28 Feb The “tennis career planner”
My sons are by far much better coaches than I am.
They are coaches inside, they were kind of born coaches.
They haven’t studied to get this qualification, therefore they master the art of coaching naturally.
They teach me every day what to do.
They tell it to me, both on- and off-court, but that does not mean I am an equally good listener and implementer.
Being skilled by nature, they are very demanding.
There is no room for mistakes by my side.
Mine is a constant adaptation, in real-time mode
We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.
Henry Ward Beecher
As you know, there is no manual for parenting.
But, I do like this kind of lateral thinking where kids give you
the opportunity to grow in any case.
Even if they are sleeping and you want to kiss them and
wish them a good night.
You realize how fortunate you are to have them.
Like I did this morning at 3.30 AM before leaving home to go the US for a conference…
Coaching is much less complicated than being a parent.
It becomes very, very complicated when
you are a parent-coach because
you try to transfer what apparently worked with your players with
what apparently worked with your parenting mission.
This is exactly where the most mistakes come from.
Let’s start first with the first form of being a parent of
a young tennis player.
It is called “the normal dad/mom”.
This parent has never played tennis, played a bit or
had some tournament experience, just to clarify this category.
I often go to tournaments and hide beyond trees like a ghost just
to listen to parents talking to each other or
talking to their sons and daughters.
I do not judge them, just see them in action.
As follows, here what is very typical.
Once they arrive at the club, they get out the car and carry the kids’ bags.
I can not know what happens in the preliminary phases, during the driving hours to the club hosting the tournament, but I would be very surprised if parents and kids were not talking about tennis in general, about the opponent of the day or his recent results.
Parents act like they are their kids’ best friends.
Everything is “smile” and “I would do anything to make you succeed in life”. But, reality is more contingent, and the real statement is “I would do anything to make you win this match” instead.
Parents’ topics when they talk with other parents have been the same for decades.
“Coaches should work more and better!”
“My kid trains the half as much than others!”
“My daughter has 750 points in 15 tournaments… knowing that in that particular regional circuit you get 50 points just for playing.”
“He has recently switched to a new racket, -strings, -shoes, -grip, etc.
He won’t be playing at his best”.
Then, the “young guns” parent…
… with their kids’ tennis peers: “You can trust me, I know a lot about tennis”.
They often say about themselves they were much better players than they actually were and forget that rankings are very easy to verify.
You don’t even need a data-base, talking to people is already enough.
I must confess something as a premise.
What I just wrote may sound like a criticism to you but it is not.
I do understand these parents completely.
Being parent of a tennis man is not simple.
As a matter of fact, all parents are in trouble.
I recently read an exquisite article of a very good friend of mine, Lorenzo Beltrame (Lorenzo was born in Milan, Italy, but he lives in the USA since at least 25 years), talking about his son and daughter, nationally ranked players in the youth categories and now playing College tennis.
He quotes a Facebook post from an Italian dad saying: as a parent, you are willing to pay for the tennis of your sons because of the growth opportunities that pressure on- and off-court will guarantee them.
So, tennis is a metaphor of life, a vehicle.
And the tactical situations, the strategic adaptations that your kid will have to identify and solve on-court work as a vehicle for life, a gym for reality.
This would be very true, if someone explained, educated the parents from the beginning about the real values of this sport, and that success in form of “result” never happens by accident, it’s always the concurrent mix of many variables.
The best possible way for a coach to help a kid who wants to play tennis is… to act systematically and to tell the truth.
To tell the truth does not mean that you have to destroy the confidence of the guy saying whatever you have in mind about him…
Kids appreciate when you are honest with them.
Kids do not like when you play with them.
Then, there is the “technical parent”.
He has a degree in “internettology”, knows about all kind of rankings,
all kind of players…
…except his son/daughter.
He plays with his kid at least 3 if not 4 times a week, 3 hours per session.
He really thinks to know his kid (see above) and to know what he/she needs,
When this parent, normally the dad, goes on court with child,
it is a lot of basket.
Tons of balls fed from the basket.
The kingdom of boredom that often leads to abandon.
And you know why?
Because the Tennis Pros contributed to the growth of this monster.
They made parents think that tennis teaching and coaching are very easy things to do.
It is all about hitting the ball.
Teaching and coaching belong to the fields of applied arts, to well-being, finance and management.
It is a lot more than this.
It is a very complicated mission.
