Traveling Coaches: The Unsung Heroes of Tennis (May 2016)

Posted on: May 2, 2016 |
Tags: Elite Tennis, Professional Tennis, spain, Tennis Academy, Tennis Academy Spain

Something pretty special has been happening within British tennis over the last few weeks…

Yes, Andy Murray is the high profile story that we all know of, but away from the spotlight of the back pages and of Sky Sports, Naomi Broady has moved into the women’s world top 100, and on the men’s side Kyle Edmund continues to rise. Just last week Dan Evans moved into the world’s top 100 for the first time.

Only those who are so close to the sport can quite appreciate the magnitude of these achievements. The players deserve so much credit and deserve to take the plaudits, but it has got me thinking about the engines that make these stories tick along day-to-day.

In formula one we see them loud and clear. Football: arguably the coaches are bigger names than the players, parading along the touchline – like Mr. Mourinho! In tennis, what provides an environment for these players not only to develop but also to help them survive and live day in day out during life on tour? This blog is dedicated to a select few of those amazing people who dedicate their lives to one person to help them achieve their goals of being a top professional tennis player. The traveling coach.

At this point, I have to mention some names of coaches who have done the hard yards over the years with the players above mentioned. Kyle Edmund has John Black, James Trotman and present coach Ryan Jones to thank for keeping his boat moving faster.

Dan Evans has worked with Graeme Adams, Leighton Alfred, Mark Taylor, Nathan Rooney and now has Mark Hilton in his corner. Naomi has her father Simon to thank for years of support before ex-STA Player Andrew Fitzpatrick took over the reigns over the last 10 months with great success.

Last week, I was in Madrid for the Mutua Open and I heard comments around some of the players’ coaches such as ‘What a great gig this is’; ‘Does he actually have to do anything?’  Often there were up to 3 coaches per player (more likely a combination of fitness coaches, physics, doctors) in their support team. A great life? Yes! A massive personal dedication and commitment? Absolutely.

So what does a traveling coach do and why I am dedicating a blog towards their appreciation? The blog is written out of a passion and an understanding of these unsung heroes within the game of tennis.  I feel it important that players, coaches and parents alike understand the sacrifice that these coaches make in order to provide a better opportunity for the players to perform and create a career.

Firstly, I want to explore whether having a traveling coach is actually needed: surely these players know as much about the game as the coach themselves? At this point I want you to imagine going to the gym on your own every day for the next 5 years, then imagine doing the same with a personal trainer by your side to motivate, inspire and give you purpose. Which one is going to get you, fitter? This is the ‘Trainer’ aspect of a traveling coach. Keeping a player motivated and with a clear direction.

Now imagine hitting 1000’s of tennis balls over a large period of time in a competitive situation where the stakes are extremely high. Your focus is on doing what you can do to get the job done right? And whilst doing that do you think we pick up bad habits?

Andy Murray spoke to Sky Sports after his win over Rafael Nadal in Madrid about the developments he has made on his second serve over the last few months. He referenced the technical ‘bad habits’ that professional players get into with so much focus being on the tactical and physical side of the game at this level. This is where the coach needs to ensure they are a good ‘Teacher’ for their player to stay on top of the small, necessary adjustments.

Lastly, imagine traveling the world on your own, staying in average hotels and coming into contact only with people that are your direct competition. You are away from your family, your friends, your home comforts. You have to deal with the ups and, let’s be honest, the downs in tennis that happen so frequently on your own. Now try and do that for the next 10-12 years whilst building a career. Difficult, ay?

This is where the coach has to be a ‘Coach’ and a ‘Companion’ and often a ‘Counsellor/Psychologist’. At the lower level (and by this I mean outside the world’s top 20, where players can afford to have a larger support team, each with their own specific roles), one coach needs to be this for one player, and often for 3/4/5/6 players at the same time due to affordability issues.

To give some nice examples linked in with the aforementioned players:

Andrew Fitzpatrick started working/traveling with Naomi Broady in July 2015 at a ranking of 230 and is now ranked 79 in May of 2016. Naomi had 8-9 years on the tour without an official traveling coach. Her investment in Andrew has been very much justified and the fruit of it is starting to bear. But make no mistake about it; this was a brave decision by Naomi to dig deep into her pockets to speculate on this appointment. She (and Andrew) deserves a great deal of credit for this.

Mark Hilton started working/traveling with Dan Evans in December 2015 at a ranking of 186. Dan is now ranked 86 in the world in May 2016. For an additional insight into the magnitude of this success story. Dan had 300 ATP points in December 2015 and has more than doubled his points to 646 in the last 6 months. Some going!

Let’s take a minute to applaud these coaches who have sacrificed up to 45 weeks away from their friends and families each year in order to support the player’s careers and the multiple roles they play within their one role. I don’t want us to spend too long on it though – that is the last thing that these coaches want. They don’t do this for the limelight and that is what makes them so special…the unsung heroes of this sport!

Dan Kiernan

Director, SotoTennis Academy

Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain

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