Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Private Lessons vs Hitting Lessons: 5 Effective Methods of Taking and Utilizing Hitting Lessons

     I remember hitting a lot as a junior. The majority of the time was dedicated to reinforcing things I learnt in lessons during hitting, being inspired by older players in camp and mimicking them. We could not hit enough!

     One particular Saturday afternoon, around age 13-14 if I recall correctly,  I remember we hit in the morning about 3 hours, then went to lunch. Those days if you ate anything but “half rof neFreezit”—loosely translated plain bread + juice—you probably do not remember what you had for lunch if that was not on your menu. We hit again in the afternoon for another 3 hours or so. I was so tired that when I went home, I grabbed some food in the house and fell on the sofa in front of the TV for a couple hours.  I tried getting up and cramped right back down. System failure!
      I remember really well all the people I hit with. Allow me to indulge in some nostalgia here. Age 11-12: Blessing (Strive Tennis), by far a better player, ranked much higher, but got to the courts 6 am-ish in the morning, so we synced in that sense and had numerous early Saturday mornings on court, but the scores were heavily one sided against me. Coach Tendai aka Coach Friday ages 13-15, times 6am. He would let me try to drill Marcelo Rios’ hopping backhands and forehands on the rise, instead of taking overheads or volleys in the air. We called it “horse-kick”! I remember thinking he was the coolest coach in the world! I remember sessions with Freeman at about 16-17, gruelling 6 am runs at the Christmas Pass! At the time we just started flirting with ITF Futures, money tournaments, and US college tennis aspirations. The sessions stood out clearly because of the time, usually 5 am or 6 am, the view on the run, spectacularly beautiful overview of the city from a mountain top, then the run, fantastically punishing! We concluded the day with an afternoon hitting session.  Growing up in an academy type setting I had plenty of hitting opportunities.

     Understanding the difference between a private lesson and a hitting lesson as one matures in their tennis game is important. If you are dedicating yourself to an accelerated path it helps to understand how to allocate the time appropriately.  Hitting lessons are better suited for players with a convincing level of fundamentals. The point is to reinforce good form and technique. The most significant difference between the two is that while a private lesson deals with learning and acquiring the attributes of the game, may it be technique or strategy, hitting lessons deal with effective usage of strategy and tactics acquired from private lessons. For example, a private lesson might answer- the question “how to hit a forehand” a hitting lesson covers the question “grooving and developing a reliable forehand as well as mastering the varieties of that shot, like hitting flatter ball, vs hitting with more topspin”, where the private lesson teaches you how best to hit a service return, a hitting lesson would zeros on the ideal moments to make a compact swing or a full swing on a service return.

     Past a certain level of experience the two can blur and even happen simultaneously if one is not working on drastic changes to their form and technique, in which case it may be better to separate the two. From my coaching experience, however, and the way traditional private lessons are structured, it is tough to fit both into 60 minutes.

5 effective methods of taking and or using hitting lesson:
1.       Players working on weight management will absolutely benefit from a good hitting session. Hitting lessons work well as a conditioning tool. With a good hitting partner it is easy to work up a sweat and burn some calories while you are at it. The repetitive nature of the exercise is a great tool for muscle tensioning and toning.
2.       Good, long hitting sessions are a great way to increase your stamina over prolonged times on the court.  Fitness in players’ can determine the outcome of marathon matches.
3.       Coordinating hitting with your private privates lessons is the best way to go about it. Complementing the private lesson with hitting lessons in between is ideal. One is taking the material they mastered in private lesson and reinforcing that in a hitting lesson
4.       Hitting lessons also make sense when one is shaking off rust. With time removed from the game, it is normal to work one’s way back into playing form by going out and just hitting some.
5.        This is one of the proven ways to build mental toughness.   Over time, one understands, quantitatively, their capacity and shortcomings and is therefore equipped to make informed strategic decisions before or during a tennis match.  Simply knowing that when it comes to my (insert tennis stroke here) I am queen or king of the court, is basis for undeniable confidence in your game, and tennis tends to reward, generously, players who act decisively and executes with conviction and confidence.

     The whole point of a hitting lesson is to groove your stroke. The ideal hitting coach rarely misses and you literally have to beg for a water break! They also force you to pick your game up, improve the effectiveness of your shots, as well as become more consistent.  At the least, an ideal hitting partner must be comparatively capable and not necessarily better than you.  The ideal hitting partner should be exemplary, able to motivate, as well as inspire.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The 2013 Chicago Marathon Registration Now Open: Lessons Tennis Players Can Learn from Marathon Runners


Chicago Marathon 2013 signups opened yesterday February 20, 2013. Based on past results, within the next 24-48 hours, it will be sold out. If you want to sign up, act now!
Naturally, the memories of my 5th hour ordeal from yesteryear came rushing back. I was punished severely for running without logging a single day of practice.  My lesson and experience epitomised the saying: “Youth is wasted on the young”. Childhood folly allows us to take shortcuts that become clear mistakes in the eyes of experience and wisdom.

