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What is a Coach?
by Nick Bollettieri

Throughout more than four decades of coaching, I have interacted with people from all walks of life. I continue to be disappointed with myself for not having kept a daily diary; something to bolster my memory and prevent the normal loss of detail that accompanies the passage of time. So, before you end up with the same regrets, start keeping a diary today. Diaries become treasures that recall the minutia of an event; those micro-details that make it worth remembering in the first place.

I have had the pleasure of witnessing the complete metamorphosis of tennis. As a coach, I've had to adjust to the new styles of play as they came along. Without these adjustments, my students would have been victimized by new developments in equipment, in strategy and tactics. At the end of the day, however, hard work, dedication and the willingness to accept responsibility for successes and failures have always been the underpinnings of a champion athlete. Practicing with a purpose and being repetitious is the quality that allows an athlete to achieve absolute confidence. This repetition translates into the life-blood of a championship performance, the experience of having hit that shot a thousand times before, and knowing that you can hit it this time as well.

Successful coaches have the capacity to elevate the performance of a student to another level. All s/he can hope to achieve is to elevate the student to reach for the maximum level of his/her ability. Trust me, this is not easy to do! Coaches who understand their students, their moods, their fears, their needs - of gaining the respect of talented athletes, these are the coaches who have a chance of lifting their students to reach their potential. Indeed, this may be the defining characteristic of a coach, and what differentiates him from a teacher or instructor.

A coach develops an understanding of the true personality and other hidden nuances of his student. This description is not intended to diminish the importance or value of an instructor. His or her role is vital.... But the road to exceptional, outstanding or world-class performances is littered with the carcasses of talented individuals who took to the road without a coach.

One question I am often asked is do you have to be an ex-player to be a great coach or can you excel as a coach after only a limited playing career?

This is probably an argument to which there is no absolute agreement. There are advocates for both sides, each with equally weighted arguments. However, in the badly paraphrased words of Gertrude Stein, a coach is a coach is a coach. His or her entire persona is wrapped up in the nuances of coaching which include the physical, mental, and social aspects associated with the game. You might say the same of a CEO. If he/she is good, he/she is just as fired up, and wrapped up in all areas of the company as is the coach in his/her team.

Many of today's coaches, who work with professional tennis players, see the players solely at tournaments, or simply a few days prior to the start of a tournament. In my judgment, a coach working only thirty weeks a year isn't a coach; he/she is a traveling companion. To fit my definition, a coach at any level must be part of the practice, planning and implementation of the plan to succeed. How effective would Don Shulla have been simply showing up for eleven to twelve games each year and allowing Marino to prepare on his own? That's our definition of coaching, and in our opinion it differs from the basic philosophy credited to a teaching professional who because of his club responsibilities with juniors, beginners and advanced, adults and other clientele must remain at the club to oversee all the managerial responsibilities of his position.

According to MacMillian's Dictionary, a coach is:

"Coach (Koch)- One who trains or teaches an athlete or athletic team v.t. To act as a coach to: train or teach, 1. To study with or be trained by a coach."

"Trained" appears to be the key word in this definition. You can only train at practice, not during an event.

How important is a coach and how much input should he or she provide the athlete on and off the playing fields? The best who ever coached were "hands-on" men and women who had input into every area of the young athletes' lives. The most successful coach in women's NCAA basketball history is the University of Tennessee's Pat Summitt. In terms of men coaches, Dick Gould of Stanford should also be mentioned. You can bet that they didn't just coach from three until five; they are all intimately involved in all areas of their players' lives. This involvement, I'll wager, separates their programs from that of the rest of the pack.

What is a Traveling Coach?

To begin with, a traveling coach must know how to, and be prepared to do it all, both on and off the court. He/she must have some expertise in all of the following:

  1. Traveling
  2. Leisure Activities
  3. Laundry
  4. Stringing
  5. Eating and Nutrition
  6. Transportation
  7. Tournament Schedule
  8. Arranging Practice Times and Securing Practice Partners
  9. Creating and Explaining Scouting Reports
  10. Mental Preparation
  11. Physical Preparation

You must understand and control the attitude of your student in the following situations:

  1. How to deal with defeats early in the week, when far away from home.
  2. What to do if you are in the tournament but need to get to the next tournament because you are in the qualifying draw.
  3. Know all the rules in the event of an unusual call.
  4. Dealing with the student's parents.
  5. Dealing with younger students on the tour.
  6. Dealing with your significant other, while on the road.
  7. Other coaches talking to your student, especially during difficult times.
  8. Dealing with your student on long road trips, especially during difficult times.
  9. Dealing with the problems associated with you and your student living very far away from each other. Problems associated with family or significant other want them to come home.
  10. Dealing with other opportunities; better offers from other students.
  11. Dealing with a student that leaves for another coach.
  12. Dealing with a student that does not live up to his/her commitment: a. When under contract. b. When the contract is just a handshake.
  13. Dealing with a student that makes it big and does not share the wealth.
  14. Dealing with a student who has trained with you for 6 or 7 years, then leaves before they turn 18 years old.
  15. How does a coach avoid emotional involvement?
  16. Dealing with one part of the team that displays a lack of professionalism.
  17. Holding your tongue to keep your job.
  18. Items to be included in any contract:

    1. # weeks worked per year, compensation plus expenses.
    2. Does the coach work with his own money or does the player or his manager give credit card or cash?
    3. Are traveling expenses to be paid per day or is there some flexibility?
    4. If the coach moves to the player's hometown, who provides housing and transportation?
    5. Salary and bonuses - incentives for reaching certain rounds, extra bonuses for super nine and grand slams.
    6. Length of the contract.
    7. Options.
    8. Guarantees if the player should become injured.
    9. Who provides insurance?
    10. Do you get paid for exhibitions?
    11. Do you get paid for appearance fees?
    12. Do you receive clothing, rackets and shoes?
    13. Are you permitted to wear different clothing than your player?
    14. Will players permit their wives or families to go on the road with them?
    15. Clearly define the vacation time arrangement.
    16. Clearly define the days off arrangement.
Every traveling coach will need to address the majority of these issues at some point in time. Some of the points above relate to players that have achieved world-class status, and others apply to all players. It is important to address the issues related to world-class "before" the player achieves this status. If a player breaks through and you didn't anticipate that possibility, addressing the contract issues at this point in time will not be to your advantage. Only on rare occasions will a coach be treated generously for the commitment of time, energy and dedication.


Nick Bollettieri can also be reached at http://www.bollettieri.com/.

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