How good a player do you need to be to become a tennis coach?
Teaching tennis is a rewarding job. You can do it part time or you can do it full time. You can work on private courts, tennis clubs and academies through to state and national run programs.
The industry has grown over the years with more courses, more professional development opportunities and an unlimited amount of resources online to help you become a better tennis coach.
But what type of playing background do you need do be an effective tennis coach?
My own tennis journey
As a kid/teenager I played some tournaments, regular Summer competition, had 1 @ 30 min private lesson a week and did Mcdonald’s squads (remember them?), which was a district squad for the better players in the area. I wasn’t ever any chance of winning a state level tournament and always considered myself a ‘B’ level tennis player who played footy in winter and fancied myself as a leg spinner bowler as well. In other words compared to other players my age I was in the second batch of players and where I always had really good hand/eye coordination and competed hard, I didn’t have any big weapons. The top 5 or 6 boys my age I could never beat and I sat somewhere between 7 and say 14 or so in the state for my age which given how much I played I was pretty happy with. I competed in a couple of National Championships, not winning a match in the first one and winning 2 rounds in the second attempt. I did manage to play Div 2 NCAA College Tennis and have played many seasons of mostly Div 1 or 2 tennis and a couple of seasons of State League tennis. So I can play and to most people they would consider me a very good player. But I knew too many players who were much better than me and most of them didn’t make any sort of pro level.
So when I started coaching I had what you could call some type of ‘Small Man Syndrome’. In other words I didn’t think I had the playing background to really become a recognised tennis coach. But I did want to become a great coach so I worked hard learning everything I could. Attending coaching conferences in other cities, doing my qualifications and reading and watching everything possible to become a better coach. Over time my confidence grew and I have developed now 100’s of players who have gone on to play club tennis and a limited few who have made it to the National Junior level and achieved US NCAA College Scholarships. So although it was likely the catalyst for rapid improvement as a coach, I probably didn’t need to be so insecure about my own playing level in aspiring to be a great tennis coach. But what if your playing level is much lower, can you still be a great tennis coach?
The thing is that so many of your students learn visually and watch and take in how you hit the ball. So any technical flaws will show themselves up in your student like a mirror. Over the years I have seen many parents (and some coaches) with a limited playing background and technical flaws hit and teach their child tennis, only to see the same technical flaws come up in their child. So even if you understand what is meant to be done theoretically, if you cannot do it smoothly yourself, it will have a negative impact on your player. However introducing a player to the sport of tennis does not require a big playing background but more so an enthusiasm and passion for the game and ability to inspire others.
So therefore we can divide tennis coaches into 4 categories:
1.Participation coach – Hotshots Lessons for 3 to 13 year old’s.
Here the focus is on introducing the game of tennis in a fun way to inspire the young child to enjoy and continue the game. Basic technique is introduced but engagement and activity is even more important.
Coach playing level suggestion – UTR 3 and above
2. Club development – Squad/Private for 7 to 16 year old’s.
Here technique becomes important as does an understanding of tactics and other match play scenarios and ways to improve to help them represent their club in team tennis. Teaching Adult Beginners could fit into this category as well.
Coach playing level suggestion – UTR 5 and above
3. Junior Tournament development – Squad/Private Tennis 10 years +
Here advanced technical, tactical, mental and physical development has to be taught and mentored. This can be a difficult stage as the child starts to experience higher highs but lower lows in their quest to improve as a player. As a coach you need to have experience playing at this level. Teaching Intermediate to Advanced level Adults would also fit into this category.
Coach playing level suggestion – UTR 8 and above
4. Professional Tournament Coaching – Squad/Private for 17 years +
This would start from the lower tiers of the tennis tour through to the pro circuit. This has everything from the Junior Tournament development stage with an even bigger emphasis on match analysis and wholistic player management.
Coach playing level suggestion – UTR 11 and above
Coaching players who are better than you?
So I would say that its not advisable to coach players who play at a higher level than you. The player will know it and lose faith in your ability as a coach. They have to respect your game. Again reiterating on the point earlier, even if a coach knows theoretically what a player needs to do they need to be able to practically demonstrate it time and time again.
However a coach may be a bit older and used to play at a higher level but now cant compete with the young player. This is of course also ok because it means the coach has experienced playing at that level before and will have the knowledge and wisdom to pass on.
There are exceptions to this but its pretty rare.
Coaching at the right level
So looking at the 4 levels of coaching, there is a place for most players to turn their passion towards coaching. This may be at stage 1 introducing tennis to new young players. At stage 1 coaching can be a fun part time job working with kids and promoting the sport. If you can coach at the stage 2 level then this really opens up options for fulltime coaching careers at a local club and if you can coach at stage 3 and 4 then this opens further opportunities to coach at academies as well as state, national and international tennis programs or tours.
Have you ever looked at getting into tennis coaching but been held back by your own belief in your game?