Updated: Sep 3
A few years ago, I felt my career had stalled, I felt stale, and I felt lost. I was stuck in a club that didn't challenge me, and I felt comfortable, money was good, but the passion for Tennis coaching had gone.
I was on a salary, so there was no work pressure to generate income; I had players who were just hit and giggle. They only wanted to play once or twice a week, and I was in a team where I was the most qualified, experienced and knowledgeable coach by a vast margin.
I stepped back and did some self-reflection during the first lockdown. What happened to me? I was always ambitious and wanted competition and to prove myself against my peers. I was always passionate about learning, improving and developing; why now was I feeling flat and unfulfilled?
I had three questions written down:
Have I outgrown my club?
How can I get that motivation or spark again?
How do I move on to the next level?
I reflected on my formative years In coaching, I was thinking about the tennis coaches I was surrounded with at Wirral ITI, Nick Lawrence, Joe Hagan, Phil Leighton, Lindsey Collins and Andy Wilkinson, to name a few, those of you from the north-west may remember some of those names. These coaches were national-level coaches or coach education tutors, and little old me would get to work with them every day.
I started coaching in 1999, and by 2004 and was a level four performance coach working with a county champion. How?
I had an entire group of tennis mentors!
Tennis Mentoring: My Early Years
The centre had no official mentorship program; as a new coach, they took me under their wing and helped me develop my confidence, knowledge and tennis coaching skills in different ways. I would spend hours just watching these coaches work, often from the viewing balcony, soaking up how they communicated, demonstrated and organised their players.
The first time I saw Phil Leighton deliver a school session will stick with me forever! The charm, the jokes, the court presence, I was fully engaged in how he sold his messages to the kids.
That guy called to sell tennis programs to anyone and sold his love of the game. Phil was an excellent tennis instructor, but he was a salesman, and I meant that he sold the sport of Tennis.
I knew the level I needed to be at with my communication skills!
Then you had high-performance coaches like Nick and Andy, tennis knowledge off the chart, and technical, tactical, mental and physical experts in producing tennis players. I would sit and watch and listen to Nick discuss with juniors what it took to become a professional tennis player. A national coach, Nick knew the skill levels required to reach the top with players like Matt Smith and Liam Broady. The on-court coaching was intense, and my tennis knowledge improved by watching from the side of the court.
A great piece of advice Nick gave me in the early days was, 'Steve, you were never a good tennis player, so you can't cheat your way in like most coaches. You have to stand out by making your Tennis coaching knowledge stronger than anyone else.
Nick would have hundreds of books on Tennis. I started my collection and made it my mission to develop my tennis knowledge more than anyone who stepped on the court with me.
Then my first real mentor was Joe Hagan, an LTA Tutor, Joe led my DCA qualification in 1999, and If I am being honest, I didn't think she liked me. I was shy, lacked a tennis background and came from the wrong side of town. In one of my first tutorials, Joe told me I was too scared to be a tennis coach and that my tennis skills were not strong enough. I couldn't feed, I was rubbish at demos because I felt under pressure, and I was so shy no one could hear me.
I struggled through the course and failed.
Joe told me that if I wanted the pass enough, I would go away and develop my tennis skills and confidence on the court.
I spend the next six months working with the team at Wirral on my confidence, knowledge and skills. These mentors didn't show me what to d, and they shared their knowledge, experience and skills and allowed me to mould them into my style and philosophy.
I passed with flying colours on 14th February 2000, Valentine's day. Love means nothing in Tennis, but that day I fell in love with coaching.
Tennis Mentoring: The Lockdown Reflection
Fast forward to 2019, and I walked the dog, and It struck me that since I left Wirral in 2006, Then by the time I found myself at David Lloyd, I was the head coach, but I had no one to support, challenge or offer guidance. I had found myself in a position where I was probably too good and, many times, was coasting along.
I decided I needed an action plan by 2022, and I wanted a mentor, work in an environment where I felt uncomfortable and put myself out of my comfort zone.
I found a mentor, I won't name them, but they are a top-rated international speaker on all things tennis. When I started, I had an entire info sheet on what I thought I wanted. By the end of that first session, I had ripped it up. My mentor showed me I was thinking too small and had more opportunities, potential and skills to think big. In just 60 minutes, I found my motivation and my spark again.
So I wrote a list of goals.
Become a person of influence in Tennis
Build a successful coach education business
Return to Performance Tennis
And what I believed I needed to improve on to get there:
Confidence - I am still shy, hate public speaking and speaking on camera, and I get imposter syndrome around my higher-qualified peers.
Knowledge - If I speak in front of experts and highly qualified coaches and deliver coach education, I need to know my stuff - I need to be an expert.
Skills - I need a wide range of skills, such as communication, organisation and demonstrations. I need to communicate visually, verbally and written.
Over the past two years, I've been dedicated to these three areas, and today, December 2022, I have:
60 million Social Media Views
A vital member of the Lawn Tennis Association Coach Education Workforce
Author of Two Books
Performance Coach working at a Lawn Tennis Association Regional Centre
LTA Performance Coach Representative
I have done this because I was brave enough to open my mind and hire a mentor. I didn't seek someone to give me the answers, I wanted someone to unlock my potential by many times making me think bigger.
I also pushed myself to a rule change and had to think outside of Tennis and tennis coaching.
I enrolled on hundreds of group courses from personal trainers, football coaches, and tennis coaches and completed a sports psychology diploma. I studied social media, sales, video production, and video editing. I can now tell you scientific facts about learning styles or a great tool to edit an Instagram reel.
I am on my way to my goals and want to share my journey with you. I have written a 12-week online mentoring online course that is designed to:
Grow In Confidence
Increase Your Knowledge
Develop Your Skills
The course is designed to, like me, unlock your full potential. If I can achieve the above, so can you, and I will show you the way.
So next time you have a raid delay or lack direction, hire a mentor and take your coaching to the next level.
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Written by Steve Whelan
Steve has developed thousands of tennis players and tennis coaches over the past twenty years as a coach and educator.
Steve has over 60 million social media views in 2022 alone.
Contact Steve direct at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.mytenniscoaching.com.