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Choosing A Coach

Q. I have just finished my sophomore year on my school's varsity team. I feel like I have reached a plateau and not progressed much in my game with my tennis coach. There are so many different strokes and techniques that coaches teach. How do you pick/choose a new coach that will help you progress? I took one lesson from a new coach, and he wants to completely change my whole form on my strokes. How do I know this will help me succeed?

A. To answer your second question first, you do NOT know if it will help you to get better. Nor, in fact, does a coach know for sure. The coach can only help the student with a long-term vision and trust that his/her own judgment is accurate. It is hard to imagine how “completely” changing your form after one lesson makes sense, though.

Making a drastic change in technique is sometimes necessary, but it can be ineffective, too. To use a classic example, Pete Sampras had one of the best two-handed backhands in the country as a young junior. His coach was convinced that he would eventually become a better all-round player with a one-handed backhand, and thus recommended the switch. This was quite a leap of faith, and luckily (for the coach!) young Pete was willing to stick with this change even when the positive results were not immediate. If the student is not willing to get a little worse first before getting a lot better in the end, then it will not work.

Make sure that you carefully consider why you are changing your technique and how you will do this (because a drastic change will take time). Make sure that you will be comfortable with the stroke, both physically and mentally, and that it will jibe with your game-style. A top-quality coach needs to be thoughtful and precise when he decides to suggest major changes to a player’s game. Some coaches, unfortunately, fall into the trap of changing something for change’s sake. That is not good enough.

Lastly, I will offer there are MANY ways to get better at tennis, and most of these do not include changing stroke mechanics. In looking to get past your plateau, consider all options.

Q. Really hoping you can give me some advice. A well-respected coach/prior pro player recently pointed out that my 10 y/o daughter's grips are all wrong--extreme Western on the forehand, Eastern on the serve, and the backhand off as well. She's had her current coach for over a year. Shouldn't he have corrected this by now? Do we consider changing coaches?

A. It would depend on the “grand plan” that her current coach has for the progress of her game. In fact, request that he share his development plan for your daughter. If he has not done this, then cooperate with him while it is completed.

If the current coach does not have any long-term (or mid-range) vision, then you SHOULD find another coach with more experience or, at least, more initiative.

To be fair, it could be that your current coach is reluctant to switch grips and certain techniques at this stage of your daughter’s development because he realizes that she may not be ready just yet (how physically strong is she?) OR that it would disrupt the enthusiasm that she has (which may ultimately be MORE important than ideal technique).

Q. I need a good full-time tennis trainer for my daughter. However, I need to know approximately how much it will cost us. Please advise.

A. The training costs for your daughter will depend on a number of issues, including her level of commitment and the rankings that she attains. Parents of some top-ranking national-caliber junior players pay in excess of $40,000 annually for the training and travel expenses for their children. This might seem like an exorbitant amount, but when factoring the necessary coaching, entry fees, clinics, travel expenses, equipment, etc., it really adds up.

Of course, most families need to “get by” on a more moderate budget.

Regardless of the level of your expendable income, the decision for your daughter to pursue big-time competitive tennis is a daunting one. Know full well that the commitment your family is making is a steep one (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.). Good luck!

Q. My son is almost 5 ½ years old and shows strong interest in tennis. He is in a group lesson now. I plan to book private lessons with a local pro after the group lesson is finished. My question is - being a tennis parent, what can I do to help with my son’s development in tennis? Should I just completely leave it to the coach? Thanks for your comments!

A. Nearly every situation with every child is unique, but I admire your interest in making sure that your son’s introduction to our great sport will be a positive one. Make certain the teaching professional you have chosen to teach your boy is certified with the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) and/or the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA). These are the leading teaching organizations in our sport, and certification will assure that you are getting a “real” pro.

I really believe that group lessons are essential for young players because they are, generally, so much fun. If you intend to book private instruction, that will be great supplement to the group structure. Above all else, be sure that his experiences are ALWAYS fun. If he associates playing tennis with having fun, then our sport will gain another lifetime tennis player!

Q. I need a good full-time tennis trainer for my daughter. However, I need to know approximately how much it will cost us. Please advise.

A. The training costs for your daughter will depend on a number of issues, including her level of commitment and the rankings that she attains. Parents of some top-ranking national-caliber junior players pay in excess of $40,000 annually for the training and travel expenses for their children. This might seem like an exorbitant amount, but when factoring the necessary coaching, entry fees, clinics, travel expenses, equipment, etc., it really adds up.

Of course, most families need to “get by” on a more moderate budget.

Regardless of the level of your expendable income, the decision for your daughter to pursue big-time competitive tennis is a daunting one. Know full well that the commitment your family is making is a steep one (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.). Good luck!

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