By: Jhonny Berrido from ProWorld Tennis Academy | Professional Coach
The biggest problem I’ve encountered during my ten years of coaching experience has been the lack of basic communication with players. I’ve come to realize after all these years that if I want to be a better tennis coach, I have to be a good communicator. No matter your culture or country of origin, communication is key to any relationship. Nowadays, communication skills separate good and successful coaches from less successful ones.
When coaching, there usually is a discrepancy between what the coach intends to communicate and what the player hears, and vice versa. Being able to communicate effectively is crucial for the development of the player. When communication is consistently effective, the coach is free to focus on creating a plan that is suitable to the player’s needs. The most important aspect of clear communication between player and coach is to insure both are on the same page regarding the message and both are receiving benefit from it.
In 2014 I was responsible for a top ITF junior player whom I had the privilege to work and travel with. The goal was to get her the best junior ranking possible and start a professional career after that summer. During this time, I traveled with her to a Grade A in Italy and a Grade 1 in Belgium to warm-up for the French Open. Everything seemed to be going well, but after two weeks in Italy and Belgium without getting results, we started having difficulties with our relationship. I realized that we did not cement a base relationship with effective and open communication, and didn’t communicate well regarding preparation for matches and a solid game plan. I made assumptions I shouldn’t have—I didn’t discuss these areas with her because I did not want to create confusion. Once the tournaments began, and during the on court preparatory training sessions, we experienced issues and confrontations regarding his technical and tactical game. I realized that the issue we were having originated from not communicating ahead of time about a detailed plan before heading out to compete at that level. Unfortunately, we were already at these major events—it was too late for the player to process and absorb the plan well enough for her to perform successfully. Trust was lost. This experience inspired and motivated me to change the way I communicate with my players.
Here are some tips that have helped me along the way:
- Coaches should show their players that they are open to an exchange of thoughts and feelings and make sure players understand that it is not a competition to prove who is right and wrong. Understanding each other is key.
Coaches should be able to communicate effectively in situations such as:
- Explaining to players how to perform in practices and tournaments
- Speaking to parents
- Speaking to media, officials, and sponsors
Communication is ineffective when:
- Information is incorrect
- Lack of attention from the listener
- Misinterpretation of the message
Below are a few aspects I put into daily practice to improve communication with my players:
- Be honest. Being honest helps develop strong credibility with the player. Say what you believe in a fair and compassionate manner.
- Be honest to yourself and players about the knowledge you have and don’t have. Recognize your weaknesses, be able to share your ideas and beliefs with other coaches, and be open to new ideas and criticism.
- Be caring. Demonstrate to players that you care about them—not just their tennis, but as people. Spend time with them and give them help. Pay attention to their concerns, progress, or changes. Coaches need to understand their players in order to communicate most effectively.
- Be consistent. Communicate the same philosophy and terminology from one player to another. Always keep your word.
Every day I try to apply simple, easy, and natural communication.