I never did register. Closer to the date I searched around for a charity bib from entrants who could not run. I told a few people I might run just to psych myself into commitment. One of those was a group of kids under 10 who I enjoy coaching immensely. In their kind eyes, I am a combination of cool, funny, exciting, and wise; one step short of a superhero. It is an easy bill to fit, of course; contrary to their parents, and nannies, my performance is assessed over our weekly 2-hour tennis class which consists of a perfected routine of fun drills and games and delivered in recycled catch phrases and precontemplated, well-timed jokes. The routine always hits the desired effect, and the lessons are a breeze.  
My announcement to run the marathon was followed by a barrage of questions.
“Have you been practicing?”
“I average 12 hours of coaching daily in the summer and 5 of those playing with people who can actually hit. I will be alright,” I responded.
“How long do you think it will take you to finish, Coach D?” another asked.
“4 hours,” I responded confidently.
As I am handling this mini press conference with my eager audience, I notice one of the kids who is in the gifted program at his school, the equivalent of what in tennis we call high-performance tennis, scribbling away in the notebook I make everyone bring to class to take notes and write a half paragraph report of the previous lesson.  He raises his head as soon as he is done.
 “Coach D, this means you will have to run 4.666-minute miles. Can you do that?!”
“Of course I can,” I responded, both amused and impressed, not at the fact that he had gotten the calculations wrong, but that at 10 years old he felt compelled to calculate the pace I would have to hold in order to finish on time, and that he could do long division and correctly, respectively. Being held to such a high standard, I had to run!

A Tennis Career = A Marathon: 4 lessons Learnt Running a Marathon

1. Practice, practice, practice: This is cliché, but rings true for life challenges that require even minimal professional performance to complete. The bottom line is I did not practice for the marathon at all! Yet, there is an ease in performance when execution is done by a well-practiced individual, especially in pressure situations as shown by my 5th hour performance of the race breakdown. 

With practice, one acquires confidence as well, and self-belief alone on a tennis court can decide matches even before they are played:

“The game is 50% mental, 45% physical, and 5% tennis” ~ Juan Carlos Ferrero, French Open Winner 2003.

Practice also helps increase accuracy (shot making skills). Few things are more fun in tennis than exposing an opponent’s weakness and mercilessly chipping away at it and watching them fall apart in their game as well as mentally! But you have to have the shot making skills to open and find the weakness repeatedly, on demand. Well trained players know how to hide their weakness and do so extremely well.

2.    Good form and technique goes a long way: I am not a runner, but from observing those around me during the marathon, it was clear that my form and technique was off. Long distance runners’ feet and arm movements look compact and precise, used as needed and no more. Likewise, the biomechanics of executing tennis strokes have been perfected in the modern game to closely complement our natural day-to-day body movements:

If it feels like you are working too hard to hit any shot, you probably are" ~ Coach D
This is why tennis players spend hours on the tennis court ingraining tennis strokes to muscle memory. Under pressure, well grooved form and technique is more easily summoned, as it is almost a part of you, by comparison to muscled form and technique. Good examples are seen in Sampras’s serve, Richard Gasquet and Stanslas Wawrinka’s backhands, Feliciano Lopez’s touch shots. The same reasoning and argument can be put forth between Rafael Nadal’s footwork versus Monfils and Federer’s. Although all athletes are exceptionally quick and display impressive athleticism, where Rafa seems to trudge across the court, the later athletes seem to glide above the surface almost. Over a career’s length comparison, there is a lot to be said about the “beating” their bodies take and how well they hold up to injury. It is safe to say an athlete whose body is punished more breaks down faster and comparatively speaking, conditioned athletes who experience little to no damaging impact have longer, healthier careers. This becomes increasingly clear when we compare across different sports.

3.    Staying Loose and having a Relaxed Body: My explosive efforts which required every ounce of muscle and effort were too taxing to hold up in the duration of the marathon. This is important in conserving energy. Nerves and counterproductive reflexes as a result of unrefined skill can cause us to tighten up. In doing so, we expend unnecessary energy into muscles that yield no direct contribution to the effort at hand. With a loose and relaxed body, we conservatively and efficiently concentrate our efforts towards the desired shot.
Pace yourself: If I had to put these lessons in order, this would be #1. I strongly feel if I had paced myself I would have hit better times.    

