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What makes a successful tennis coach?

What makes a successful tennis coach?

"All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself."
- Bill McCartney, UC Boulder mens’ football coach and former athlete

This simple quote sums coaching up to us in the purest and most accurate sense. When you take a 10,000 foot view at coaching across sports, career and life – this is what it all comes down to in the end. Professional coaching, particularly in the athletic space, has long been debated, disputed and become complicated – what is right vs. wrong, winning vs. losing and cost vs. performance. In the end, it becomes extremely difficult for the consumer to quantify and qualify what coach is the best choice for their time, financial investment and vested success.

So, how do you define "success"? At SETS Consulting, we don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all indicator. What we do know, with decades of experience in the coaching and consulting world, are our top five key ingredients to look for in a great coach. We have based these qualities on observations and personal experiences with those who have contributed to growth of the sport of tennis, become thought leaders and pioneers in the coaching industry and have a history fostering dedicated, passionate and successful players.

Above: USPTA Master Professional Kyle LaCroix (Photo courtesy of SETS Consulting)

Ingredient 1: Start With a Large Dose of Adaptability

A great coach has the ability to change with the seasons (literally and figuratively!) and circumstances brought upon them, quickly and effectively. Examples of this could be a player injury, a change of goals or ideals of the player/guardian, the climate and the player’s learning style. We often see coaches try a singular approach that they believe is effective. What may work wonders for one player may be the opposite for another. Adaptability means changing the approach for each client while still incorporating one’s signature and technical chops. Being able to pick up on a player’s learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic and written) and change your coaching “language” is critical.

Ingredient 2: Add in a Solid Foundation of Technical Tennis Knowledge

While personality, positivity and other non-tangible traits are crucial pieces to the great coach pie, having a strong base of technical knowledge from the sport through experience and study is necessary. At SETS Consulting, we believe that the best coaches make those technicalities simple for their student. Examples include the degree of the racquet face, grip types, swing speed and velocity, shoulder-over-shoulder angle on serves and other crucial aspects of an athlete’s game that sound complicated but are made digestible by the right teacher.

Ingredient 3: Sprinkle in Motivation, Positivity and Empathy – A Mentor

A truly great coach goes beyond just their 60 minutes of paid on-court time – they take the time to get to know the athlete and their family and incorporate valuable life lessons and values upon the individual that carry them far beyond the court. Not only does this help in their present and future life, but it also has an impact on their character on court and sets an example for their demeanor, such as positive body language, response to wins and losses, sportsmanship and – most importantly – resiliency.

Ingredient 4: Add a Dash of Consistent Communication

It may be one of the most under-looked values in a coach, but one that follows up and stays on track with their athlete is key. This not only includes touching base, but also sitting down and talking about goal planning/setting, giving updates to stakeholders (those who are paying for services) and checking in with the player to see how they are feeling both physically and emotionally. This gives space for these parties involved to speak honestly and stay on the same page. To us, we believe that communication = structure.

Ingredient 5: Finish With Gallons of (Realistic!) Long and Short-Term Goal Planning

Last but certainly not least, our last key ingredient: the ability to set goals in both the short and long-term. This ranges from the technical skill of being able to do periodization charts so that the athlete peaks at the right moment during competition, from simply being able to speak with the athlete on why they play the sport and what they want to get out of it – besides just tangible results. Too often, we see coaches either overwhelm the player with a grandiose plan 5-10 years out or simply focus on one session at a time, which can frustrate the player and leave them asking – “What is the purpose of this? What am I working towards?” The ability to simultaneously think bigger picture yet focus on the day-to-day work an athlete puts in is a critical component of a great coach. It also fosters achievement beyond just competitive wins and losses, as the athlete sees themselves visually “checking off” those goals that are set.

Have we made you hungry yet? Hungry for learning, we mean! Collaborating with a qualified coach on your journey to tennis success can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life – on both sides of the court. As former coaches at SETS Consulting, we know all too well the joy and pride we take when we see the impact our teaching has on an athlete – after all, it’s the passion behind what we do that makes us do it. As John Wooden once said, "A good coach can change a game – a GREAT coach can change a life."


Kyle LaCroix is a USPTA Master Professional, the highest rating achievable by a tennis professional. His experience as a top teaching pro includes The Oaks in Boca Raton, Saddlebrook Resort in the Tampa area, and the prestigious Philadelphia Cricket Club. Kyle currently runs SETS Consulting which provides educational curriculums for tennis coaches and their staff. (Top Photo: Sara O'Shea / Pexels; Second Photo: SETS Consulting)

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