Career of a professional athlete is not a smooth and easy road. It is more a bumpy one. You work really hard, play great practice sessions and win major tournaments. It looks like a dream but suddenly you get injured. Few weeks off and you start over again. This is the scenario that happens to many tennis players. Coaches know that and that is why they try to make players work really hard every day because they never know what tommorow will bring. Should we always push our players?
To succeed in tennis you have to focus on many areas. It is not enough to develop sound technical strokes or to master tactical awareness on the court. Tennis is a complex game so to get to the top and beat other competitors you have to make sure that you add something extra in areas like nutrition, recovery, emotional control etc. If you have ambitious coach you will learn what it means because you will always hear what else you can do. Additional set of push-ups. Practice after won matches. Carrot cake instead of chocolate cake. There are always things you can do better. Is it a proper approach? Maybe it is but more important question to ask is: Is it an effective approach?
I am a really ambitious coach so I know what I am talking about. In my opinion it is nothing wrong to push your players to their limits; to take them outside of their comfort zone and show them ways to get better every day. But you have to take care of them as players and human beings first because if you don’t you punish them instead of helping them. You can demand from players more quality work or more involvement in the process of development but you have to be sure why you do that. If additional practice is designed to gain something or just to spend 1 hour more on the court after a bad loss? If picking chicken with rice over McDonald’s hamburger is a start for a regular healthy eating or just one-time show off during the tournament? All your actions have to be justified to bring results. And sometimes more doesn’t mean better.
There are times when it looks like everything is falling apart. You try, you fight but it just doesn’t happen. You start to question your near future and think about the purpose of your career. These times happen and it is smart to consider „step-back” approach. Step-back means that you let something off; that you don’t push your player in one situation or another. You just let it happen and see if it is going to bring results. Sometimes one step back can produce three big steps forward so it is worthy to try this approach if you are stuck in one place for a longer time.
Opportunities for a step-back approach:
I know how practice sessions are important but sometimes 1 practice less can significantly improve the quality of the next 10. Too many times coaches are „smarter” than players and they don’t listen to them. If your player says he is tired and needs a day off you can consider this situation to cancel a session. Of course you shouldn’t do it always when your player is not fresh but once for a while if you give your player an afternoon off you will not only get motivated player for the next session but you will also get more trust from your player because of your „human’s side”.
I am a big believer of healthy nutrition and I know how it can help your game. I teach by actions so you won’t find me drinking coke or eating pizza more than a couple of times per year. But I wasn’t always like that and I realize what it took me to change my improper eating behaviours. My players are at the beginning of the same road so I do my best to share with them my knowledge and experience to help them make this change much earlier than I did. Nutrition is important but positive mindset is even more. If your player has a birthday give her a credit and celebrate with a fatty cake. Great win after hard preparation training period? Let’s eat pizza! Be a human – if you take care of your nutrition most of the times there is nothing wrong to step-back one time and boost your mental side.
Any other area
Junior tennis players are under enormous pressure so this is nothing surprising that from time to time they have „this mood” that they don’t want to do something. „I am not going to stretch”. „I won’t run to every ball”. I won’t go to bed at 10.30 pm”. As coaches we have 3 options to answer: a) to punish them b) to talk to them c) to step back and allow them to taste consequences. I don’t believe in punishment; I try to talk to my players a lot but it is also worthy to step back from time to time and let them learn on their own. If they don’t bend their knees for the last week and they lose badly during the weekend tournament probably they will learn something. If they don’t stretch and they will get (fortunately) minor injury they will connect the dots and see the reason. Step back can get you more than you think coach!
It sounds stupid but sometimes to move forward you have to make some steps back. It is not how fast you are going but where you are heading! More doesn’t mean better so next time think that maybe step-back approach will give you less stress, more time for yourself and better results for your player…
Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 100 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA.