Educate Yourself More, Seek Out Others to Help
by Jeff Greenwald, M.F.T.
If we look at almost every other sport, particularly team sports, this collaborative paradigm is the norm. No one coach alone is expected to manage every technical, tactical, physical and mental component in an athlete’s development. In tennis, there seems to be a lingering perception that one pro needs to do it all, although this does seem to be shifting gradually.
On one hand, I think some pros are simply used to working alone and don’t think they should be outsourcing aspects of their job. In many cases, I think it’s largely a perception issue where pros don’t view their job as needing additional support—whether that means a strength and conditioning expert, sport psychologist, nutritionist, or someone who specializes in the serve or net game. Of course, these components of the game are well integrated at most academies around the world.
If you look at the profile of tennis pros, naturally, many have been players themselves. Psychologically, tennis players are forced to look within themselves to find the answers to play highly competitive tennis. Other than college tennis, tennis is generally not a team sport and players are used to becoming independent and resourceful.
When we extrapolate this to being a pro later in life it is not surprising that self-reliance and autonomy are traits that many pros possess. In other words, with a more limited and fixed mindset (I must do it all), outsourcing the serve would be akin to throwing in the towel and giving up. Of course, this is not accurate for many reasons.
Given that we are in the midst of a technological explosion where cutting-edge research and information is now ubiquitous, I do think many pros are seeing the value in not only educating themselves more but also seeking out others to help with different aspects of the game. It is shifting, which is evidenced in the continued interest in the USTA High Performance program, for example, that provides more in-depth information on all aspects of the game. And the truth is that specialization is often now expected. Parents have become more knowledgeable consumers, albeit impatient as well. The irony is that when parents and players believe their pro cares enough to suggest additional and complementary resources to improve their game, the relationship strengthens and a long-term connection is actually more likely.
I believe another psychological factor relates to what I call “ego management.” We all like to feel good about what we do, believe in our abilities, and see the results of our hard work. Having another specialist in the mix can be threatening and make them feel that they are no longer the primary factor in the player’s development. In other words, now they have to share a stake of the pride they might have been getting in watching their player improve.
For pros to admit that they may not have all the answers takes a level of confidence, curiosity to learn and an “other” vs. self-orientation. The reality is that good outcomes happen between player and pro and no one person is at fault if the development becomes stalled. Rather than pros thinking, “I have to do this alone because I need to be perceived as having all the answers,” pros would benefit from a positive reframe: “How can I help my player achieve in all aspects of the game? Who can help me take this player to the next level?”
While pros ask players to commit to the developmental “process” and focus on learning over results, it would be fruitful, I think, for more pros to model this “growth mindset” and recognize their strengths and limitations. Putting aside ego, opening oneself up to learning while continuing to emphasize the player’s growth would likely foster a relationship that endures with even better results.
Jeff Greenwald, M.F.T., is a sport psychology consultant and author of “The Best Tennis of Your Life” and Amazon’s best-selling, double-CD audio, “Fearless Tennis.” Greenwald was formerly ranked No. 1 in the world by the ITF and No. 1 in the U.S in the Men’s 35 age division.