LET'S START OVER

Okay Millennials, Snow flakers, and up and coming Gen Z’ers, Linksters or whatever else they are calling you these days. I am referring to those of you who are entering into adulthood, and more specifically, those entering college campuses these next few years. We coaches are starting to accept the fact that you are not going to change or meet our long-established expectations and norms. Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s us?

  Beautiful Snowflakes...

Beautiful Snowflakes...

We are taking a hard look at ourselves, our relationships with our players and starting to do the difficult, painful work of reflection and change. We are craving information to learn more about your generation, so that we can better understand how we might best work together going forward. We are going to lectures from experts that are focused upon your generation’s thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, your preferred communication styles and looking at the influences in your life that have brought you to your current mindset. We are reading books to better educate ourselves on what approaches might actually be impactful in helping US get the most out of YOU. We are lowering our expectations in many areas, and trying to meet you where you are at. We are no longer going to bang our heads against the wall, complain about your lack of understanding, ability to handle criticism and your low levels of resiliency. Instead, we are going to regroup, start a fresh and work towards a more enjoyable, sustainable relationship with you all.

However, we can only go so far. What are you willing to do to try and understand our generation? What are you going to do to better educate yourself on what the older generation of coaches are going to expect from you? How are you preparing yourself for your college experience with coaches and professors? Are we really supposed to give you a pass for everything because you were rewarded with a medal every time you sneezed, or soothed with an iPad when you started to get a little antsy?

It is widely recognized that every new generation brings about a higher level of tolerance for other people, but does that progressiveness extend to older generations, or is it based solely on class, religion, race and sexual orientation? Will you take the time to bring this same level of broadmindedness to understanding older generations, or will you just write them off every time you disagree with their decisions or feedback? Yes, we are the adults, we should know better, and many of those that have invested their lives in the coaching profession have done so to have a positive influence on future generations. It is their job to take the lead on bridging the generational gap but they also don’t want to lower their expectations too much, or stray too far from their coaching philosophy. If they do this, they will come across as phonies, and may lose their connection with why they are coaching in the first place. I assure you, you don’t want that. You will spot the phonies a mile away, and will have a hard time buying into their message, even if they are “fun” and allow you to stay in your comfort zone. You may not be aware of this just yet, but I do believe you want those that are coaching you to be authentic, honest and demanding. Despite your need for instant gratification, history shows that looking towards the long term is the safer bet, and that some short-term pain will lead to long term gains.

Let me try to explain some things from a Generation X coach’s perspective, which will be the generation that currently assumes most head coaching positions. Believe me, we are not nearly as tough as the generations preceding us. We did not experience war, major depressions, life without electricity, no indoor plumbing and many other daily scenarios which we can’t possibly comprehend. Our generation have plenty of our own issues and have been accused of being quite self-obsessed ourselves. We have lived in an age of technology and convenience too, we just didn’t spend the majority of our free time engaging in these technologies. We were provided a lot more freedom and independence which allowed us to fail consistently, and forced us to figure out things for ourselves. When it came to our tennis, we were mostly responsible for organizing our own practices with one another and had very little supervision. We did not have all the latest and greatest development information at our fingertips, and Facebook feeds of drills and strength exercises we should be doing. Our parents took an interest in our tennis and supported us a great deal, but they left a lot up to us to figure out, and for the most part we just got on with it. Based on our upbringings and experiences, we are going to be scratching our heads when we see you do the following:

·      Getting to the tennis courts and having to wait for the coach to start warming-up

·      Assuming that all criticism is an attack on your soul

·      Believing that every difficult experience you face is the end of the world

·      Focusing on what you don’t have instead of what you do have

·      Setting big, hairy, audacious goals but doing little to actually pursue them

·      Needing Instagram posts to inspire action in you

·      Quitting at the first sign of adversity

·      Blaming others every time you make a mistake

Perhaps we might find a productive middle ground if you meet us half-way and understand that we are different from you. Understand that we only believe we are doing our job well if we are pushing you out of your comfort zones in many areas of your life. Understand that we have a very good sense of what it will take for you to improve as a tennis player, and as a person, but that you are not always going to like it, nor should you like it.  We hope throughout your college years that when things get arduous, you learn that these are opportunities for you to grow, and ask some questions of yourself, rather than looking for an escape hatch.