My body almost did shut down. After mile 18, there was little running in my walk! I have told a few friends that if I had stopped moving, or sat down for a second I would not have gotten back up. I was happy to finish the marathon! Funny because it is true--at some point, I was actually feeling cold and wishing I had a sweatshirt on! I was laughing at myself thinking who feels cold during a marathon?! I also could not help noticing the most senior of citizens, in their laboured jogs, whizzing past me at what seemed at the time Aston Martin speeds! Embarrassment, I would not say that much but running the marathon was a truly humbling and educating experience indeed!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What Does Love Mean to you in Tennis?

What Love Means In Tennis
When you first pick up a racquet
Love means the pleasure for partaking in the sport is innocent and genuine
Love means anxious to go for your next lesson
Love means getting up 3 hours early to get to an 8am lesson
Love means sleeping with your first new tennis racquet in bed
Love means dragging the parents 60mins early to a lesson 10 minutes away
Love means not realizing the coach’s racquet is bigger than me!
 Property of TenniswithD

A few years into the sport
Love means remembering the first match you ever won for the rest of your life
Love means remembering a particular obscure passing shot or ace you hit for some strange reason
Love means remembering the first tournament you ever won
Love means experiencing the first loss that drove you to tears
Love means losing to worst player possible and somehow picking up your racquets the next morning
Love means losing 0-6, 0-6 and somehow making it to the net to shake hands
Love means the first tennis trip away from home, no parents!
Love means watching your first pro tournament live

At the peak of you tennis career
Love means looking at the top 10 players and thinking oooo I cannot wait!
Love means winning 6-0, 6-0 and wondering why are they here
Love means winning 6-0, 6-1 and realizing bicycles do not come easy anymore!
Love means landing that college scholarship
Love means realizing tennis defines your entire life
Love means your answer to everything is “I can’t I have tennis”
Love means I have come too far in my career, now I cannot just quit
Love means playing through injuries
Love means quitting for a good period only to realize you do miss tennis

As an adult playing tennis
Love means realizing tennis made me tough as nails
Love means being thankful of every opportunity of family, friendship, good health, and joy it afforded
Love means realizing you got to travel the globe because you played tennis
Love means wondering why you ever smashed those racquets
Love means social and recreational tennis is surprisingly satisfying
Love means seeing the kid you played in juniors, doing well on TV and you rooting for them
Love means coaching kids that make you wonder whether you were that good at the same age
Love for tennis means realizing ….. even as my body slows down….that I just love tennis!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How are those Tennis, Health and Wellness, Career, 2013 Resolutions Coming?

7 Ways to Hit Your 2013 Resolutions!

Whoa long hiatus, it feels good to be back! Do not worry, my first posting this year is not a guilt trip but rather us finding solutions together!

A new year brings with it high expectations, inspiration, and rejuvenated spirits to reach one’s goals. The first week of January, “new year’s resolutions” is the trending topic. Among the most popular resolutions are health and wellness goals. Everyone makes proclamations on how they will create a better version of themselves for that year. We even make big financial commitments to convince ourselves of the success at our fingertips. New tennis racquets, gym memberships, workout gear,  new diet commitments, and these financial commitments are supposed to be trick ways to keep us on track because nobody wants to waste money, right?! Matter of fact, most of us actually start, and with undeniable vigour, two gym workouts in one day, easy……well, at least until the second or third week of January.

Possible Problems

1.    What Goes Wrong; What Kills the Progress? Reinventing a tennis stroke, body weight management, and outperforming your work colleagues all are worthwhile and highly rewarding resolutions. But for those of us who missed out on early childhood immersion, the grind associated with acquiring these attributes cannot be fostered simply because we want them or recognize the reward that comes with attaining them.  The will power to pursue the goals for the most part is built on shaky foundations, that, coupled with biting off too much too soon.

2.    Mistaking “Rewards” for “Motivators”. A big serve, that big work promotion, getting ripped, increased endurance, weight loss, clothing size drop, high morale, increased self-esteem are ultimate rewards. While visualizing rewards as exemplified by buying clothing a few sizes smaller in order to push yourself might be encouraging, it will not necessarily motivate you.

3.    Mistaking “Accelerators” for “Motivators”. A tennis class would accelerate the rate at which you improve your game, but signing up for it, as well-intentioned as it is, will not motivate you. Accelerators are typically monetary purchases: a tennis bag, a gym membership, tennis racquet, jogging shoes,  a yoga class package, among others.

