by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
We've all seen this scenario: A coach has had a scheduled lesson with a student at the same time, on the same day of the week, for several years and the student has made little, or no, gain regarding progress in the particular sport being addressed. This arrangement is called a "relationship lesson." That means the student likes the relationship with the coach more than having an interest in making gains in his/her game. There's nothing wrong with that interrelation as long as it is clearly understood by both parties. Some students just feel as though they are paying for a practice session as though it was intended for exercise.
But, let's go in the opposite direction. Let's say the student really wants to make some meaningful gains in his/her game, but nothing good seems to be happening. How does a student sever his/her connectedness with the coach? It's never easy to end a relationship with someone you like, but paying hard earned money for lessons that go nowhere is foolish. The best thing for the student is to be honest and simply indicated that he or she would like to take a break and do some deep thinking about a future in tennis, the particular sport we are addressing now although the thinking and methodology is applicable to all sports.
Let's look at the professional coach who senses that his/her student is not making the desired gains. How long should that teacher-student arrangement go on? When is it time for the coach to call it quits?
The real answer to the situation listed above is dependent upon how the relationship started in the first place. The best coaches I've known have a procedure that clarifies the expected role of the coach and student before lessons even begin. The professional coaches clearly state their own role and expectations, and elaborate on what they expect from each student. Thus, the best of all scenarios is when both the coach and the student recognize, at one and the same time, the need to end the association. The professional coach is the one best qualified to clarify gains and setbacks in each session so that the final steps necessary to conclude and terminate the relationship comes as no surprise to the student.
The professional coach does not generate a feeling of guilt on the student, but merely states that a change is indicated in the best interest of the student. I've seen coaches who state the following: "I don't think the service I am offering is right for you and your fine talents can best be maximized by someone else. I enjoy working with you but it's important that you make the gains you deserve." That helps remove any guilt on the part of the student, simple and to the point, while enhancing the coach's feelings of professionalism.
In all relationships there is always the possibility that one or the other will not find his partner, coach or student in this case, to his or her liking. In that instance the person who dislikes the teacher, or student, should end the situation as quickly and amicably as possible. Personal dislikes are likely to be felt many times and one's brain does not normally function at the highest level when filled with negative thoughts. Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen calls this relationship one that is filled with "ANTS" (automatic negative thoughts). Tennis is, in my opinion...however slanted that might be for obvious reasons, the world's best sport and it's designed to promote fun and enjoyment. A poor relationship simply provides the opposite result.