Friday, 20 May 2011

The one who got away

From the BBC website.  Very interesting article...

Love Of The Game!!

Hi everyone, heres my first post on my new blog!  Its a chance to share thoughts, observations and experiences of our time on and off court - playing, changing, competing, thinking and all our other sports and hobbies which play an important part in our lives.

Here's my recent article published in TennisWorks newsletter.  Its called Love Of The Game:

I would like to share with you some of my
thoughts and observations when working with two
particular players who have gone on to reach
junior international level. I coached Laura
Deigman, current 18 and Under Number 9 in the
UK, and Toby Martin, current 18 and Under
Number 10 in the UK, from the ages of around 7 or
8 until they went to LTA High Performance Centres
due to the UK tennis structure and funding
opportunities. Toby was 14 when he moved on
and Laura was 15. I still see them regularly and
help wherever needed, but the most important
thing for me as a coach is we still have a good
friendship and the trust built up over the years is
still there. A lot about producing players is the
relationship and getting the most out of them.
When you have been with someone for so long,
this puts you in a great position to instinctively
know what they need and the how they should go
about achieving it. Now they are older and

becoming independent adults, I feel that my role is
now more of a mentor and friend as well as giving
my opinion on where they need to improve.
I’d like to take you back to the start when I began
working with them at Chesham Bois Tennis Club in
Bucks. There was one aspect which I never needed
to influence or question... they both had a love for
tennis which is as fresh now as it was when they
first hit a ball. That’s something I see very clearly
whenever we meet up. I just cannot see them not
being involved in tennis ever, even when their
careers are over. Unfortunately these days, clubs
like Chesham Bois are only deemed useful if we
bring through enough red/orange players to feed
into High Performance Centres. It is very difficult
for us to develop and retain a player if they reach
the top level in the UK, as the incentive of funding
and travel assistance is so great, especially as the
financial commitment required is a lot. That
players are incentivised to move and leave the

the people who have created the success in the
first place, may be a bad thing, especially as the
player may not have outgrown the coach at that
point. If the coach is still getting the best results
with a player, having worked through most of their
long term strategy, there seems no need to change
what is working. With this structure in place it
creates more pressure on coaches, parents and
especially the players.
Another observation I have made is that there
seems to be a lot of pressure for players to up
their training times that doesn’t allow time for
much more than tennis alone. This was something
I never had to do with Laura and Toby, indeed
their increase in training hours was very gradual
and they both varied as to when they increased. I
think the issue is quantity versus quality. We
nearly always had intense sessions and this tended
to be because they WANTED to be there, wanted
to improve, wanted to train hard etc. And of
course, if they didn't want to work on a particular
day I would make sure they were well aware of it!
However, one of the great things was that I had
pretty good athletes to start with. If you don't
have good athletes who are motivated, then
there’s not as much scope for improvement. I also
encouraged both (with the help of their parents)

to play other sports and gradually over the years
this became less and less. I would say that by the
ages of 12 they were both playing tennis and no
other sports, apart from the odd school match of
rugby or lacrosse!
The technical development of both players was
geared around how they liked to play and what
kind of game would stand up in the long term. We
were not worried about short term loss for long
term gains. This for me is the key and personally
one of the problems as to why our juniors don't go
on to become top pro's. If we promote a ratings
system and a competitive programme which
naturally makes players try not to lose, how are
they supposed to become aggressive men or
women tennis players? I tried as much as I could to
give both players the technical weapons they
would need such as serve and forehand, as that’s
where they would hurt most players. They also
needed the encouragement to do that ALL the
time, not just when it works but when things go
wrong. Both players had (and still do have!) low
moments and bad results. The best thing we did
was to get back on the court and get back in
matches. An aggressive game-style needs
perseverance and assurance from everyone, not
just from the coach.                                                                                                                                 

 For me and the players
everything centred around having a bigger serve
and forehand and how to hurt players with those.
We also worked on the idea of being quicker and
lasting longer than your opponent. These would
be based on simple speed drills and lots and lots of
skipping routines! There would also be at least
one medium distance run a week combined with a
mixture of interval training, like sprinting up steep
hills or running between lamp posts.
In terms of mental strength and belief, I did a lot of
work in every lesson as I think it’s the difference
between a good player and a great one. Not really
big news but it's very true! A happy confident
player is one who will learn and not be put off by a
bit of disappointment. This means being pretty
tough and stubborn as a coach, but also kind and
always having empathy with the player. We've all
been there as players – heaven and hell, so we
must always be aware. I had sessions where the
players were unhappy or even in tears, but I was
always truthful and understanding. I never
expected them to get anywhere without a bit of a
struggle along the way, but my support and
understanding was there. It's important to stir the
player’s emotions in the right way. I don’t believe
in having players who are robots and feel nothing
– it’s an emotional game and we need to realise

that. You can't tell me Andy Murray would be a better
player if he suppressed his emotions! He lets it all go,
whether you like it or not and he was exactly the
same when he was a 12 year old playing Tarbes for the
first time. With Laura I wanted more emotion and more
fire and with Toby it was sometimes suppressing it
and channelling it. I remember telling his dad to go
out and get him a copy of “When We Were Kings”, the
documentary about the Rumble in The Jungle. If you
can't become inspired and focussed by watching it,
you never will!
A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Toby and we
talked about what he was working on, how he was look-
ing forward to up and coming events and what would
come after junior tennis. What stood out for me was his
freshness in terms of why he does what he does. He
said to me “I just can't see myself not playing tennis, no
matter what happens.” That's surely what we want
from our players at whatever level they play at – a pure
unhindered love of the game.