4.    Good “Motivators”. Motivators are all those instances in your day that hold you accountable to the task at hand—for example, a trainer or a coach who will call you to find out where you are, a bathroom scale you step on every morning, or a food/gym journal you fill in weekly to track progress, stagnation or a supervisor, boss, or friend that drags you out there when you feel tired, complacent, or unmotivated. Anything or anyone that holds you accountable is a good motivator

Possible Solutions

Ways to Get BAck to the Grind and Stay There
Practices established in cyclic routines are more easily fostered and maintained as they become habits. Activities based in habit and routine are more easily sustained than arbitrarily scheduled ones.  If you were never a tennis player, it can be difficult to wake up one day and decide you will hit every morning before work, let alone maintain it. There are tricks, however, to making it easier and more manageable until it is ingrained:

1.     Sandwich the new activity you are trying to turn into a lifestyle between already existing habits. This is how our tennis practice in college athletics is structured. For me personally, tennis practice was scheduled between lunch and class so practice was a progression of my life long fostered human habits of having lunch around noon-1pm, and the educational institution fostered habits or mandatory class attendance. Among adults, from personal experience and observation, lesson takers who commit to lessons soon after work are more likely to show up than those scheduled over weekends when the clients have days off. Packing a tennis bag becomes part of their work routine since they have to show up for work anyway.

2.     Have your tennis lesson at the same time weekly. Remember we are working on routine. Your body starts to “notice” when you miss the scheduled lesson over a period of time. Personal accountability with the tennis coach is a welcome motivator until going to the lesson becomes habit; in this case your coach will hold you accountable, for not showing up is the motivator rather than the lesson or financial commitment

3.     Set distinct goals. Recently, I started a new package of lessons with a regular client, and with the bulk lessons, I also issued a lesson plan. I pinpointed areas of the game we will target, wrote a curriculum with steps on how to get there, and established a time frame towards the goal. This is our tennis compass. Every tennis drill builds towards the goal. If we fall off, the plan helps you re-orient. Distinct goals help you stay organized, and keep things in perspective.  Lastly, but not least, it holds you accountable to your commitments. Think of it as a soft contract with yourself in which you can fall off and get right back on.

4.     Recognize small victories, and celebrate them! I am guilty of ignoring this one. The only satisfying victory is the ultimate prize. This makes me susceptible to discouragement on longer tasks. Check them off the small milestones and celebrate them.

5.     Take smaller bits to begin with. Break down the stuff you work on during your tennis lessons into focused areas. If you are working on technique, for example, do groundstrokes the first month, the mid court shots the following, then volleys in the third month.

6.     Track your progress. Keep a progress journal. Even little progress, added together over a period of time, is impressive to look at. A journal is a subtle but effective motivator. It is also an informative tool. You can go back and track what you did when you had the most success and also what you need to do to increase the rate of success among other things.

7.     Maintenance and consistency are key. Remember, the journey getting to your goal is not easy. Maintenance is easier than taking that long, brutal trip back again. In the same way we can foster healthier lifestyle routines into habits, we can instil bad ones just as well! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

“Grrrrr....they lied about their NTPR Rating!?”

Ever left the tennis court feeling like “grrrrr....they lied about their NTPR Rating!?”

Have you ever set up a match with a stranger only to show up and they are either worse than they claimed, or better yet creamed you!? Well sometimes it is neither yours nor your partner’s fault. The National Tennis Rating Program (NTPR) rating sucks mainly because it leaves ample room for misuse. USTA’s definition of the NTRP:

“it is the official system for determining the levels of competition for USTA League”

According to the USTA it serves to moderate competition allowing for fair and balanced fun for competitors in USTA regulated competitions.
The unregulated self-assessments encouraged by the system is well intended but leaves room for misappropriation, at least until officiated matches. Players inflate or deflate their level for various reasons and because the specifications for each of the levels are general and bleed through, there is room for error even for well-intended tennis players.
Inaccurate ratings are not always the players’ fault. Well informed coaches and clubs misuse the rating system as well. Whatever the momentary convenience served by these manipulations are, it further fuels the confusion when players from various regions or clubs get together to play and mismatches of supposedly similarly rated players occur.

