Advanced Instruction for Beginners

Yesterday I was working with a beginner with decent feel of the ball but had no technique. She is an adult who has not played tennis since elementary school. I had to teach her how to rotate and not open up her body too early during the rotation process. In this way, she could take advantage of her core strength when hitting the ball. What makes the transition difficult for helping a player with relative consistency from the short court with no technique is the following:

1- Teaching the right techniques
2- Not opening up their body too early and putting core strength into each shot
3- Creating a sense of contact awareness
4- Mentally accepting the loss of feel and control during this transitional learning period
5- Creating basic control with these new technical changes.

During the lesson, I shifted gears and had my student focus mainly on feeling the repetitive timing at contact with the inertia when opening up her body. Feeling the new level of power created by better technique and use of core power and a sense of control was helped when I minimized the technical focus. Instead of concentrating on backswings and follow through, we focused on feeling the main through part of the shot. The inertia between the core opening up to the shot, while connecting at the right contact point and hitting through the contact is all that was technically needed for this introductory lesson.

Parent-Coach Communication

I am sorry that we have not spoken since Troy walked off the court the other day. My instinct is to always resolve issues right away. In this case, I thought things would simmer down. I overrode my desire to call you because I needed time to gather my thoughts, of which I have been pondering on for a while. I was glad you called me because it pushed me to dig deep and express myself. Firstly, I wanted to say that it has been such a pleasure working with Troy and you guys. Subsequently, if we have to depart our coaching relationship temporarily or permanently for whatever reason, I do not want it to affect our overall relationship.

As a coach, my objective is to improve the student. If I am not, then there is little reason to continue our coaching relationship unless the student and family are ok with stagnant progress. The problem with coaches who push very little is that students barely improve and at the end of the day it can lead to more frustration and self-esteem problems later on. Hence, as a coach it is my job to do whatever I can within proper boundaries to push the student to the next level. Because peoples’ boundaries differ for different reasons, communication and reality checks must come into play. Realistically for Troy to get better in my opinion, he has to allow the coach to push him more than he does. When push comes to shove, I believe that Troy becomes too soft to make effective headway and this softness affects every aspect of his tennis game. Similar to me, Troy is not the strongest, most athletic person. Hence, we need to be relatively coachable in a sport that requires simultaneous technical, mental and physical improvement. I know you have asked me to lighten up at times especially being that Troy is only 10 years old and the end goal is not to be professional or play in college for now. I definitely take your needs into account because it is my job to establish the proper boundaries between what a family wants and what I feel a student is capable of accomplishing.

In my opinion, Troy’s softness was starting to add up of late based upon the other day and the week before. I was tough on him, but not overly tough in my opinion. As always, during and after pushing Troy, I expressed how much I cared about him and my belief in him. I told him my reasons for being tougher on him than I am a recreational player with less desire for instance. I also suggested to Troy that we do not have to train all the time. One of my suggestions was possibly taking time off or working with me less time. I am passionate about the subject of tennis and proper push. As much as I aim to improve students, my number one goal is for them to be happy. If I did not care as much as I do about the students I coach, I would just adapt to how the student is feeling in the moment. However, I would not be doing my job for their tennis or happiness.

Even though Troy is very talented and smart, I can’t ultimately do what I have to do to improve his tennis if I do not have yours and your husband’s support when push comes to shove. Personally I was a stubborn, challenging student so I can relate to Troy. My understanding from both a personal and coaching perspective of being coachable and non-coachable has led me to believe that unless the coach and parent(s) are on the same wavelength with a student who needs to be pushed, the student will control things too much. And when this happens, softness rather than consistent, sufficient effort takes over and improvement ultimately is minimized or ceases all together. I have done lots of mediation and written lots of letters to parents over this same issue. I have also brought in third parties to help resolve things or been part of a family’s third party efforts including therapists and sports psychologists who were already on the family’s team. Hence, this issue of softness and Troy’s frustration with me for being tough on him is not a Troy problem. It’s a common problem that is best when nipped early on with all students. If not, the patterns become habits. And breaking habits become very tough to overcome.

