What Kind of Coach Are You?

The following article is based on a tennis conference lecture titled, “What Kind of Coach are you, Anyway,?” presented by Dr. Paul Roetert, CEO of SHAPE America. Dr. Roetert is the former director of research for the USTA, helped develop the sport science program for the USTA and worked closely with their Player Development program.

As a coach of young athletes, you can have a profound influence on their lives if you fulfill your obligation of using athletics as a way to teach life skills. Remember, student-athletes are students first, athletes second.

It’s important that you determine what type of coaching philosophy you will have before you begin your season so you can be consistent throughout the season, and know how to deal with unique situations which will undoubtedly arise during your season.

Is winning important to you as your ultimate goal? Admit it if it is. Especially at the collegiate and professional ranks, a coach’s job may depend on winning.

Do you keep everyone who comes out or do you cut? By keeping everyone, you offer more youngsters the opportunity to develop self-esteem, goal-setting skills, discipline and team work. By keeping everyone, however, you are able to pay less individual attention to each player. If you have a no-cut policy, think about the up- and down-sides, and try to come up with solutions to address this (two different practice times, having varsity players act as assistant coaches with the JV, etc.).

Very often, your goals may be subordinate to those of the school’s. Meet with your A.D. to determine if there is a coaching philosophy which he or she wants applied to all the school’s sports, and meet with other coaches to discuss how they use these philosophies in their sports.

Bear in mind that a nationwide survey of youth athletes found that having fun was the youngsters’ number one priority, while winning came in 10th.

Goal- vs. Results-Oriented Coaching

While every coach ultimately wants to and must try to win, if you have a team of primarily freshman and sophomores, or if you have primarily recreational players in your program, your goals may be primarily developmental.

If your emphasis is on having each player meet individual goals, this might help keep morale high on a team which traditionally wins few matches if players see their team mates beginning to achieve individual goals.

One player may want to develop a more consistent serve; another might want to develop a serve-and-volley game; and another may want to improve her speed and conditioning as a way to stay in matches longer. Charts and graphs with each player’s individuals goals, updated regularly and posted for everyone to see will create excitement and motivation as team members work harder to meet their goals.

Using the USTA Sport Science fitness protocols is an excellent way to motivate teams, as each player tests their speed, flexibility, strength and conditioning at the beginning of the year works all year to improve their scores.

Three Types of Coaching Styles
In a lecture to tennis coaches earlier this year, by Dr. Paul Roetert, executive director for the American Sport Education Program, discussed the three coaching styles prevalent in sports.

#1 Command

This style of coaching emphasizes the authority of the coach. Two-way dialogue or questions are not encouraged in an effort to establish the coach’s authority.

Roetert cautions that this style of coaching often breeds hesitancy and fear of failure in an athlete. Frustration also builds when athletes aren’t allowed to ask questions or participate in their own development. Players often give up, drop off the team or transfer.

While many coaches may believe that command-style coaches show their confidence in their abilities, these types of coaches are often actually insecure, and limit questions or explanations of their directions because they may not be able to defend them.

#2 Cooperative

Coaches who use a cooperative coaching method ask players to help make decisions, so that team members buy into solutions. Rather than just giving their opinions or directives, cooperative-style coaches listen and evaluate while providing instructions. Athletes are more motivated if they are into it, says Roetert. Allowing players to participate also helps raise their self-esteem if they feel they opinions and suggestions are valuable.

#3 Submissive

This type of coach makes very few decisions. Quite often, this is the math or history teacher who has never played tennis and has been asked to act as a team “monitor,” more so than as a coach. These coaches rarely provide any individualized instruction. As they try not to expose their lack of knowledge of the game, they often appear disinterested to their players. Players make decisions about what drills they will do, how hard they will practice, etc. This style of coaching invites problems, warns Roetert.

According to Roetert, the cooperative style of coaching is the most effective for the majority of coaches, but suggests using elements of the other two styles to round out a coaching style.

For example, there will be times when a team begins to lose focus or a discipline problem begins to arise, and a command-style of coaching may be needed here.

A coach may let a team captain lead the conditioning portion of a practice to reinforce the captain’s authority; in an effort to help a player build self-confidence, you may ask him to suggest a drill and let that player run the drill.

Announce Your Philosophy

It’s important that once you have developed a coaching philosophy with which you are comfortable and which your A.D. supports, you share it with your players and their parents, says Roetert.

This will let your players understand throughout the season why you are taking some of the actions you are taking.

Be Consistent

It is critical that you be consistent in applying your coaching philosophy and team rules. If you tell your players that pre-season matches are to be used to work on skill development under pressure, then berate players, or even show that you are personally upset after the team does not win those matches, you will confuse your players.

If you do not enforce your team rules with your star player, it will be almost impossible to discipline lower-level players and you may invite problems as players and their parents complain to your A.D.

Be Prepared

While you cannot foresee every incident that may occur during a season, you can prepare for some of the more obvious by asking other coaches about recurring problems they face. Players who throw racquets, curse, miss practice or break other team rules should be disciplined according to the rules you have laid out.

At the PTR Foundation International Tennis Symposium, Roetert asked coaches how they would respond to a player who yelled a racial slur at another during the final set of a match that would send the winning team to the state championships for the first time. Opinions varied, with some suggesting an application of USTA rules, while others calling for an immediate default.

Would defaulting this player be fair if it robbed the entire team of their chance to go to the state championships? Would this player jeopardize a college scholarship for this one incident? How would you react?

What’s Good for the Goose…

If you tell your players not to drink, but have beer, wine or liquor when you travel with the team, even at a restaurant or social function, you are sending a mixed message. Do you smoke in front of your players? Don’t make your players hit the salad bar at Wendy’s, then order two bacon cheeseburgers for yourself.

Playing skills are some of the least necessary and least used skills of any coach. Even if you are new to tennis, there are many books covering the various technical, tactical and sport science aspects of the game. There are also many books on generic coaching, as well.

Increasing your knowledge of conditioning, injury prevention, nutrition, equipment and psychology, while you develop your knowledge of specific tennis areas will increase your confidence in your coaching abilities and earn you more respect from your team members.

Having a proactive, rather than a reactive coaching philosophy benefits everyone with whom you work, and makes your job much easier and much more enjoyable.

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