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We hear a lot about the pressure players feel and the difficulty to manage it, but much less about the pressure coaches undergo. Yet, pressure is real when you work on a high-level project, with strong stakes that go beyond the sports framework. I think undergoing pressure is normal when you are training a talented player. The most difficult is to feel « good » pressure.
First of all, we will wonder what factors may cause pressure, and note their consequences. Then, we will see the tools we get to avoid bad pressure and build a sound relationship that makes performance possible.
When your ambition is to turn professionnal, your parents or the federation have to invest a lot of money, in particular to pay the coach. On the tour, the staff is paid by the player. Therefore, this may put pressure on the coach to have results. The ones who spend their money impatiently expect a « return on investment », and, unfortunately, it is not rare to see some relationships coming to an end because the player does not win.
This kind of pressure often triggers the fear of losing one’s job. To me, a coach who is afraid of it becomes unable to work correctly and to be productive. Sometimes, some of them do not tell their player what they really think, for fear of being dismissed. As a consequence, the couple gets trapped in a negative spiral, and failure seems inevitable.
The player as a source of pressure
The player himself may be a source of pressure, especially when he has a strong character and is difficult to manage. It takes a lot of energy to work with a player who always calls the decisions into question. This is the same when you train a talented player who constantly doubts himself.
Another factor to mention in this part is that a lot of professionnal players really pay attention to the image of their coach, their past as players, their appearance, whether they get media attention or not, etc. Thus, a young coach who has little experience and no prestigious past must work hard and persevere if he wants to get into this world. Is a good player necessarily a good coach ?
If his player keeps losing, the coach may be sharply criticized, and his credibility threatened very quickly. Another source of media pressure is when the player is on the front page of the newspapers, especially at the approach of big tournaments such as Roland Garros. The pressure put on him may reach the coach as well.
The tools : cultivate the relationship with the player and his clan
Playing tennis at a high level is a race, and you need to win quickly and often. The problem is, players and their clans very frequently want immediate success. To develop a relationship based on trust is essential, because it is a way to avoid taboo subjects and things left unsaid, such as the money issue we already discussed. This means you have to talk a lot and to define together short, medium and long term goals. Daniil Medvedev’s coach, Gilles Cervara, says you must adjust to your player (see the article). Finally, I think this is important to work with other professionals, especially to improve the mental capacities and to overcome potential difficulties.
To identify and to know well each person who takes part of the project, along with establishing an accurate framework will allow you to have a clear vision and to work serenely with your player and his relatives.
Stand back : it is all about timing
I started my career of coach on the tour very young, and I made mistakes because of my lack of experience, my impatience and because I sometimes did not understand certain behaviours. But as I talked with the best coaches of the professionnal circuit, I realised that patience is the key to success.
These coaches have a steady relationship with their player and his clan, within a clear framework. Also, they do not say anything anytime. It is a question of timing. Sometimes, it is necessary to let the player learn by himself and fail. At times, failure is a good way to learn. A good coach is someone who takes the right decision at the right moment, and it is difficult.
I felt these great coaches were calm, self-confident, and the stability of the relationship with their player enabled them to stand back. Whereas some coaches will refuse to tell their player what they think, these ones will decide not to say anything because it is not the time. That makes all the difference.
Coaching on the tour can be very hard, thankless, uncertain. The junior tour, the 15 000 dollars and the most prestigious tournaments are worlds apart. Human relationships are different, there are managers and a lot of money at stake. These dreamlike conditions drive some coaches to accept very low incomes. Also, they try not to upset their player too much in order to keep their job.
According to me, it is so easy to get lost that we need to be even more professional. Success is built on the solidity of the relationship between the coach and the player, and with this strong union, I am convinced that the coach has no bad pressure. He only feels the « good » one, that is, to do his job correctly, patiently and without any taboos. If you are afraid of saying what you think, you are not a coach, you only carry the luggage.