I thought it may be interesting to share an enlightening conversation I had with a 14 year old female tennis player I train recently. The details may not be 100% accurate but hopefully the essence of it will come across. It just made me reflect that sometimes some of the most revealing things come out in these seemingly casual exchanges. We had just finished a session. On this occasion it had been an on-court movement session. It had been a productive session, looking to work on some specific movement patterns and to improve the efficiency of movement and we were walking back from the courts.
The player commented that she thought that I had been really motivated and she could see that I was working hard to come up with ideas that would benefit her. We talked about how some of the ideas may work and some may need refining but that's fine! The intention, however, was always to try to develop her.
She commented further that she really didn't like it when a coach (tennis or S&C) is clearly not engaged in the session and doesn't appear to really care about improving the player and we dug a little deeper into this. Many of her observations were incredibly astute. I have recently completed my Master Tennis Performance Specialist (MTPS) with the International Tennis Performance Association (ITPA), and the player said that she felt she could see a difference in me since I had done this. I said that I had enjoyed the course, had taken lots of ideas from it and agreed that I had developed as a coach as a result.
It was a very open and honest discussion and I thought it was very interesting. The key points for me were:
- Having an open and honest relationship with players is so important. She felt able to comment to me in this way and I was open to receiving the comments.
- Whether we want to believe it or not, players (of all ages) pick up on things. They can tell if we are engaged as coaches. We say so much through our non-verbal communication.
- Further to the above, if you are not engaged and looking to develop the players and people we work with, perhaps it's not the profession for you!
- Players will be receptive to ideas if they appreciate the intention behind them.
- At whatever stage, it is vital as coaches that we continue to learn and develop ourselves. I wasn't necessarily aware that I was 'different' after the MTPS, but I was clearly transmitting something unconsciously! To keep learning new ideas keeps things fresh and offers up options to help each player we work with.
Dom is Head of Athlete Development at Halton Tennis Centre in the UK, where he works with players of all ages.
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