The system has 2 obvious downsides. From 0-4.5 the rating downplays the importance of experience in players. Sophistication in strategy and game planning is amassed over time and just being an avid watcher of high level competitions of tennis can result in a lowly rated player, according to the rating system, demonstrating undeniable match play superiority.  After 5.0+, the system variably defines the same players in different words and the definitions all become relative in accuracy. Players who are 5.0+ rarely share their ratings and sanctioned tournament categorizes them as “open”. So the obvious differentiator between 5.0, 6.0 and 7.0 is the level of tournaments they play otherwise the rating suggests that you are equally capable in skill and execution at this point.

On your next tennis match up with an unknown player, I encourage you to lenient and do not be disappointed if a player turns out subpar or too strong. One of my memorable losses was at the hands of men the NTRP rating cannot rate, literally. These gentlemen were among my then coaches friends and belonged to a local sports club. We (doubles partner) on the other hand were supposedly from an elite tennis program known for producing NCAA DI champions, Davis Cup players and ITF players (still do by the way). Armed with our NTPR defined or acknowledged top-spins versus their NTPR shunned herky-jerky self -taught strokes. Far removed from our fast hard courts onto their slippery fine pale clay, our fancy NTPR rating compliant spins and hard flat shots were neutralized and we were mercilessly sliced and diced to humility! The men in their 30s-40s knew they were slaughtering tennis royalty, so despite the fact that we were 11 year olds, taunting us was not too far beneath them! Given a heads up, we could have beaten these men, actually highly likely, but on that particular and an moment and simply put, experience trumped both youth and talent.
NTRP Playing Levels

1.5 Beginner: You have limited experience and are working primarily on getting the ball in play.

2.0 Beginner: You lack court experience and your strokes need developing. You are familiar with the basic positions for singles and doubles play.

2.5 Beginner: You are learning to judge where the ball is going, although your court coverage is limited. You can sustain a short rally of slow pace with other players of the same ability.

3.0 You are fairly consistent when hitting medium-paced shots, but are not comfortable with all strokes and lack execution when trying for directional control, depth, or power. Your most common doubles formation is one-up, one-back.

3.5 You have achieved improved stroke dependability with directional control on moderate shots, but need to develop depth and variety. You exhibit more aggressive net play, have improved court coverage and are developing teamwork in doubles.

4.0 You have dependable strokes, including directional control and depth on both forehand and backhand sides on moderate-paced shots. You can use lobs, overheads, approach shots and volleys with some success and occasionally force errors when serving. Rallies may be lost due to impatience. Teamwork in doubles is evident.

4.5 You have developed your use of power and spin and can handle pace. You have sound footwork, can control depth of shots, and attempt to vary game plan according to your opponents. You can hit first serves with power and accuracy and place the second serve. You tend to over hit on difficult shots. Aggressive net play is common in doubles.

5.0 You have good shot anticipation and frequently have an outstanding shot or attribute around which a game may be structured. You can regularly hit winners or force errors off of short balls and can put away volleys. You can successfully execute lobs, drop shots, half volleys, overhead smashes, and have good depth and spin on most second serves.

5.5 You have mastered power and/or consistency as a major weapon. You can vary strategies and styles of play in a competitive situation and hit dependable shots in a stress situation.

6.0 to 7.0 You have had intensive training for national tournament competition at the junior and collegiate levels and have obtained a sectional and/or national ranking.

7.0 You are a world-class player.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

To all the mothers, this is exactly how we remember it ....Thank you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coaches, why we lose business: tips, suggestions, criticism, additions, subtractions, and disagreements..

Tennis literally raised me. From fan to competitor, competitor to coach, coach to theorists, theorists to the entrepreneurial side of the sport and right back around to fan! Through the metamorphosis, one thing remained constant: I have always been a willing student of the game first and foremost, a trait I take pride in because it has allowed me to remain dynamic together with the sport. I have had numerous opportunities to learn valuable lessons, some directly and others indirectly and today as a coach, I would like to share and discuss, hopefully get a dialogue going on how we might keep lasting, rewarding relationships with our old and new clients. Topspin in Chicago, Mutare, Almaty, and Madrid is the same, so I know that these lessons span distance and time. So, as long as you are a tennis coach, even for those of you employed by a club, being conscious to the business aspect of the game will make your customers happy, as well as make you indispensable to both your students and your club. Those of you who enjoy the business side of the sport like me definitely need to know some of this stuff. Either way, I am hoping coaches will be in the forefront with your experiences in discussion, and players, feel free to air your dirty laundry, and hopefully we can all grow.

All these scenarios are from personal experiences directly or indirectly. In 15 plus years of teaching, I have made errors for almost the entire list but I can also say I learnt and have grown from the errors.

