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By Vic Braden, Tennis Contributor - Archive - Email
Women Coaches

Student coaches were challenged to rethink their own position.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - During the 2012 Australian Open, telecaster Martina Navratilova mentioned that there were only a couple of women who were coaching touring pro players. Since I have some strong feelings about this issue, I invited 60 high school girls, who have gone through my training program to become tennis coaches to listen to female leaders in tennis. Those who were invited to join this discussion and phoned in were Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin, Stella Sampras and Dr. Julie Anthony. Opinions of the celebrities differed on several issues and the student coaches were challenged to rethink their own position.

For example, Billie Jean King felt that coaches should be allowed to sit on the court with their student(s) during the entire match. She stated that cheating goes on with coaches in the stands, so why not make it honest She also felt that tennis should be like all other sports where the coach is constantly on the sidelines. My response was "Then why don't we call singles "doubles", or "one and a half singles?"

Billie's concern about honesty was highlighted in the days she and Craig Harden were coaching Martina Navratilova. She set up a demerit scale for each time Martina would look up to her coaches. The penalty was $1.00 per look. She simply felt that any contact was dishonest. Billie struck a note when she said, "I don't think our coaches get enough kudos. Thus, let's be honest and let coaches be on the sidelines for the entire match. That's the way all sports do it."

Tracy Austin felt insulted when it was suggested that she sought help from her coach to change a strategic plan during a match. She feels that each player should be able to think on their own. She did say that it might be advantageous for young children to receive help on the court while they're learning to play. "Being able to think on your own is an asset," claims Tracy. But, she acknowledged that many players can't think on their own and need a coach. Tracy said we have to develop independent thinkers.

Julie Anthony expressed her feelings about a coach's self image. She felt that a coach should work hard to achieve a rich, professional status, and code of ethics so there is no need to cheat.

Stella said, "One of the problems is that most women grew up with male coaches. I don't know if women don't want to grind it out all day on a tennis court the way most men do.I think if we get more women to teach in clubs we will see the changes on the pro tour."

Tracy mentioned that "Mauresmo helped Lodra a few years back." But, she also mentioned that many women have children and they don't want to travel. Some men coaches are traveling thirty five weeks a year.

Psychologist Julie Anthony spent some time speaking about cultural phenomenon, which makes it difficult for men to accept women coaches. One male college coach, who shall go unnamed, said "No man likes to take lessons from a woman." That's exactly Julie's point on cultural differences which need to be examined and changed.

One young high school attendee asked Stella, "What are college coaches looking for?" Stella responded, "Attitude, they need to love tennis. There are some players with great rankings, but they're burned out'. We want players who work hard and love being on the team." Stella wants girls who fit in and love working with the team. She should know because, on the day of this presentation, Stella's UCLA team was named the top ranking women's collegiate team in the country.

Stella said "My brother (Pete Sampras) and I helped each other when we were younger. We played and practice together every day."

Julie said "Tennis taught me how to live. If you love what you're doing, you'll have a better life."

Tracy made two points, having coached high performance players for three years at the USTA Carson, California, facility. "First," she said, "Ask a lot of questions. They learn more that way because they have to come up with the answers." The second point made by Tracy is for the coach to know their students. What are their specific needs? The coach needs to know how much information they can take in. Billie Jean knew I didn't want any advice when I was playing Fed Cup.

Julie played competitively when Open tennis was not available. So, she saw education as a path to success but, as a psychologist, she found new answers to top tennis players.

Finally, my thoughts for women who want to coach pro tour players - get involved in science and research. Very few male coaches can give neuroscientific data on how to overcome "choking." Also, studying physics of the game makes it easy to analyze strengths and weaknesses when one is viewing videotapes of the match. And, finally, the best decisions are made in the front of the brain. A woman involved in neuroscience can tell a player how to stay in the frontal cortex.

Donna Judd, Coach of the girl's tennis team at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, states, "I was so jazzed up by the experience. Really. It was something every coach should hear, not just players."

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