Why there is no Coaching Allowed During Matches
This is obvious, right? There should be no talking/coaching to players during a match. Tennis parents can be a little, um, how shall I put this – enthusiastic in their support for their children. Is that euphemistic enough? I hope so because I understand how hard it is to sit watching matches where I really want “my guy” to win. It can be a roller coaster of emotions. Your child can perform brilliantly, executing every shot you already know he can make, and you’ll both leave feeling on top of the world. Or, and this happens a lot too, you can see your child struggle with basic shots, double fault all day long and end up losing to a kid you might think is unworthy of victory. That’s how it goes, and it’s tough. I know. Thus, absorb what I am saying with the foreknowledge that I am on your side and I feel the urge to help my player during matches too.
But We Don’t Because…
Because to do so is a distraction to both players. Tennis is like boxing in that it pits the wits, skill and physicality of individuals directly against each other. When we sit in the stands all we can see is the product of whatever thinking (or lack of thinking) is going on inside a player’s head. We have no way of knowing the process our player is going through to arrive at his/her solution, and to blurt out some random suggestion might do a lot more harm than good. What if your guy seems to be hitting always to his opponent’s strength instead of his weakness? That might seem stupid to you, right? But what if your player has a logical reason for doing it? Hitting to a strength, if successful, can give a much needed boost of confidence at a time when perhaps it is most needed. “If I hit to his strength and win it means I can make any shot and win!” Likewise, from the opponent’s perspective, “If I lose a point even when hitting my best shot, I might be in trouble.” The point is that we in the stands don’t know.
Short Circuiting the Zone:
Another reason we shouldn’t say anything is because tennis is also a game of muscle memory and instinct. Have you ever been running while thinking or listening to something completely unrelated to your workout and noticed, suddenly, that you’ve been running 5 minute miles (or whatever is super fast relative to normal) for the past 5 miles without noticing or feeling any pain? That’s the zone, and it’s a rare place to be. Now, what if your player is right there in the zone just as you scream “Move your mother loving feet!” That’s going to snap him right out of whatever happy place he just was and, again, you might have just sabotaged the whole effort.
Can’t Play the Game for Him:
We all have our own ways of dealing with pressure. Some people become silent and introspective when faced with a challenge. Others get animated and aggressive. On a tennis court, in the middle of a match, when the pressure is really on, there is not a professional player in the world who doesn’t have a completely unique thought process to manage it. On some days they’re really good at it, sometimes not. But, the fact is that they spent a lot of years figuring out the most efficient way for them. If you’re a parent of a struggling junior player you might want to give some helpful tips or encouragement through the fence because you can see the internal struggle coming out in your kid’s body language. How is that going to help them when you aren’t there? Tennis is more than learning to swing and move. It is also a life lesson on overcoming adversity. As many practice hours as it takes to learn great swing technique, it takes just as many hours to master the mental judo necessary to overcome stress.
Don’t Make Enemies of Other Parents:
At every tournament there is always one guy who can’t shut up about how the calls seem unfair to his child (funny that it never seems to go the other way). He always prattles on with excuses about why his kid might not be doing so well – usually the complaints are aimed at, because there are only two people sitting in the stands, the parent of the opposing player. I ran into a guy just yesterday who decided to tell me that one of my players was clearly playing in the wrong age division because his player was having a tough time. So, putting my guy up a division, even if he is currently exactly where he ought to be, would give this other guy’s kid a chance to win while putting my guy at a severe disadvantage. Let’s logically think about that for a second… . Does it seem fair to disadvantage one kid just to benefit another? No, of course not, but logic has nothing to do with it. It is 100% an emotion driven opinion. There is always someone better lurking out there, and winning and losing happens to everyone. As parents and coaches we just need to learn to get over it. I find it amusing that a kid, when faced with a loss, usually shakes hands and is best friends with his opponent 5 minutes after the match while parents can hold seething feuds with each other for months and years because of something as small as one or two perceived bad calls. It is infinitely better to take a walk during a match than risk saying something you will regret later. Don’t be that guy everyone else dreads sitting next to.
Tennis is Fun and it is a Microcosm of Life:
Our lives are by definition full with experiences. They range from euphoria inducing highs to crushing lows. And, that’s how tennis is, too. You get hit, you hit back, and at the end you might have learned something about yourself, your opponent and what you can and cannot control. Unlike life, though, tennis gives players second chances. If you find yourself sitting in the stands just itching to have an outburst, think for a moment about the consequences. Is this outburst really helpful or is this a separate, unrelated to tennis, internal struggle of your own? There’s always next time. I get it; it’s hard to watch our kids learning lessons the hard way. We want to step in and help them to overcome them. But, we shouldn’t. Thankfully the USTA recognizes this and, for the sake of controlling potential mob violence (only a slight exaggeration), is rather strict about the “no coaching” rule. It even extends to the professional ranks. I can’t remember who it was, but last year a coach of a professional player was fined for sending signals to his player via a series of not very well disguised sign language moves. Did you watch Ivan Lendl in the stands during Wimbledon? The guy was a rock. We should all aspire to that.