I think the world of Troy. And I want nothing but the best for him. However, if Troy wants to keep improving (and this does not mean working towards being a professional or even a college player), then in my opinion he must once and for all allow me to fully coach him with your support or its best to make some changes. What I am asking for with your support is more often than not, as you have is allow me to push Troy to follow through with his tennis specific needs for the day rather than Troy giving in to what I call ‘beneficial discomfort’. The more Troy consistently follows through with his daily needs, rather than gets his way when things get tough, the more he will improve and reach his tennis specific goals. I appreciate listening to my feelings on these important matters. Please communicate with me before Friday so we know how to best proceed.

Sincerely Coach

Excerpt from Jonathan’s Book – Creating Tennis Mastery

At age 12 in 1986, I was the U.S. National Tennis Champion on clay courts. My friend and rival Vincent Spadea was the U.S. National Tennis Champion on hard courts that same year. Ten years later, I was near the bottom of the barrel on the ATP tour at number 968 in the world. Vince, that same year, was number 54 in the world on his way to wins over the world’s best, including Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. Comparing Vince’s superior results next to mine pushed me to dig deep in my heart and soul to answer some challenging questions such as: How come people with similar results early in their lives vary so much in accomplishments later in life? Where could I devote my talents, achieve new successes and feel happy?

One main reason why some people attain greatness in their respected profession or craft stems from fortunate circumstances such as level of talent. However, the knowledge about what it takes to become a great teacher at something is not contingent on reaching greatness in one’s field. Because of the importance I previously placed on the credential factor as a teacher, a difficult challenge for me was learning to let go of the idea that I personally needed to be one of the best tennis players in the world prior to reaching greatness as a professional tennis and life coach and consultant. In time, I learned how to judge myself based upon my progression from past to present. I also realized that if world renowned tennis coach Nick Bollettieri could become one of the greatest tennis teachers without ever playing competitive tennis, then my tennis results more than qualify me to be a great teacher.

My initial transition into the world away from professional tennis though created a brand new set of challenges for which I was not initially prepared. Stepping away from old, comforting habits for the pursuit of new challenges was difficult for me. Despite maturing in many ways, it wasn’t easy for me to throw away my idealistic side. Could I have been one of the best tennis players in the world had I absorbed more wisdom around me, such as in this book? As much as I sought to answer questions pertaining to my highest potential in professional tennis, my mission of helping others in tennis became more important.

I have a passion for playing and teaching tennis. Writing a tennis book filled with decades of personal experiences and assistance from wise teachers helps me to help others. Tennis has given me so much. I was given a full, four year tennis scholarship to Rollins College, a beautiful school with a rich history. I traveled around the world competing in tennis tournaments. I developed healthy lifestyle habits and life-esteem for succeeding on and off the court.

I needed a lifetime of experience as a competitor, coach, mediator with families of students and student of the game to be able to successfully write my beliefs. The proceeding book on Maximizing Your Potential is about the philosophy and qualities behind maximizing your potential for tennis or any other profession or craft. This book helps people of all levels maximize their tennis by understanding the multiple skills in tennis and applying them through an action-oriented curriculum process. Tennis mastery consists of developing simultaneous technical, physical, mental, emotional and strategic skills, while mastering present goals before moving forward.

This book is a theory on the ideal means to maximize tennis. There are several ways to use the theory. One can follow the curriculum with relatively few changes. Ideas can also be absorbed on an as desired basis. Just as there are different ways to Rome, there are a variety of structures for getting there. Hopefully this book fills in some gaps for those whom already have a quality structure and support system. Without quality basics, maximizing your tennis is impossible. Even advanced players with superior talent and skills can lack the basic steps learned within the initial curriculum levels. Playing professional tennis was a major wake up call for me. It made me realize that I was someone with good talent and advanced skills without basic tennis mastery.