Replace your cellphone with a watch:
Using a phone during a lesson is rude, disrespectful, and most importantly it is not our time. It took me a while to learn this lesson unfortunately for me. Even to check the time, pulling out your cellphone is not okay. This is one of the biggest complaints from lesson takers, some who are tweeting and texting during your lesson, actually! Just because clients use their mobile devices during a lesson, it does not make it OK to use ours. Most clubs have wall clocks, warning buzzers, and if none of these, including wearing a watch, is not an option for you, mount a clock on the back of your cart. I have seen it with my own eyes and thought it was genius! There is always a temptation and a VALID reason to keep a phone on for those of us who are trying to run a business and teach simultaneously, but I have gone through all the important reasons and none of them held. Coaches should use phones in private, out of sight. Almost all scenarios can wait until the top of the hour.

Don’t expect EVERYONE to like you or think you are the best coach: Even the Justice League type partnership of Roger Federer and Tony Roche did not end so agreeably well. This is a tough one to grasp for accomplished coaches. After producing a series of satisfied clients, our confidence in our coaching abilities can soar, at times to disproportionate magnitudes. Some people will decide almost immediately you are not as good as hyped. These situations are far in-between but real. I once taught a group of about 6-10 6-year-olds. I always looked forward to this class because they did make me feel young literally and reminded daily why tennis is fun and why I have been involved in it for so long. I was also partial to them because not only were they cute and innocent, they liked me with all my idiosyncrasies, awkwardness, and imperfections minus the judgements. Topping it all off, they were super talented. It was such a happy coincidence that it almost felt like they had to try out for the class. My supervisor at the time told me while the other parent could not sing enough praises, one parent thought I was awful and so I should try to handle their child with extra care. It felt like a punch in the stomach because I actually felt that those kids brought out my A-game because with the enthusiasm they showed I could not afford to slouch even for a second. Also, because the class was so fun, high energy, and the kids always seemed happy to be there, I never suspected anything was wrong. As I dismissed the preceding class these kids would flock to me at top speed, there was no better compliment! In my head it was the perfect class, except it was not—at least not for everyone. I have had 2 more scenarios like that in private lessons with adults, ending in an apology in one case and a refund in the other. In both cases, I was oblivious to their disdain, dissatisfaction, and disappointment until I checked my e-mail and voicemail messages. I do evaluate success from returning clients and their results so I can safely say that it has been mostly good. But it can always happen that someone out there is not a happy customer. If we can, it is good to learn from it, but at times it blindsides you. It can be hard to stagger out of it, but it is not a catastrophe. This was one of my tougher lessons to grasp.

Have a signature move: Extra mile: Going the extra mile is usually easier if you genuinely enjoy your job, but if that is not encouragement enough, then at least respect the source of your income. Personally, I enjoy watching some of my clients in tournaments and in their club, winter, and summer leagues. I have received all sorts of reactions—some players performed better knowing I was there, some buckled a little, but one consistent remark I always get is that they appreciate me being there. When I cannot go to a match, another “extra mile” I take, whether they win or lose, is to discuss the match for a few minutes during their lesson. So, “going the extra mile” is not necessarily time consuming. A few examples I have witnessed and thought were good: I heard of a coach who sends an e-mail to their clients with reminders of what to do on court relative to their lessons before every match their clients play.

Remember clients by name: I will confess right at the beginning that I am awful with names! I have addressed a shy client by the wrong name for 2 weeks because I heard wrong during introductions and they did not correct me! I have switched names between players taking a semi-private lesson. I have forgotten a name within a minute of hearing it. I do not mean any harm, but unfortunately for me, this is actually offensive to a lot of individuals. Remembering names is not my strongest suit, but I have managed ways to get around it. This is because remembering you clients’ names suggests that they matter in your eyes, juniors need our approval as role models, and adults want to be appreciated and at the least respected. It also reflects well on us as coaches, and shows that we care and appreciate their business or presence! A good memory device is to use their name as often as you can without becoming obvious within the first few minutes. This is especially effective in groups because it actually brings a personal touch to their group experience. If no memory device will save your life, as in my case, admit to your weakness right at the beginning and most people are very accommodating. “Look, I will probably keep asking you to remind me your name. Don’t get offended. I need to make sure I get it right as I am awful with remembering names.”