As coaches start to lower their expectations around your ability to handle criticism and your levels of self-awareness, you will do well to lower your expectations around how much “fun” you are going to have every day during your collegiate career. You should also lower your expectation on how the coach is somehow a perfect person and is going to get every decision right, and handle every challenging scenario that arises with great diplomacy. Have an understanding that the coach is usually operating and making decisions based on a lot more information than you might be privy to at the time. That they are looking at issues that arise from many different angles where you might be seeing it through a narrow lens. Despite this, they will still make mistakes in their efforts to help you, and your team, accomplish all your goals.

In order for any relationship to work, both sides must be invested in the relationship and willing to make compromises. The player-coach relationship is no different. Yes, your relationship with your coach might be strained from time to time, this is normal in any relationship. Don’t be surprised when such disputes occur, and have the courage to discuss them face to face with your coach rather than behind their back.

You can’t just take from your coach at all times and never invest in who they are as a person, or your relationship with them.

A SIMPLE CURE

I had to retire from the finals of the Irish Junior National Championship Finals when I was 18. This was a huge deal to me at the time, and it should have been the impetus for some changes in my approach to the care of my body. The reason I had to retire was that for the first time in my young tennis career I experienced a significant injury. The culprit was the lower right side of my back, and it felt like a debilitating injury. I could not even put my socks on the morning of the final, never mind try to run around a tennis court!

GIVE ME A BREAK

Now that I am no longer coaching on a regular basis I am not around competitive tennis tournaments as much as I once was. However, in recent weeks I spent a significant portion of my days viewing a men’s and ladies futures event, a Junior National Championship and competed in a Men’s Open money tournament myself. I observed a lot of really good tennis but also some ludicrous behavior that does little to help these players or the sport of tennis. There appear to be certain behaviors that are embedded in our consciousness and culture at  high level junior, college and professional tennis in every part of the world, that we don’t seem to question, and accept as the norm despite there absurdity. I would love to say I wasn’t guilty of conforming to many of these cultural norms, but I will hold my hand up and say I was every bit as ridiculous at times. Here are a few examples:

Tennis Parent Question

QUESTION: “Hi!! I m a mother of a 13 year old boy and a 10 year old girl. Both my kids play tennis. My son is really struggling to win matches and losing to players he used to beat a few months back. In the fear of losing a match he doesn’t even give his best on the court. He is lacking courage to play big. He really loves the game and is willing to do anything to get better. But how do I make him more stronger mentally. Is it important to make him play
more matches to get over his fear??”

DOES ANYONE REALLY KNOW HOW TO PRODUCE A CHAMPION

Did Erik Spoelstra suddenly become a worse basketball coach when Lebron James left the Miami Heat? Was Bill Belichick a bad coach when he got fired from the Cleveland Browns, and will he have the same success after Tom Brady retires? Would Phil Jackson have won 11 NBA titles if he was the coach at the Minnesota Timberwolves or was his timing just impeccable?  Is Boris Becker responsible for Novak Djokovic’s recent domination, or would John Smith be having the same impact on Novak’s game? These are just a few examples of why I am a little dubious about how much impact a coach really has over elite athletes and who is truly responsible for athletic success at the highest levels. It obviously depends on the sport but in most sports I just don’t believe it matters as much as we seem to think.

HOW TO RAISE A HAPPY ATHLETE

You know the scene: you are standing a few feet away from that “crazy” parent yelling at the referee, cheering wildly any time their child touches the ball, wins a point or hits a good shot depending on the sport. You think to yourself how “nutty” that parent is acting and you even feel bad for their kid. You thank the heavens that you don’t act or behave in a manner that could embarrass yourself or your child. However, you may unintentionally be acting in a similar fashion to that crazy parent, just in a more subtle and less obvious way. If this is the case then you are most likely impacting your child’s love for sport participation and, more importantly, you may be indirectly hurting your relationship with him or her for years to come.

