On-court Coaching - What to say? What not to say? How to say it?

coach coaching playercentered tennis tenniscoach Aug 29, 2023

Insights from on-court Coaching

The picture above was from Budapest for the 2018 Junior Fed Cup event where Australia finished in sixth position. I've had the privilege of representing my country on twenty occasions, and on-court coaching was allowed at all of these events. What was crucial to our success was the balance of information shared with the players, regardless of how I was feeling. Understanding what to say and what not to say changed from player to player and from day to day. I'm not saying that I always got it right, but being aware of which cue words worked for each player helped me tailor my language.  

The 2024 US Open 

The 2024 US Open has ushered in a new era of tennis coaching, providing an unprecedented level of insight into the minds of coaches and players alike. Gone are the days of covert hand signals and secret languages for illegal coaching. In a sport where coaching has traditionally been a behind-the-scenes affair, this tournament is leading the way, allowing coaches and players to openly communicate when the player is at the same end of the court as the coach, and if the opponent takes a bathroom break. But with this increased intimacy comes an essential question: how much coaching is too much, and are coaches truly putting their players' needs first? How much does the tone of one comment affect a player? And is real-time match court coaching healthy for the game? 

From Covert to Open Communication 

The covert strategies of old, where some coaches relied on cryptic signs and signals to convey instructions, have finally given way to open and audible coaching during the 2024 US Open. For years, some coaches have managed to skirt the rules, communicating with their players in a secret manner that often went unnoticed by officials. However, the landscape has changed. Fast forward to today, and spectators can eavesdrop on coaches' real-time advice from the comfort of their own living rooms. It's an evolution that aims to enhance the viewing experience while transforming the way players are guided on the court. 

Coaching Cues "V" Overwhelming 

The introduction of audible coaching raises an intriguing question: How much guidance is too much for players in the heat of battle? With access to a wealth of information, players might find themselves inundated with advice, potentially leading to decision paralysis or distraction. A delicate balance must be struck, ensuring that coaching serves to empower players rather than hinder them. Coaches must now consider the fine line between strategic input and overwhelming their players. 

The Player-Centric Approach 

As the US Open has kicked off, it has highlighted a pivotal aspect of effective coaching: tailoring the guidance to the individual player's needs. A prime example was witnessed during a recent match, where a coach repeatedly urged their player to focus on an opponent's behavior – taking extra time between points. While within the rules, this situation was essentially out of the player's control. The fixation on this aspect seemed counterproductive, affecting the player's energy and potentially jeopardizing their performance. 

The question arises: Can coaches set aside their egos and prioritize their players' best interests? A true coach should be willing to let go of personal concerns and concentrate solely on empowering their player to excel. The player's needs and mental state should always take precedence over any extraneous factors. 

Simplicity of Cue Words 

In a recent episode of The Coaching Podcast, coach Dan James shared valuable insights about on-court coaching. He emphasized that by the time players reach the Grand Slam level, their training and preparation have been extensive. Therefore, on-court coaching isn't about flooding them with information but rather providing concise cues that reinforce what's under their control and help them achieve their optimal state of play. This viewpoint resonates with the idea that effective coaching isn't about overwhelming the player but about fine-tuning and reinforcing their existing skills and strategies. 

A New Dawn for Coaching 

The 2024 US Open has granted tennis enthusiasts a unique vantage point into the world of coaching, breaking down barriers that have long separated coaches and players from spectators. While this evolution promises a richer viewing experience, it also raises vital questions about the balance of coaching, overwhelming players, and the role of the coach's ego. As the tournament unfolds, it's clear that successful coaching in this new era revolves around putting the player at the center, embracing simplicity, and recognizing that the real work has been done long before they step onto the court. 

Enjoy your coaching.

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