The Sweet Spot: Unleashing Potential in Tennis Coaches, Players & Parents
Simon Wheatley is the Performance Coach Education Manager at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, London
Simon Wheatley, co-author of The Sweet Spot introduces a narrative to unite thinking about effective working relationships in tennis.
As I’m writing this blog on working with parents I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s line in hamlet ‘One may smile and smile and yet still be a villain’. Even the parents that are on the low end of the energy requirement spectrum can be challenging for a coach to manage. If you are working in participation, performance or a hybrid of the two, parents can test our stress tolerance on a daily basis. In this blog I will attempt to write a low resolution grand narrative that can unite our thinking about creating effective working relationships with parents.
Understand and respect each other's roles
Firstly we need a clear understanding and respect of each other’s roles in the trio. It’s my belief that the player’s welfare and talent development should be the central concern for all those that are engaged. The player is responsible for responding to opportunities with intelligence, openness, diligence and passion; helping people help them. The coach is the major catalyst for the player’s structured talent development and for organising and orchestrating most inputs into enabling the player’s progress toward their shared goals. The parent must be concerned primarily with the welfare of the player and their development as a full person who is not only a talented athlete. So, the aim is to get the player to positively change in order to make their tennis change, in order to make their lives change, in order for them to make others’ lives change; ……to throw the pebble into the pool and reap all the benefits of the ripples and not just hear the sound of the initial plop.
"I’m pretty sure this is the first book to really focus on the importance of the Coach-Parent-Player triangle in athlete development. It’s really vital that all three are on the same page and the lines of communication are working in all directions of the triangle. If everyone understands their role and responsibilities at each step of the journey and works towards the same short, then medium then long term, agreed goals, there is far more chance of success. If they don’t, then there’s usually carnage somewhere along the line."
Judy Murray, excerpt from the forward
Relationship are at the Heart of the Sweet Spot
All relationships can be characterised by journeys which have 3 distinct phases, joining, achieving and moving on. The trio will go through many iterations of these cycles throughout life such as changing schools, moving coaches, clubs, going to university, transitioning in to the world’s top 200 etc. In each cycle of joining, achieving and moving on you have an opportunity to improve the tennis experience for everyone and make a positive impact in the sport & society. Likewise if we ignore any of the 3 at different stages of development we limit the potential of regenerating and moving forward. Therefore the role of the coach is to help navigate the player and parent through the minefields of our sport throughout the different phases carefully managing the ebbs and flows that will be regularly presented. It’s about becoming better versions of each other in order to move to the next level of accomplishment to enable the player to achieve their long term potential in the sport.
Having at least three in a relationship is the best way of ensuring that learning happens. Pairs can and do operate well, but crucially can’t always see the patterns that build up, both helpful and unhelpful, between them. Having a third party gives a real possibility of increasing the power of any positive dynamics in the pair, and naming and diminishing the negative blind spots that can retard the impact of the relationship. Of course, at any stage the parent, coach or player is the third person for the remaining pair.
Have appropriate an coaching conversation
I would suggest an approach to the partnership that leads to a more empowerment dynamic in the trio. Learning & development occurs from having an appropriate coaching conversation. Everything we do with parents and players is about having developmental conversations. So who is the coach leading the conversation? All three need to be coaches that enable learning for one another, depending on the need and the context. At various times: the coach is coaching them-self the player and the parent. Sometimes the parent is coaching them-self, their child and the coach. Finally the player can coach themselves the parent and even coach the coach.
When this is working at its best, it is a sweet spot, a virtuous cycle where everyone is helping everyone to be at their best as player, coach and parent. Experience over the years with many coaching trios has shown that this sweet spot can be extremely productive.
You explore more ideas around maximizing your impact as a coach, player or parent in Simons book ‘The Sweet Spot’. The Sweet Spot is available online (print only) and can be shipped anywhere in the world. https://corecontext.co.uk/sweet-spot/
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