Listen to what your client needs: After coaching for so many years, there is the temptation to assume that you as the coach “KNOW WHAT THE PLAYER NEEDS TO WORK ON”. And rightly so. Why not? It is our job after all, right, wrong?! New clients always measure you by the standard of their previous coach, and there are plenty of opportunities to suffer by comparison. Professional lesson takers who have not surrendered themselves to your vision, like you, actually “KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THEY NEED TO GET BETTER”. In their stubbornness, they actually have seen it all and heard it all. I hear this all the time: “Let’s work on my serve, but my backhand, in its awkwardness, works, so do not touch it.” This is even true at times. Ease you client into getting used to you and your coaching style. It may take them a while to be wholeheartedly open to your suggestions. Once you have hit the ground running, you can gently coerce them towards where you would like them to go. You will find some players are not so malleable and prefer their routine. Try to reason otherwise without offending.

Take pride in your appearance: I am sure we have heard of the cliché business phrase floating around to the effect of “dress like you want to be addressed”. There has been a progressive trend for today’s business world to strive for “hip or cool” so they do not seem “old, monolithic, and disconnected”. This is OK, as long as you look respectable and still look the part. Tennis is a sport that promotes individuality, but this should not be detrimental to us executing our jobs. Remember, first impressions last a long time, so set a good precedent about yourself before you start dressing down. We can potentially lose a client before they even take a lesson from us. Dress the part.

Maintain good personal hygiene: Our job entails sweating and that is OK. It is, however, just as important to take extra care to make others around you comfortable. Occasionally we all have to step closer to a player to explain something, so we should be careful not to turn this into an bio-attack on our clients. If you perspire more than normal, having the necessary number of shirt changes is important. If you do hitting lessons often, take extra changes for practice shirts for each hitting lesson of that day. Your hitting lesson shirts should not be your teaching shirts. Every coach needs to get friendly with deodorant and anti-perspirants. I have received compliments on smelling nice, and it makes me extra excited to give my best gems! I have also had the uncomfortable task of relaying a message from the higher ups to a personal friend, so do not put anyone in that predicament.

Respect appointments and be punctual: We are paid for the time, so we need to show up ON time. I have lost 2 potential clients simultaneously because I goofed their first lessons twice in a row. I do not remember the reasons I was late, but legitimate or not, I know the unfavourable result clearly. I also rely heavily on my phone, meaning all my hours are scheduled in my cell. This can be problematic, as I have forgotten my phone at home and on occasion the phone failed and I lost the data. Paper trails for lessons, even in instances where we can log everything digitally, are necessary! Paper records for appointments are always good and all digital files should be backed up. Nothing screams irresponsible, unprofessional and disrespectful like being tardy does. It is also annoying to the client who made the time. Now, it is going to happen that we are late regardless of how well prepared we may be. Calling the club and client to let them know of your situation shows sincerity, and most people are reasonable. You may also be able to catch the customer before they get to the club or court, and this allows them the convenience of making other arrangements.

Punctuality entails our readiness to teach as well at the top of the hour. If the use of teaching aids is involved, have them ready courtside for deployment. Good aids are easy to set up, take down, and store away. If any of those three are not covered with your teaching aids, there has to be a more efficient way of re-enforcement of the same concepts.

If you are late—because it WILL happen—always over-estimate your anticipated arrival time. You do not want to further frustrate your client if they decide to wait on you.

Be personable: Great personality goes a long way for a coach. Of course, it helps to know the material you are teaching, but delivery is just as important. Confidence shows people you have conviction in what you’re saying and suggest that it might actually be true, and humour always lightens up the mood and makes those awful frustrating mistakes bearable for your players, and also makes whatever lesson we are trying to convey palatable. A great personality can make people look forward to your lesson for the sheer entertainment, or your presence alone.

Keep up the energy and tempo on the court—it depends on us!: You may have the best drills in the world and be well versed on the intricacies of the tennis game, but if you have monotone delivery, all your jewels can fall flat. Tennis coaches fall very short of being motivational speakers; we see some positive attributes in people’s games they may not necessarily see or believe in themselves. We can carry people over the finishing line by the intensity of our encouragement and body language. Adults may be polite enough to sit through a couple of boring classes, but kids start drifting, bouncing balls, picking their nose, and watching the other court. These are sure signs that the energy in your class may be off.

Keep personal relationships off the court: Remember a client in a certain way is still your boss and can fire us as they see fit; the difference is they will not return minus the courtesy call announcing your dismissal . These relationships range from dating, friendships, to frienemies. These can be very positive. As a matter of fact, I have met some of the most impactful people in my life, in a positive way, as my students initially. Despite this fact, I also learnt to be careful, as this is always a tricky one to negotiate because wherever people spend time and great results are an outcome, friendships develop and the conduct can be overly casual. Blurred boundaries can easily be overstepped. Picture a scenario where a good friend/client of yours for 3 years is going through heavy personal stuff unbeknownst to you. Your usual playful jab about him being dressed as if he were “determined to be single” is the last stroke before the fall off the edge. Because at this moment, his personal life is indeed in shambles. You are immediately stuck in a potentially volatile situation. True story.