Why My Roommate DID NOT Fail as a Tennis Player

A few months ago, I explained some of the reasons as to why I failed as a professional tennis player. This time, I want to discuss how one of my college teammates and roommates made it as a professional tennis player. His name is Peter Luczak and he reached number 64 on the ATP world rankings, beating several highly ranked players and reaching the 3rd round of the Australian Open twice. Many of you may not have heard of Peter, but to give you some context, if he was one of the world’s top 100 soccer players, he would be playing for Barcelona or Juventus. If he was the 64th richest person in the world, he would have a net worth of over $15 billion. He was at the pinnacle of one of the top 5 sports in the world!  

STOP THE MADNESS

There is this kid I know who is a talented soccer player. He trains twice per week with his club, two hours at a time. On the weekend, he and his teammates get to the grounds an hour early to prepare for their league or cup match, and sometimes they may have up to four games over a two-day period.  All the players are very technically sound and understand how the game should be played. The team has three coaches and they trawl the sidelines during the games criticizing, correcting, reinforcing good plays, congratulating successful and unsuccessful attempts, but they all appear to be a little on edge throughout the duration of the match.

Everything is Amazing and No-one is Happy

What I find troubling is that a high percentage of collegiate tennis players are quite unhappy with their student-athlete experience. They get to their college campus full of excitement, a little scared and a lot clueless. They have been told that their college days will be the best days of their lives, but fail to understand that they can only be the best days of their lives if they are willing to go through some adversity. It seems to me that nobody wants to explain why college can be some of the best years of your life.

WHY I FAILED AS A TENNIS PLAYER

anuary, 2003: I’m sitting on a Cliffside, overlooking the east coast of Australia, contemplating my future as a tennis player. I just battled through four rounds of qualifying to make it to the first round of a futures event. Today, I was up a set, 5-4 40-0 and lost in three sets against the 4th seed. My elbow is throbbing, my back is bothering me and my first round losers paycheck will only cover two nights of hotel bills. Is this really worth it??

TALK, Talk, talk....

I recently heard a statistic claiming that roughly 70% of what Donald Trump presented to the American population during his presidential campaign, was, in fact, false. There is a lot of debate about what President Trump truly believes and what he just put out there to grab headlines in his bid to win the election.

This serves as a reminder that we are all guilty at times of some delusional dialogue about ourselves and our goals. Throughout my years of collegiate coaching, I listened to many bold statements from players, and I learned to become increasingly skeptical when I would hear these lines from recruits or players on my team.

The Three Neutral Phases

Unless you have a huge first serve or a blistering return of serve, your success as a tennis player is often going to be determined by the quality (pace & depth) of your neutral ball.

To me, a neutral ball is one that is not an obvious offensive position where you are equipped to end the point with a winner or even force your opponent into an error. It is also not a ball that puts you on flat-out defence where you are scrambling just to get the ball back in the court. A neutral ball is typically one that is just continuing the point without much drama. However, I think the ability to understand what phase of neutrality you are in will often determine your success as a tennis player.

"Hollywood Coaches"

We generally have a terrible tendency as coaches to coach in the same manner in which we were coached. We are often a generation or two ahead of our students, yet we expect them to respond to the same coaching style that we grew accustomed to many moons ago. When our students don’t respond in the way we expect, or handle the criticism the way we once did then we get frustrated and complain how this current generation just aren’t tough enough or are too lazy and apathetic.

Can We Have a Real Conversation About Tennis Nutrition

Last week I read an article about the 7 foods every tennis player should eat. It was the same age old sports nutrition 101 about eating pasta, chugging Gatorades, having energy chews on hand at all times, and, my all-time favorite, ensuring you have a chocolate milk to get that all important protein after practice. I can’t believe that this kind of garbage is still being pushed out to the general public, and I don’t understand why more people are not questioning these nutritional practices.