Stop taking tennis coaching!

Ok this is a bit of an extreme title – and not a very smart one coming from a tennis coach. But I wanted to get your attention and make a point.

I keep having the same conversation with parents lately – I’ve had about three in the last week and they went something like this:

Conversation #1

Dad of 12 year old girl to me: “I’m wondering whether to renew her membership as she only does coaching and never plays. I may as well just pay for the coaching and drop the membership. What do you think?”

Me: “My advice – she should stop having so much coaching and play more. Yes renew her membership, pay for less coaching and get her to just get out there and play – with you, with her sister, with friends, with other juniors at the club.”

Dad: “Yep I agree – but she just won’t do it”

The conversation went on for a bit, but my general point was what is all the coaching for if she doesn’t play the game? And how much improvement will really happen if she doesn’t play outside of coaching?

Conversation (actually email) #2

The mum sent me an email asking me to really work hard on her daughter’s tennis in her 30 minute, once per week lesson as she’s not seeing much improvement. Here’s my reply (in blue then hers (in red):

“One thing I’d say – which is a conversation I have very often with parents – is that 30 minutes per week of tennis (or anything) is really a tiny amount. The ones who get good are always the ones who go out and play in their own time. That’s how I got (relatively) good at tennis and the same goes for all the children I know who have got good at tennis.

A bit of a sweeping statement here, but I have noticed that children seem to do less activities on their own these days – outside of organised classes and clubs – whether it is playing sport with friends or family. This is really the way to get good – more important than coaching.

Having said that, of course we’ll work hard in the lessons too.”

Thanks Karl. Yes I know what you are saying but weekends are very busy as you can imagine, with working parents only having 2 days and most of shops etc being closed on sunday, and organising games on weekends on top of everything else is difficult. In the consideration of safety, playing on their own is absolutely out of question sadly. Society has not got any better and will only get worse. Your instruction in a safe and organised environment is therefore key to her success in tennis. She plays 1h each sun as well by the way. Pls make sure she works her feet.


Conversation #3

Dad of 6 year old boy (plays a reasonable level of tennis himself): “I’m really pleased about his progress in lessons Karl. Of course, we don’t have the money to get him the kind of coaching that will get him to the highest level, but he can be a good club player.”

Me: “Actually I don’t think money has much to do with it, not at this stage anyway. Most of the best young players I’ve seen are out there hitting lots with their parents, even if the parents aren’t top players themselves. It’s that sheer amount of hours spent over the years that has a massive effect – the coaching is a secondary thing, especially at his age. Just play with him lots yourself and the ‘high level coaching’ can come later.”

Dad develops slightly selective hearing at this point and we don’t get very far with the conversation.


My point? I am having the same conversation over and over again, but the message isn’t always getting through. The message that what it takes to get good at tennis, or anything, is lots of hours and lots of repetition. Yes, coaching has it’s part to play, but without the practice, it won’t be very effective.

When I make this point, I hear that they haven’t got time, too much homework, just don’t want to. With all due respect to those parents, I can only tell them what they need to do to improve, but I can’t make them do it and can’t help them with their homework or how much spare time they have.

My own experience, which has got me to my very average level of tennis, involved hitting against a wall for hours as a kid, playing with my dad every weekend on the park courts, calling up my mates and cycling to the tennis club and staying there for hours playing tennis – and most other reasonable tennis players tell a similar story. But all those hours add up.

As I mentioned to the mum in the email above, children seem to be heavily into organised activities now in the form of coaching, classes, after school clubs, but in many cases not getting out there and doing the thing that they are having coaching in!

I don’t want to cop out of my responsibilities here – yes as coaches we’ve got to inspire them to love the game, give them a great and fun experience. Yes our skills have a role to play in their improvement – but they have an even bigger role to play in their own improvement.

This one is a bit of a rant, which I don’t normally do – but having had the same conversation so often lately, I thought it was worthy of a blog post.

I’d love to hear your comments below.

Oh and p.s. I don’t really mean what I say in the title. Don’t stop taking coaching. Just play more!

6 Responses to “Stop taking tennis coaching!”

  1. Giselle Martin Says:

    Why not to take Tennis coaching? It is beneficial for players to have tennis fitness coaching.

  2. Karl Stowell Says:

    Yes I agree entirely that it’s beneficial to take tennis coaching. It’s just that I’m seeing too many players who only take coaching and don’t play enough.

  3. Adrian King Owen Says:

    A good coach will always I hope tell his student to play as much tennis as possible. Besides having coaching. But I do not think it is possible to reach a high level in tennis without considerable coaching

  4. Karl Stowell Says:

    Yep again referring back to my previous answer – if you read the article, my point isn’t actually that people shouldn’t take coaching – even lots of coaching (I’m a coach!). Just that they need to play and practice more. If they don’t do that, they may as well save their money.

  5. Adrian King Owen Says:

    Yes I totally agree with it amazes me that so many students have coaching.and rarely play

  6. Laura Kuchinsky Says:

    Karl, I love this post. I put a junior size tennis racket and foam ball in the hands of my almost 4 year old yesterday. We live in Texas, so August is hot. I queued him up to try to hit the ball straight up. So, in our house, we were standing by the front entry – straight up is two stories. I thought it would be good inside fun before dinner time – I sure wasn’t going to go outside. To my shock, he was good at hitting the ball. He regularly was able to hit the ball up to the second level. And he had a lot of laughs. So, I googled a bit for coaching and drills for his age this morning. It was such a fun time to see him laugh last night. Fairly quickly (your website must be well-positioned), I found your blog. Your point in this post is well-taken. I should just let him play! He may develop great memories of playing with family – which will be much better than sending him somewhere for “coaching.” It’s strange that I seem hard-wired to send him to a “place” or “group.” Here’s to playing! And thanks for your blog.

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