis and hippies sitting in the lotus position for you!). The majority of serious tennis players don’t have the ability to focus or handle the mental solutions given to them because their whole mental game is built upon an extremely fragile foundation, if they even have any foundation to start with!

It is like trying to get a beginner to learn how to hit topspin before they have even learned how to make contact with the ball. As coaches I believe we are skipping too many stages in the mental and physical development of our players. We have to take a step back and retrain older players and start helping our younger players by placing more emphasis on these areas at least as much as we place on developing their technical skill.

A daily mental practice of meditation and visualization should be part of every serious young athlete’s daily routine. The scientifically proven benefits of meditation are vast for all areas of our lives but it is particularly useful to athletes as it can help them become more self-aware of their thoughts and actions.

They will learn to slow down, develop more presence and get in touch with their breathing. They become cognizant of their anxiety levels and have some real tools and practices to help them come back to the present during those pressure filled moments in their matches. These are tools they can then use for the rest of their lives and will probably be far more useful to them later in life than a wicked slice backhand!

So how do we get our players to sit down and meditate? I recommend starting with one of the meditation apps such as Head Space to get them familiar with the basics of meditation. As they become more in tune with themselves they will be able to decide if they prefer guided meditations, mantras or just sitting in silence and following their breath.

The object is to get them started and comfortable with the practice. Maybe you have them end each practice with 5 minutes of meditation or send them a reminder text to take a few minutes to themselves each day.

There is plenty of information out there now dispelling the myths surrounding meditation and how we can all benefit from a consistent practice. Once a daily meditation practice has been established for your athlete then they will have the foundation to help with visualization techniques and solutions for handling pressure.

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The Future of Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, and American Men’s Tennis

I asked a tennis coach regarding the future of Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, and why American men’s tennis continues to fall down. Here are the answers.

What do you think about Roger Federer’s play? His results in this year are excellent. Federer just defeated Juan Martin del Potro 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 at Swiss Indoors Basel in
Basel, Switzerland
. Is Federer capable to return to #1? If he asked you about assistance with his game, what would you tell him?

Federer Facebook - The Future of Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, and American Men's Tennis

The Big four are now the Big two again – Nadal and Federer. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will come back to the tour in 2018, and Roger Federer just isn’t as accurate as he used to be. I doubt his preparation has changed. I used to think that he could make one last stand, as Pete Sampras did, but Sampras had the serve, which is the last shot to go away. Roger Federer had the ability to be more dominant at net, where age is not a big factor, but he chose to rely on his forehand. Now I think it’s too late to return to #1.

Rafael Nadal will end 2017 as world number one after a second-round win over Hyeon Chung at the Paris Masters. Just one year ago many tennis specialists were doubt at all about his ability to come back to the tour after serious health problems. What is the Nadal’s secret?

Rafael Nadal is now at the age when the greatest defensive players fall apart. When they do, it is almost all at once. I’m still waiting and enjoying the ride.

The 30-year-old Maria Sharapova  won her first WTA title since 2015, outlasting Aryna Sabalenka in two tough sets to claim the Tianjin Open. Recently she said that her goal is goal is to keep winning matches, obviously to keep improving. Can she return on #1 in the world?

If you can hit as well as Maria Sharapova you really don’t need a serve, so her right shoulder shouldn’t be a real hindrance unless she runs into Serena Williams or Victoria Azarenka. But both of them out of the tour now. I think Sharapova has a good chance to reach top 5 in the next year and even become #1 again.

American men’s tennis is in a deep crisis. USTA spends many millions dollars annually on the development of new American tennis stars. Why its results are so disappointed?

The USTA is spending millions of dollars supporting the USTA, as would be expected of any bureaucracy. When a player gets good, they lure him or her away from the program that made him or her good with financial incentives, wild cards, and pipe dreams of glory. It’s like cocaine and hard to resist. It’s also changing a winning game; something every coach knows should never be done.

There should be more tournaments with bigger draws. The training centers should be available to any player of sufficient proficiency, and his or her coach. And students should be encouraged to attend a real school. Most junior tennis players will not be among the top 200 or so who can make a better living playing tennis than by teaching tennis, and they have the rest of their lives to be uneducated.

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