To set the scene for this conference, firstly a bit of an insight into the Tennis Coaching world today. This may not be valid for the entire planet, however, in my experience, which is mostly in the USA and UK, the world of Tennis and Tennis Coaching belongs to middle aged and older men. Many of these coaches draw on their High School and College playing experience alone to teach this sport. Some have qualifications to bolster this, however, until recently, two days of training followed by a couple of on court and off court exams, sufficed to allow them to say they were certified coaches. Needless to say this resulted in many so called expert certified coaches basically failing both themselves and their protégés, by doing a mediocre job at best. After all, lets face it, at the age of 45, with one exam you may have taken aged 20, what do you really recall from those two days testing? What new things have you picked up over the last 25 years? There is an old marketing saying; “Do you have 25 years’experience, or one year of experience 25 times?”If those coaches have not chosen to attend various conventions or, even more importantly, actually played competitively to see first hand how much the sport has moved on, chances are, they are not being particularly innovative, and yet they get to say that they are certified coaches with no obvious differential between them and others who have the benefit of volumes of current on-court experience. Well the USPTA has recently taken a stance on this problem, by requiring what they are calling "ongoing education credits". As certified USPTA coaches we are now required to attend a certain amount of seminars, webinars or conferences each year to maintain our good standing as certified USPTA coaches. This alone has already been excellent for the sport, as it challenges those caught in a coaching comfort zone to either stay in touch with the way the game is developing or step aside.
But what about the other problem? This is the fact that the coaches of advancing years have 20 odd years left in the coaching world, and as leaders have very few young coaches following in their footsteps? Last weekend a new standard was set for the USPTA conferences, to try to address this problem with a conference aimed specifically at Under 30 year old coaches. The aim was not only to encourage young pros to come over and learn, but those on the cusp of the U30 age category (like myself) to get their start in the world of speaking and presenting. This was highly motivational for everyone as it enabled all of us to share experiences and pass on ideas both up and down the tennis ladder. It created situation that gave all of us a chance to learn while above the delegates and speakers we had a panel of experts, who shared their wisdom with us, and were also able to give us feedback on our questions, comments and presentations.
Of the many presentations that we had over the two day conference I would like to touch on a few of the ones that now, 6 days later, really stood out to me.
Initially, we had a fantastic Ice Breaker, a "Fix It Forum". We started out as relative strangers as many of us did not know each other. We talked about technical problems that we run into and different ways we communicate with our players on how to fix these problems. Not only did we all learn some useful info from each other here, we had just enough laughs and jokes to ensure that in a very short space of time we ended this forum as a bunch of friends having a good time and exchanging valuable information.
This was followed with a presentation from yours truly! Those of you who know me will know that I am not afraid of a crowd, however, this was to be my first time ever talking about my one true passion, and so, of course, I had put a certain amount of pressure on myself to do well. Originally I had been informed that this was to be aimed at U30's, which of course is one thing at least I feel somewhat qualified to talk to a younger age group. But of course, I forgot about the panel of experts, and a few other local expert pros who had come to see what this new style of conference had to offer. So no pressure then! I had decided to talk about the lessons I have learnt in life that have helped me the most in starting up my Tennis Business, Spherical Yellow. Thankfully, I received some very kind feedback from the experts, I think this is largely due to my animated ability to tell a good story, and less about the content of the stories, but all feedback is useful and will assist me in future presentations! So thank you to anyone who gave me any feedback!
I was followed by Claire Bartlett, founder of Empower Sport and Performance Enhancement. Claire a fellow "youngster" at this event gave her presentation on an "Intro to Sports Psychology" and focused on the importance of a coaches role in assisting with players mental skills, and the importance of a quality Coach - Athlete relationship.
Probably one talk that doesn't spring to mind is one of the most important that I should mention, for that very reason! How many Tennis coaches are in the business because of their love of HR? I doubt any of them! For that reason the talk entitled "Human Resources Do's and don'ts for the Tennis Pro" is actually one of the most important. Many of us do not get to attend HR seminars as Tennis Pros, and yet because of this, having this talk in our U30 conference was probably one of the most important!
Other excellent presentations which really stood out included Craig Cignarelli who gave a number of excellent talks, most of which involved a lot of interaction with the audience, thus resulting in quite a memorable experience. Ask me later why I was suddenly so aware of the birds and the golf cart rather than the next Tennis balls coming towards me (time to go back to Claire for more mental training). Frank Giampaolo touched on a number of issues, especially the importance of educating the parents. I will certainly be reading his book, and using his advice when it comes to talking to the parents I work with. Unfortunately I missed a few presentations, as I had to pick up Edgar Giffing from the airport. This however resulted in a fun interview during the ride back to Bluegrass Yacht and Country Club (watch this space, it will be uploaded soon). We finished the day with Edgars presentation of various on court drills. Itis always refreshing for me to see new drills and ideas from other coaches, especially coaches of Edgars caliber.
The whole event could not have taken place without the efforts of Bill Riddle, Marley Woods and Dan Beedle who must be commended for setting up this invaluable event. Thank you for putting this together and creating a conference that welcomes the younger coaches, gives the inbetweeners like me a chance to speak, and yet still brings in top names like Craig Cignarelli, Frank Giampaolo, Tom Cascarano and Edgar Giffing. We had a quality two days in Tennessee and I hope to see more U30 events making the conference calendar next year. Without events such as this one, where will the future of our Tennis Coaches be? Possibly in another sport, that encourages them more. Let us not lose our young talent, let us continue to motivate and empower them to stay with us, on the Tennis Court.