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Yes Patty, There's A Difference
Compiled by Tony Severino
Certified Instructor 4A
Professional Tennis Registry
Quotes used with permission of the Player-to-Player Editor

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Tony Severino

The USTA hosts a weekly column on its web site called "Player to Player," where readers write in with their tennis questions and responses are published in the column.

A young tennis player, Patty, had an interesting and important pair of questions to ask.

What is the difference between a tennis coach and a person who gives your child lessons? What should we expect in a tennis coach?"

The responses were clear and instructive.

Dolores, from Yorktown Heights, NY, in her response lists the qualities of a good coach.

Excellent question, Patty. I am responding because I consider myself a tennis coach.

From a good tennis teacher, you can expect a person with great knowledge of all the mechanics of tennis and an excellent way to demonstrate these strokes to you in order to improve your tennis skills. A coach, in my opinion, goes further. The coach:

  1. makes sure that you are doing the proper exercises to condition yourself on court.
  2. makes sure that if you are a competitive player, that you have the correct type of practice matches or games during the week before your lessons.
  3. talks to you about your goals, present and future.
  4. takes a keen interest in your going to watch live tennis.
  5. promotes good behavior on court, not allowing you to be negative to yourself or your opponent.
  6. is interested in your health, good eating, etc.

I love coaching young, competitive players who already have excellent strokes and are very aggressive on court. I teach them how to vary their shots, using a better stroke selection, and tell them about "targets" and goals to bring onto the court with them.

Lindy Lou of Bensalem, PA zeroes in on the specific difference between an instructor and a coach. Her letter to Patty:

Dear Patty,

Justine Henin has a coach. You and I take lessons from a tennis pro. Big difference! Let me explain:

Everyone starts out taking lessons from a tennis pro. You have to first learn all the shots and how to hit the ball.

If someone progresses and gets better and better and starts to do tournaments, then they might need a coach. The difference between someone who gives lessons and a coach is a matter of degree -- there is a huge difference in the amount of time, money (a lot of money), intensity and degree of involvement of a coach vs. a tennis instructor.

I will give you the example of my daughter, about a 5.5 player who won two state high school championships and got a full tennis scholarship to a Division1 school. She had to first learn the game (tennis instructor). Then she started to do tournaments, which went from local to district to national. She needed more help and guidance, and it became evident that she needed a "coach" -- someone who hit with her almost every day, arranged matches, took her to tournaments, scouted the opposition, knew her game and gave moral support. You see what I mean? This does not come cheap but was worth every penny.

To put it another way, once you learn the game (which takes years), the next step is learning shot selection, which is very advanced -- that is, how to put the shots together in a match, which one to play when.

A tennis instructor can teach many students, groups, private lessons, clinics, etc. But a coach may work with a very few students, or only one. At the highest levels, it is someone's full-time job. College coaches coach the whole team. They do not focus on strokes but on strategy and mental toughness.

Coach Poppie of Palm Bay, FL notes certified instructors proved their skills and continue upgrading their proficiency.


Good question and often asked. Coaches generally work with the skills their players have and try to improve their performance. Most "coaches" at the team level are at just that -- coaches. One is expected to possess a "player's" level of skill, so they can be "coached" and benefit for such training exposure. Coaches, generally, do not have the time to teach a player's stroke production.

A person who gives your child lessons could be anyone with a basket of balls. Let me explain a little further. Today, as always, there are players that think, just because they can play they can teach, and some are blessed with that gift. Often they make great coaches.

Certified tennis professionals, such as active members of the PTR & USPTA, are teachers of the game and coaches. They have spent time and financial resources to become certified. Their skills are tested, along with their method of instruction and a whole lot more. Many undergo continuous education to upgrade their level of proficiency and stay abreast of current methods. Again, this is not to say you must be certified to teach tennis. Certification is a standard of qualification.

Bottom line:

Have a developed player, get a coach. Players with an appropriate level of play and experience who attend camps, aligned with quality coaches, tend to reap tremendous benefits from what they have sewn. These coaches will focus on what your player has and work on improving that, along with collateral improvements needed by others and then some. In general, this is an excellent medium term investment, which needs continual help to be prosperous in the game.

Need to develop skills, learn to play and raise your level, get all-around tennis and the services associated with the game: get a certified tennis professional. Do not be hesitant to ask to see their membership card, look to see their level and if they are current, and get proof of their liability insurance.

I hope this helps you Patty. Good luck, and play more tennis.

Ken from Highland Park, IL tries a philosophical approach.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of tennis teachers out there who really don't have the experience, knowledge or education to be a tennis pro or coach. I believe a coach should have a long history in the game, including tournaments, high school tennis, college tennis and a great understanding of what it takes to become a better player.

Usually a tennis instructor can play at a very high level, 4.5 at the lowest. He or she can take students out on the court and make them better in one lesson. There are certifications for instructors, like the USPTA and PTR. If you can pass these tests, you probably are a good tennis instructor.

Some instructors are better with kids and some are better with adults. Tennis instructors should be able to walk on a court and teach a one- or two-hour drill with games, technique drills and a great care in making people better players.

Tennis instructors should also make you have fun, get you to love the game of tennis and learn all aspects of the game, both physical and mental.

Eric was brief and to the point:

As a tennis coach, you would teach the player the competitive part of the game. While giving tennis lessons, you are teaching the tennis player how to play and enjoy the game.

As was Skip:

I am a USTA member, and I coach a girls' high school tennis team. I think finding a good instructor is the best way to go if you are looking to learn tennis correctly. You can contact the USPTA or PTR to locate certified tennis instructors in your area. Good luck.

and George from Cary, NC:

With a tennis lesson, you can expect to get a prescribed technique, i.e., forehand, serve or backhand, or even a drill practice session. With a tennis coach, you should get specific coaching on your tennis game. A tennis coach should discuss your specific needs and, through observation, develop a coaching plan that will give defined improvement to your game.

So was Charles from Cincinnati, OH:

A tennis coach teaches you how to win a game. A pro teaches you how to play the game. The difference is significant.

As a certified instructor, I couldn't resist the temptation to reply as well. My response was this:


There is a difference between a tennis instructor and a tennis coach.

An instructor's focus is on developing basic stroke production and the basics of playing the game, including some tactics. The instructor, theoretically, is not time constrained. The coach may or may not also be a certified instructor, but as a coach s/he must whip a team or person into shape for an immediate or impending event. There is, of course, some overlap: Instructors coach some; coaches instruct some, but basically that is it in an oversimplified nutshell.

Look at it this way: an instructor will drill repeatedly on, say, a backhand until it comes around; the coach doesn't usually have the time for that and instead will be satisfied to coach running around the backhand, for the present, anyway. I hope this helps.

So basically there it is, in that oversimplified nutshell. The view seems to be: to each his own, for the most part, but not entirely.

Thank you, Player to Player. Good luck Patty!

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