WHY DO WE COACH?
Published in PTR TennisPro Magazine
Why Do We Coach?
At the ITF World Conference 2013 in Cancun, I had the privilege to hear Dr. Jim Loehr speak. He gave several powerful presentations to the coaches in attendance, and his words left a lasting impact on me.
One subject in particular resonated with me. Dr Loehr,during the course of one presentation, essentially asked the group: "Why do you coach?" And he went on to discuss how coaches get into tennis for the different reasons and how we should be in tennis for the right reasons. I would like to explore in further detail the motivations for getting into coaching.
Very often, coaching for the wrong reasons can lead to unfulfillment and unhappiness, so it's important to understand why we are coaching, and to set our priorities in a way to maximize our satisfaction from this great career.
A Personal Look At My Last Decade In Coaching
Recently, I completed my first decade of coaching full-time. I coach mainly high performance juniors and some competitive adults. Some of the players I had started training at age 8 and 9 were going off to college, and I had a chance to reflect on what I had a accomplished after 10 years passionately giving my energy to these athletes.
I realized that I did not have any grand slam winners or national champions. My best player reached top 10 in the country but did not make a pro career and ended up in D1 college. I few other top prospects struggled with injuries and ended up as college players rather than legitimate professionals. For me, this felt like a failure. But then I gave it some more thought and said to myself: Are the ranking and results of my players the only measure of my success as a coach? There must be something more."
Looking back at the list of players I had worked with, I realized that they were not just numbers on a page. They were people, human beings whom I dedicated a tremendous amount of time and energy to--and spent countless hours developing a relationship with. They were my students but also many became personal friends.
I realized that the relationship and positive influence on my students' life and character was a more important legacy than any tournament they won, or ranking they achieved.
Common Reasons For Coaching--Both Negative and Positive
Let's explore some positive and negative reasons people get into coaching. Unfortunately, there are many coaches in our industry who have suspect motivations for making coaching a career:
For The Money
It is common to find coaches in the industry who are obsessed with money. They coach not for the love of teaching, but for the profit motive and seek to charge as much as possible or jam the courts with as many players as possible. Greedy, money-hungry coaches and tennis directors tend to see players as numbers in a spreadsheet rather than human beings. Oftentimes, these coaches charge an inflated rate, or they focus on bringing in large quantities of players into their programs rather than focusing on quality. While it is fine to focus on profit, as I discuss below, obsessing with profit while forgetting the people aspect is a common pitfall.
Because No Other Options
I know many coaches who don't love coaching, but it's the best job they could find because they never developed a broad skill set outside of tennis. This is the classic teaching pro situation--injury or failure on the pro circuit led the coach into the industry.
It's almost a cliche to discuss the former high-level player who is burnt out and just going through the motions of weekly lessons. These coaches would rather be doing something else to fulfill their passion, but they never developed skills other than tennis, and taking the leap into a new field with little experience seems too risky for them.
For The Vicarious Thrill
In the high performance segment of the industry, it is common to find coaches who were not winners--maybe they got injured or failed to reach the highest level--yet they teach winning at all costs to their students.
These coaches live through the victories of their students. Their self-esteem is too closely tied to the results and rankings of their players. It is a trap for many coaches who work with competitive players, and it's the trap I almost fell into myself.
For the Feeling of Power
Insecurity can also drive coaches to be manipulative and abusive to players.
Coaches who do not have a lot of power or prestige in their life can feel like the boss--or the the king--on the court. They can dominate and bully their students in negative ways in an attempt to prop up their low self-esteem.
Teaching and enforcing discipline is a legitimate part of coaching, but it should stem from a genuine concern for the player's growth and development, not to bolster the coach's flagging ego.
To Be Cool and Popular
Many times I see coaches who want to act cool with their students and be their buddies instead of being a role model.
Coaches who discuss inappropriate topics like the looks of their students, partying, or illicit drug use, are trying to be cool and popular rather than setting a good moral example. Again, this type of coach has his or her priorities in the wrong place.
I knew a coach who used to make "locker room" talk with other coaches and his teenage male students about the looks of the female girls he coached. Needless to say, his drive to be cool and popular was completely misguided and his on court persona and behavior was unacceptable. It's sad that he couldn't have been a better role model, especially for the teenage boys he was coaching.
Perhaps you can think of other inappropriate reasons to be coaching that you have encountered?
Coaching For The Right Reasons
On the other hand, there are many coaches who are in the business for the right reasons:
To Make a Difference
A noble and admirable reason to be in coaching is to be obsessed with the personal and ethical development of your students-- to be obsessed with shaping lives.
These coaches aspire to be more than just a technique or tactics teacher, but to be a role model, a steward of their players dreams, and a producer of better people to send into the world.
For the Love of the Game
Many coaches simply love the game of tennis. They love to be on the court--that's where they are happiest. This is a great reason to be a coach and a key trait of the best (and happiest) coaches in the world. When they step on the court, the troubles of life tend to fade away and they are carefree, happy, and in- the-moment.
To Exercise a Gift
Some coaches are blessed with a passion and gift for teaching, and it is worthy to share that gift with others. As the Bible says in Corinthians 12:7: "A spiritual gift is given to us so we can help each other." And in Peter 4:10, "Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God's various gifts of grace."
To exercise a gift for teaching is a very good reason to be a coach and--for Christians at least--it is a way to serve God and share his grace in the world.
To Make a Good Living
There is no shame in supporting yourself and your family, and seeking to make a profit from your work. And there is no shame in charging a high price for a high quality of work. This is different than merely coveting money and only valuing your students for the money they bring you, as discussed previously.
If a coach is offering outstanding service, he or she deserves to be compensated accordingly. The key is to never fall into the greed trap and start to see all your students as a number and to obsess about profit over all else.
Perhaps you can think of additional good reasons to be a coach?
We need more dedicated and passionate coaches who are in this business for the right reasons!
I hope coaches who read this article can take an honest assessment of themselves and think about their own motivations to be a coach. Try to find comfort and satisfaction in the intrinsic value of coaching and the positive reasons to be a coach.
Above all else, remember that we are blessed and fortunate to be in a position to markedly influence the lives of our students--both young and old!
Chris Lewit, a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player, coaches in the NYC area and also runs a high performance boarding summer camp in Southern Vermont. He specializes in training aspiring junior tournament players using progressive Spanish and European training methods. His best-selling book, Secrets of Spanish Tennis, has helped coaches and players worldwide learn how to train the Spanish way. He may be reached on the Web at ChrisLewit.com, by phone at (914) 462-2912, or e-mail ChrisLewit@gmail.com.