In fact, when you start a project, you define first:
- The goals;
- The strengths (tools, skills, etc.) and weaknesses of your vision;
- The time for the endeavour to become reality;
- The analysis of the (micro/macro) environment you will be in;
Accordingly, tennis “Career business planning” is a difficult and very complex thing to put together.
But, it is a very important piece in the life puzzle of a “hope” in the making for one who wants to convert it to reality.
It takes time and patience.
It is like writing a biography, you have to start first with setting up the “status quo”.
Do not forget that when you input the destination on your navigation system you have to preset where you start your trip and where you want to go.
So, first move…
…You have to collect all details, all info about the player….
You make a photography of this guy, you petrify the moment.
You say… on February 28th 2017 this is what this player’s story looks like…
You have to know everything of him/her.
Ask him please…
Ask yourself these following questions.
Most of the answers to these questions are known, I know.
But, if you ask many accurate questions at the same time you will end up getting many precise answers at the same time and this will contribute to a detailed overview of you and your player, of his entourage, of the advantages and disadvantages that you will have to work with…
Examples of questions:
When did he/she started playing?
Who were the coach(es)?
What was the activity so far?
Who (profession, sports, etc.) are the parents?
How many matches did he/she play in that given year? This year? In the last years?
How does he/she play?
How many matches he/she won/lost?
How does his/her activity look like (Too stressful? Leveraging on matches or on learning processes? Too soft? Quantity or Quality?)…
… He/She feeling good with his/her project?
..Is the kid intrinsically involved with this vision?
So, this is the plan for you.
The meaning of all that is to have everything under control, to leave nothing to improvisation.
The main goal of this document is to get a clear and simple overview of the player, of his past and of his present.
To know about his personality, his temperament and his choices to date.
What he likes and what he does not like.
This document won’t tell you exactly things as they are, it will remain something subjective because it comes out of your keyboards, you are processing all this info, of course, but at least this will be a faithful indicator of your analysis skills.
This document will not only be proof that the kid deserved your attention, but above all that you are concretely involved at finding solutions concerning his career.
That you care about him.
Once the big picture is ready, the document awaits to be processed.
This is the difficult part.
I normally take weeks to do it.
And I feel very uncomfortable.
Because, like it or not, you are about to make decisions about many lives.
First of all, about yours.
Please take the courage to talk about it with the parent(s).
Another important, if not crucial, thing in this project is the “tournament plan.”
Let’s see things as they are, unfortunately.
Most of the coaches leave to parents the choice of tournaments.
Parents have no idea about that and end up making structural mistakes in methodology because either they make play their kids too much or too little, the wrong tournaments (they play too many matches, they only play first rounds) or bad tournaments (not considering personal, technical or tactical growth).
The big questions I ask myself before writing (analyzing might be better word here) anything are:
And, in particular, WHY?
Who is the player, are we sure that that particular tournament will promote his growth?
Growth is not always playing with someone better, sometimes it is this, sometimes not.
Choosing the right tournament is very delicate, because many variables have to be considered in this process: distance, level of the competition, teaching/learning proposals of the period etc.
Should he practice with the RED-ORANGE-GREEN methodology and then compete with the STANDARD ball?
Yes, in any case.
Because, it is all about learning.
If you focus every practice on the standard ball,
it is because WINNING is in the center of the process.
I do not want to say WINNING is not important…
…just that ADAPTATION is far more important and the worst thing that can happen while playing a tournament is that you won and that you haven’t learned anything.
There is a time of the year for everything, but a schedule is needed: for example, you play every week-end or you play from March on because there are no tournaments earlier or because during the wintertime you have to practice.
Data show us that one of the most important factors in the kids’ development is the opportunity to play matches at the club, friendly matches or “content matches”.
It is sad when the kid goes to play a tournament and to my question: “How many sets have you played in the last 3 months”, he answers with… “none”.
Kids have to play tournaments when it is needed and when there is a purpose.
Finally, the “Why”…
I have been at a conference, recently, and was impressed by a presentation focusing on “being competitive.”
You are “competitive” when you like competition.
You like to be in the middle of the fight, you like the moment, you like to be under stress.
Well, this is what we should teach our kids every day.
When kids love to compete and understand the meaning of all that,
of how fortunate they are to play a sport where they have an opportunity to grow every time they go on-court and even off-court…
… then our art of coaching is going in the right direction.
Everyone needs a coach.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player.