I had a conversation with someone today and it made me realize that there is not enough clarity in general about ‘the role of a coach in a player’s Tennis career’. Many believe that the coach teaches the technique in the different strokes and that’s it. Few realize the multifariousness of a coach’s role.

There are many instances where a coach’s role is overrated and other instances where it is completely ignored and sidelined. One of my close friends who is a former National champion, used to joke with me saying, if the player does well, then the coach’s role is ignored and when the player is not doing well, the coach’s role is overrated. Jokes apart, let’s look a little deeper into how far can a coach influence the performance of a player and what are the limiting factors that he is faced with.

Whether at a State level Under -12 or at the ATP/WTA Level, to perform in tennis competition, a player needs a variety of skills and competencies. A good coach will ensure that each player is developing the following competencies.

  1. Bio-mechanically good technique in each stroke that will allow the player to generate optimal power without compromising on ball control.

  2. Sound understanding of the player’s preferred game style and helping the player with the right strategy and tactics for each match.

  3. Co-coordinating with the trainer or by directly training, to ensure that the player is developing a good level of fitness that is specific to Tennis and more specifically suited to their game style.

  4. Help them develop several mental strengths, in the areas of Motivation, Confidence, Concentration and emotional control.

It is a fact that a dedicated and well learned coach can help the player develop all the above mentioned competencies, if he is given the required time by a dedicated player. I think it is highly unlikely for a player to develop all these competencies without the help of a good coach. The role of a coach is crucial anytime the player is looking for improvement in his game. It takes a keen and experienced external perspective, to analyze and find out the areas that will reflect on performance. After analyzing and setting goals, a coach can make the pathway much easier and efficient. The coach also helps in ensuring sustained focus and motivation throughout the long hours of drilling and hard work.

A player who has already reached a good level, needs the help of a coach a lot more than a beginner or intermediate player. Therefore it is clear that the role of a coach is indispensable for the development of a player to elite levels. But at the same time it is also impossible, even for a top notch coach to guarantee the performance of a particular player. Lets us see the limiting factors that a coach has to contend with:

Each player comes with a certain set of abilities that was obtained genetically through immediate parents and forefathers and also abilities developed in the previous years of training. Hence it is easier to help players with better physical and mental abilities to perform rather than players with lesser abilities.

If the player is not motivated to learn and improve, the coach can only make an attempt to motivate. Force feeding has severe limitations. Most of the players are motivated to perform and want to win and improve their ranking, but are they motivated to work on their game is another question. It is common that a player who is willing to work on his fitness might not be open to any changes in his technical aspects. It is no secret that there are several talented players with all the strokes in the book in their repertoire but are lazy to put in hard work on their strength and conditioning. Likewise a player who is sound in technique and is also a hard worker, might be very lazy or have severe difficulties when it comes to developing certain mental strengths.

There are instances where the player is not open to change and improvement anymore. This is common especially with players who have tasted a lot of success at the sub-junior level. In this instance, It is better to avoid too much success too early but it is okay if the player has the help of some skilled parenting and an experienced coach to keep the player open minded to change and to improve and develop further skills.

Some kids are forced to keep changing coaches on the pretext that they will learn from everyone. It takes a long time for the coach to understand the player in the technical, tactical, physical and mental departments and to help him the right way. These aspects are inter-related and should be worked on as one unit. For example, apart from bio-mechanical errors in strokes, a coach cannot effectively work on a player’s technique, unless he knows his preferred game style and mental makeup.

The fact that a player has developed all the necessary skills is not a guarantee that the player will perform. Performance at a good level happens only when all the physical and mental skills come together.

Therefore even though the role of a coach is imperative to a player’s development, it is also a fact that the coach does not control everything and is simply helping the player in his endeavor.