Coaching tennis at the high school level

IHateDaveKerpen

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Jul 18, 2005
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Austin, Texas
I've got an interview coming up at a really great school.  I'm a Social Studies teacher in Texas, which means I pretty much HAVE to coach.  Though I'd feel more comfortable coaching cross country/track, swimming or soccer, it looks like I'll be interviewing for an assistant coach position for the school's tennis team.
 
I play tennis.  I understand the game.  That said, I'm going into this interview pretty cold as far as the coaching of team tennis goes.  I've spent much of the weekend boning up on what I can - I've got some good USTA resources thus far.
 
Any advice for my interview?  I served as an assistant coach for Lexington High School's soccer team during my student teaching assignment, so I'm not totally clueless.  I'm confident in my abilities as a coach, but I'm more worried about the INTERVIEW itself.  This is a pretty well-known high school with LOTS of (read: too much) parent involvement, so I'm sure that subject will come up.
 
What say you, SoSHers?  Any advice would be much appreciated!
 

jezza1918

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Jul 19, 2005
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Beverly, MA
Coached high school in Vermont for two years, and now am finishing up my second year as a college coach. In terms of approach to coaching the kids, we go over the same stuff at my D3 school as I did in a Vermont high school, and my friend who coaches an Ivy League Mens team goes over the same stuff there: unless you are talking about high level pro tennis, 80-90 out of 100 points are LOST by an opponent, as opposed to won by you. So I tend to preach a simple, but physically and mentally disciplined approach to tennis, where you do everything you can to hit every ball the exact same way, and unless you are close to the net, a steady deep shot is better than going for a winner. Of course, this lends itself well to the interview process where you can spin some BS about learning this kind of discipline on the court can help off it as well.
 
In terms of the team as a whole, and this is where parent involvement comes in, the biggest issue coaching a tennis team is dealing with bench players- this isnt basketball, you cant sub in after a few games. The lineup for each given match is what it is. So it really depends on the schools philosophy, but if i were you id preach that anyone on the team is a full member of the team - they will be expected to be at every practice and match, even away ones. As a coach, you wouldnt want anyone feeling like a lesser member just because they werent a starter. And if you can do some research on the other schools they play, and get a feel for how good the team is in relation, you can always discuss how during matches against lesser opponents you want to try to get some subs in - but its a fine balance between making sure your starters have enough reps to prep for the bigger matches. Finally, the families of teams ive coached knew from day 1 they can feel free to call me about HOW their son or daughter is playing, but not WHEN, WHERE in the lineup or WHY their son or daughter will/will not play.
 

4 6 3 DP

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Oct 24, 2001
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Jezza may completely disagree (wouldn't be shocked at all) - but my experience playing in a pretty high level high school league (plenty of kids played Ivy League in college) is that that any kid who's good is doing the majority of their growing in the sport via private coaches/clubs/weekends/summers - not sure how that works in Texas but in MA that was the case - practices were really about staying loose and in shape, our coaches did nothing to actually grow our games, but like Jezza said, we did discuss mental approach, especially the kids who were more temperamental, the coaches would focus on keeping them even keeled during matches and as Jezza said, not giving away points.
 
During matches there wasn't much coaching, though I do remember sometimes our coach would notice a kid had no backhand or something like that and word would get to the court that we should attack a weakness, but really we were on our own during the match.
 
I think the biggest difference between tennis and most sports I played during my high school days was that coaches weren't really responsible for skill development, the way they were in football/basketball/baseball, where practice was about skills.
 
The other thing that's fun about high school tennis is that you do get exposure to doubles - a ton of kids who are good groundstrokers and therefore good singles players don't convert well to doubles because for the most part it's a race to the net, and if you're not a good serve and volley player doubles is a lot harder, so you can take kids who may not be blessed as singles players but are good at dubs and I think a good coach can sometimes figure that out, plus figure out which players should team together (I had two varsity coaches in three years, one was awful at it, one really figured it out, and it made a huge difference).
 
Jezza really nails the bench comment, I was lucky enough not to have to deal with it as a player but I was friends with guys who didn't play much and it was tough on them - the hard thing is that if you're a top player on a team, you want to play, even if it's a weak opponent, and it's tough for a coach to figure out how to pick his spots.
 

IHateDaveKerpen

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Great info, 4 6 3.  It actually goes a long way toward backing up everything I've heard thus far.  I know that TONS of these kids will have instructors outside of school to help work on their skills.
 
I've never played on a team, so that's the trickiest aspect for me.  I know that the amount of coaching during competitions can vary greatly.  I expect to be able talk to my players after sets and - maybe - while they switch sides.  Other than that, I expect them to be on their own.
 
The most difficult aspect really does seem to be knowing how to deal with the bench players.  Thanks for the head up.
 

jezza1918

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Jul 19, 2005
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Beverly, MA
Completely agree with 463DP, just depends on what the level of the kids is. And sometimes depending on the school your top players may be very legit players who develop skills elsewhere, but the bottom few kids might not have picked up a racket. 
 
Again it depends on schools philosophy, but if you can its always best regarding bench players to promise as little as possible in terms of playing time, and then its a pleasant surprise when/if they get into a match. If court space is available, exhibitions are a great way to get kids in. I should know, I was 7-0 as a richmond spider exhibition player. Good times.
 

4 6 3 DP

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Only other comment I have on coaching is a completely self-absorbed one, which is make sure that you don't fall in love with kids games but actually make sure they're playing matches against each other and you look at their ability to win matches.
 
I was never very physically gifted - I patterned after Brad Gilbert, and the ball was always where it needed to be and I played a thinking mans game, and it was always a real pain to get credit for that on high school teams - there were kids who were perfect looking on the court but I'd beat them every time, and it took playing match after match to see it. I think brains are so underrated at that level, obviously there are kids whose serve or groundies will blow everyone off the court, but plenty of times you'll have players who win ugly and you always want that over losing pretty. I'm a huge advocate of the ladder system for that reason, but not every coach does it that way.