Differences Between Tennis Coaching and Consulting

At the request of my good friend Xavier Proulx, I taught his friend Ramon, who was in South Florida for the day. Ramon, a golf professional by trade, was a fairly decent striker of the ball. Even though Ramon technically signed up for a private lesson, it was more or less a consultation. The main difference of teaching someone on a consistent basis versus teaching them on a one-time basis via a private lesson/ consultation is that the teacher does not have the time to teach in a more organized, step by step progressive process. In the case of Ramon, he never takes lessons but he likes to compete. Instead of breaking down his strokes into individual components like with other students I coach, I had to pick and choose what was most applicable for his situation. I had to intuitively assess Ramon’s level, how he processes knowledge best and understand his goals. Any complication in my teaching would hinder him. However, not making him aware of his fundamental flaws, which prevented him from competing effectively, was also detrimental.

The middle of the road approach between a one-time private lesson/ consulting session and full-time coaching is full-time consulting. Even though I do not coach full-time consulting students on a multiple day, weekly basis, I still work with them throughout the year. As part of this process, I work with their existing coach, parent and/or just themselves through live consultations and video and email type means. In order to adequately prepare the student for the next consulting session, each consulting session includes a follow-up plan. I have tailored my different consulting programs to fit one’s needs. As part of this process, I help students accomplish their goals per their requested program. Because I take a holistic approach with my work, I focus in on other aspects of a student’s overall tennis game, such as their motivation and whether they are being as realistic as possible with their goals. For instance, if a student’s goals are unrealistic relative to the program they signed up for, I am going to call them on it. Regardless of how well a teacher tailors their programs, overall success is contingent on the student being motivated enough to learn and realistic about their goals.

In the case of Ramon, I prioritized his footwork first. As I explained to him, in order to execute the basic strategy of ball control, he has to balance himself better and feel the through-ness of each shot. And he must perform all of this more instinctively, which entails letting go and being less mindful when learning. Finding that balance between opening Ramon up to new ideas without overly complicating him with concepts was my challenge. Ramon had major skill flaws and went about the process of learning skill too analytically. Hence, not only did I need to teach Ramon new things, but I had to help him process it in a higher trusting, less thoughtful way. If I had more time to coach him, I would not need to simultaneously teach him different aspects in one consulting session. Because of the limitations in time, I was unable to teach him more perfectly. Fortunately, he was motivated to learn and realistic about his goals. Subsequently, I was successful in pushing Ramon to let go of additional things he asked about such as figuring out his ideal contact point. Had I overly taught him with more technical points in this limited, 90 minute private lesson/ consulting session, all the good that was learned would have been squashed.

Tennis Coaching: Balancing Accountability with Push

I (Jonathan Goldfarb) spent many years during my junior, college and professional tennis career learning and growing as an athlete. Today, as a coach and consultant, I stress the dual importance of taking responsibility for your actions, while allowing others to push you past comfort levels. Almost all players have thresholds that they are unwilling to push past. Some students that work physically hard may need to be more mentally or emotionally pushed. Whereas, some of the most independent, emotionally mature competitors do not push their bodies hard enough. Overly independent players sometimes control their world too much, do not take enough risk and prevent others from pushing them beyond the vision they see. On the other hand, those that always want people around them can be too needy and as a result do not develop higher confidence and self-esteem. The end result: being too independent or overly dependent on others are both problematic for tennis players seeking to maximize their potential. The answer: surround yourself with quality people that can push you past your limitations, while still allowing you to mature through a process of truth and self-responsibility.

While it sounds simple, in actuality creating this balance is not easy. If it were – each of us would be well on our way to maximizing our potential. The questions become then: Why are only some students finding the right coaches to push them? And why are some athletes improving their level of independence and accountability while others appear to be stagnant? In my own experience playing and coaching I have summed up the reasons as follows: Lack of awareness regarding improvement needs in the areas of tennis skills, athleticism and mental toughness; Over-thinking challenges to the point where quality decisions are not being made; and an Unwillingness to put oneself on the line all together.

The natural next step would be to ask, how do we gain more awareness and overcome these flaws? To begin, we have to be honest with ourselves regarding engrained negative behavioral patterns. Just because one has not hit rock bottom doesn’t mean he or she should wait to change. Next, become aware of our habits during both practices and tennis matches. And finally, seek out the advice of a coach if you are not steadily improving in practice and matches. If the advice you are currently receiving is not working, then pursue a second opinion. If progress is still lacking, it’s time to ask yourself whether you are truly being honest with your decisions, goals and actions. It may also be time to give your environment an update.