How To Find The Right Coach & Academy For Your Kids
I hear many parents say:" My son/daughter is going to Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy". Parents say it with such conviction as if sending their child to Nick's academy means that the kids become the next Roger Federer over night. Don't get me wrong, with all due respect, Nick Bollettieri is a great coach but most of the kids attending his academy never get to see him on the court. Instead, parents pay a lot of money, $32,100 - $85,000 for full-time status, but don't know much about the person who actually conducts the training. Most of the parents don't even know what the player/coach ratio is – most academy coaches have numerous kids they coach at once.
If parents ask me if they should send their kid to Nick Bollettieri's academy, I generally do not recommend it, unless their child is already a very successful junior player on a national/international level. National/International successful junior players will receive quality training and hence the individual attention of good coaches that is needed to become successful. But if the kid is "just" a talented player, he/she will be one of many and will not receive the quality training that the top players receive. Instead, they will be on court 28 with some assistant coach who drills them till they throw-up, then they receive a hat and a shirt, and not much else. This phenomenon can be seen at tennis academies all over the country.
So, what would be a better approach?
One way to go is to find a place where player/coach ratio is low (1:2 – 1:4 max). One such place could be John Roddick Total Tennis. But the most effective way is to find your own private coach that works with you on a 1:1 basis. This is a comparable scenario to class room sizes in schools. Research has shown over the years that if you have a private tutor you will learn more than sitting in a classroom with 24 other students because the tutor can focus solely on your needs and the student pays more attention as well. It will cost you probably some more money but you get much more for each and every $ spent. I strongly believe in the notion that "quality will be remembered when the price is already forgotten."
Now, how do I find a great coach that can help me get better?
There are many coaches out there and almost each and every one of them claims to have worked with professional players. Most of the time, it's rather wishful thinking than reality, which leads me to the first rule: "Don't listen to what people say, look at what they do".
For instance, what is their completed level of education? What kind of degree did they accomplish - do they have a "Bachelor's" or "Master's"?
If someone has a Master's degree doesn't necessarily mean that they are smarter but it means that they had the determination to get through 6+ years of university classes. It means that they set out to achieve something and they started and finished the job.
Is the coach certified by a tennis teaching organization (e.g. USPTA or USPTR)?
How many certifications does he/she have? What level did they accomplish? Again, it doesn't mean that they are "better" than someone without a license but it is an indication that they take teaching seriously. If someone possess more than one license means that he/she is open to different ways/methods to accomplish something – being open-minded to different approaches. Believe it or not, there are many ways to become successful – Nick Bollettieri has one way of teaching, Ion Tiriac/Gunther Bosch (Boris Becker's former manager & coach respectively) had another way.
What is the physical appearance of the potential coach - do they suffer from the fat-and-happy syndrome? What I mean by that is, are they in good physical shape themselves for their age or are they 25 pounds overweight? Why is that important you might ask…well, for once, it's a matter of self-discipline. As a coach, I cannot expect from my student to work out hard, eat right, etc. and I can't do it myself – they should do themselves what they are preaching. Does Nick Bollettieri, Tony Roche, or Dean Goldfine look overweight? The answer is NO.
If you have a chance to watch the coach conduct a training session, watch for the following:
- Do they have a plan for what they try to accomplish or do they just do the same routine all the time?
- Are they engaging when they teach – do you feel the coach cares if the student learns something
Being on time is a matter of respect and discipline. If they have a plan shows that they took the time to sit down, think about what they want to accomplish and find ways to implement a desired outcome. If they are engaging means that they want you to get better, not just getting paid.
Quality education cost a lot of time and money...Rome wasn't built in one day. Many tennis academies are either run by former professional players (e.g. Casal, Bruguera, Evert, etc.) that all know how to hit a ball themselves but have little to no knowledge about physiology, anatomy, nutrition, etc. or they are run by a coach that had success with 1 player 25 years ago and they still practice like it is 1975. By the way, the most successful coach, Nick Bollettieri, is not a good tennis player himself but he had/has drive, discipline and determination.
Being on the court during the day and then sitting in class for 3 years in college takes money, time, determination, and effort....lying is easier and they get paid regardless because most people are blended by a big name and/or don't have adequate information available to them.
I mentioned previously what parents can do to evaluate for themselves if a coach is ambitious, honest, and knows what they are talking about. One thing I would recommend to parents is asking questions...why do you do this? why do you do that? Coaches who know what they are doing will be able to explain to you in simple terms why they are doing something...coaches who don't will often answer "because we used to do it". The best advice I can give parents is to look at results. Has the academy produced any players that made it into the top 100 ATP or WTA and when did they do it? Are they still getting players to that level today or in the recent past? There are no excuses to charge a lot of $ but not being able to deliver results...why send your kid somewhere if they never produced anybody? That means that they are doing something wrong...doesn't it?
Back to the expertise of coaches...For example, the coach says "you have to go jogging 6 miles, 4x/week". The coach that doesn't know what they are doing will say something like "because it enhances the player's aerobic base" or "that's how we do it". A competent coach would say "we don't send them jogging because tennis is more of an anaerobic (higher power output, short durations < 30 sec) sport than aerobic (endurance)." Do endurance runners look muscular? How about American Football players? Why would I want to train a football player (plays last ~10sec) like an endurance athlete (marathon runner)? It has to be sport-specific.
Also, the notion of "more is better" when it comes to training is absolute non-sense and shows immediately that the coach is clueless. This approach will most often lead to injuries and a decline in the players performance due to over-training! and/or because the coach reinforces wrong technique, intensities, rest intervals...just to name a few. I don't see how doing the wrong things over and over make you a better tennis player...do you? For example, adequate rest intervals are vital, otherwise any organism (e.g. human body) will die instead of getting stronger.
These are just some of the things you can use to evaluate a potential coach. Apart from the aforementioned guidelines, it is essential to be on the same page on a personal level – coach and player should trust each other and get along personally in order to have success.
For more information you can visit our website and/or join our Facebook Group for periodic information on tennis, conditioning, and sports nutrition.