As a business rule of thumb, dating clients and co-workers is not encouraged.

Understand the client you are coaching: This is a rather broad aspect, but I will simplify it but hopefully not trivialize it. While coaching kids usually requires us to be animated and playful, and incorporate fun and attention-grabbing games, this demeanour should be reserved for kids. Kids, adults, serious or funny people, and older folks should all be “handled” appropriately. Make attempts to cater to each particular client. Some clients respond positively to the drill sergeant approach, while others would rather be coerced rather than barked at! This can take time to learn but is important.

Watch your language: As with any personal relationship, it is easy to get comfortable, but mind your language! This doesn’t just mean avoiding bad language alone, but gender consciousness, sensitivity, and political correctness have to be in play as long as you are coaching. I am one of those people who thinks people have just gotten overly sensitive. There is too much therapy, group healing, and coddling, and the world could use an extra teaspoon of cement with our cereal in the morning. But not everyone shares my opinion, so in my place of work I have to respect their position.

Lace up, literally!: Every hard worker enjoys the relief of removing those work shoes after a long day on their feet. Tennis players tend to get around with our laces undone for the same relief, and it does feel good. I had the annoying habit of doing even some hitting lessons like that. A couple of players took pleasure and felt complimented in watching me do my laces when they “upped the ante” but those were the ones who shared my similar casual approach. I have grown to learn this is actually the same casual approach I unintentionally insinuated relative to doing my job to those clients who do not necessarily view it in the same favourable light.

Be aware of your body language: Body language says a lot about your character, demeanour, enthusiasm, sincerity, confidence, and poise, among other traits. A display of enthusiasm and energy can pick up a group, or even your partner’s energy in a match. It is the same for a tennis lesson. Your body has to express what your words suggest. For those who coach out of convenience, this is one of the dead giveaways that you do not really like your job. If you can get away with a positive display of body language, you will not bring negative attention to yourself and can actually have clients who will look forward to your class which is the most awful compliment for a job that tests your patience.

Respect “the institution” or “order of authority”: Park your personal beliefs and convictions at the door, and understand and respect your client and their environment. Yes, you can absolutely do this without compromising your integrity. This is somewhat related to understanding the client you are coaching, but more so on the social aspect of things rather than their actual tennis game. With every club/establishment//environment, there is a certain unspoken aura that determines the overall conduct in that environment in which we coach. For example, although wearing my cap backwards (ala Hewitt) is not against the rules at country clubs, it was definitely frowned upon to such an extent that I got reprimanded for it once. At an overnight summer camp, our presence, effectiveness, and interaction with the children on and off the court is strongly encouraged and should be visible because it is a mentorship position coupled with tennis. On the contrary, at the country club, our effectiveness and efforts should be felt and noticed, but we personally should neither be “seen” nor “heard” because it is a service position coupled with tennis. In college tennis, socialization with your opponents (some you know personally) is not necessarily outlawed, but the “right” conduct is to band with your teammates and root for teammates in the on-going matches. However, at most clubs, socializing with members and/or parents is almost required of you. While practicing to loud music can be considered cool, hip, lively, and even inspiring at a tennis academy or a college tennis program, at the local public park or country club it can be distracting, rude, uncultured, inconsiderate, and definitely obnoxious.

Stay clear of potentially polar topics—politics, race, religion, gender, sexuality, and any other topics that can give off the vibe that “I am different from you”; your clients are not the right people to have a heart to heart with when it comes to these topics. From my experience, however, when clients see a hint of intelligence, “togetherness”, or charisma, they solicit for your position on the matter. Change the subject, which most people will recognize, but if they choose to ignore your tact and persist, saying “no comment” usually suffices.

All these are unwritten laws of the land that if broken will not necessarily get you fired but if followed, make your stay at any of these establishments productive, manageable, or at the least bearable. Every tennis arena and their immediate social circles have a “social conduct” to abide by and these usually blur the boundaries related to tennis etiquette, business relations, and friendships. “Common sense”, when traversing these different arenas, can be vastly different and fatally uncommon.

Apologize when you make a mistake: Look, we will mess up, and why not? We are human. A sincere apology goes a long way. Apologizing has 3 levels: stop pointing figures or finding blame, admit to your mistake, and find ways you can make amends. A heartfelt, sincere apology always shines through, but do not expect it to be accepted immediately and, at times, at all.