Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE STRANGER AT COURTSIDE: TOKYO 1988

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In 1988 I had landed the role as Chinese Junior National Team Coach.  4 boys and 4 girls were selected from throughout the country and were trained for two months inside mainland China. This was the beginning of China’s emergence back into the international tennis mainstream after years of isolation.  We later played junior ITF tournaments in Jakarta, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Also on the trip was a Thai team under the management of a local ex-pat Gordon U.E Martin.  Gordon was a true tennis fanatic. Gordon helped put Thai tennis on the map in the early days by bringing  professional tennis to Thailand and starting ITF junior events for the first time. Those early ITF Junior events started by Gordon are still held annually each year. 

Gordon was particularly interested in the history of Asian tennis and after years of research he eventually published the Asian Tennis Encyclopedia. The book is still the definitive history of tennis in the Asian region.

Gordon and I spent a lot of time together on the trip and he was fascinated by my Chinese players as he seemed to have a real interest in things Chinese.

It was in Tokyo that my story takes place.  One evening as the matches were finishing for the day I was making my way back to the clubhouse and to catch the bus back to the tournament hotel.  It was bitterly cold but I noticed Gordon on the back courts watching a late match being played under lights.  

I approached him and he was quick to introduce me to the only other spectator watching the match. Gordon explained that he and the stranger at courtside has struck up a conversation while the man was watching his son. They discovered that they knew each other from years earlier in New York. Gordon used to buy his breakfast at the diner this man worked at and now they had met at courtside in Tokyo!

The three of us stood talking as the man’s son played his first round match.  The boy wasn’t bad either, a bit too laid back to ever make it at the top level but a solid player. The stranger was Mr. Sampras and his son Pete went on to have a fairly decent career winning 15 Grand Slam singles titles.

A few years later I met Pete's older brother, Gus in L.A.  My colleague David Nelson and I were meeting Gus to try and establish a link with their new company Pure Sports Management. We wanted to join with them in nurturing and manging top Asian tennis talent.

I related the story to Gus that day and he believed that it would have been one of Pete's first overseas trips, and that his father probably didn't attend another tournament Pete played in for at least another decade!

Two years later Pete Sampras won the US Open Singles title.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A GUIDE TO BEING ON THE ROAD WITH PLAYERS


Traveling with players to different countries can be challenging and rewarding

As coaches we sometimes forget that the essence of our job is to help players win in competition.  We spend a lot of time on  the practice court but a large portion of our job should involve being with our players at tournaments and helping them translate work on the practice court into results at tournaments. It would be nice if that happened automatically but unfortunately it doesn’t always translate on the match court.

It’s difficult during practice however to simulate match-play conditions and to teach a player to create and implement a strategy during the heat of battle. 

I have always found that the tournament environment  actually enhances the learning  process because the player is much more receptive to advice.  The player is under pressure and will listen to key instructions on technique and strategy.  

Here is a check-list of suggestions for coaches traveling with players to tournaments.

1.  Management

·       Player management is vital to a successful trip.  Any player who causes problems during the tournament can affect the performances of the other members of the team.  If you’re with an individual he/she will still have to be monitored just as closely.

Treat each player fairly and don’t favour any player over another. The number of potential problems during a tournament are endless, but to avoid a possible disaster you must sit with the player and talk.

·       Always have travel and tournament documentation with you.  Sometimes a situation arises at the tournament where you need to consult the rules.  Every event has different rules and regulations and these can even change from year to year. Also have your accommodation and flight details ready when needed.

·       Collect information on the venue for the future. Take advantage of your trip to collect information for the future.  You may be return to the same venue in the future and knowing the best places to stay, practice, eat and have laundry done saves time and energy. 

·       Equipment to take with you.  This is mostly a personal choice but I always take a stretching mat, massage cylinder, yoga block and IPod.  This allows me to maintain a fitness/stretching routine everywhere I go.

Equipment like this doesn't take up much room and can become helpful while on the road

2. On-Site

·       Create a schedule and habits to keep your player(s) happy.  Try to eat, sleep and wake at the same time each day.  Players thrive when they are left to concentrate on playing.  By setting up a daily schedule the players settle into a routine and feel comfortable. At one time the players and I had a superstition that required us to eat at the same restaurant, sit in the same chair and eat the same item from the menu until we lost, when it became ok to make a change!

·       Tournament venues vary so much but one of the key times will be meal times.  Finding the right places to eat can sometimes be a challenge.  Make sure that when you find a suitable place to eat that the food is suitable for everyone and that it’s food that is suitable for players after a hard day of competition.

3. Coaching

·                Send your player into matches with a plan.  By constantly going into matches with a game plan a player becomes familiar with the many different strategies and styles of play, and also becomes comfortable with the act of implementing a game plan during competition.  Look at this task as a short term way to help your player in the up-coming match and a long-term investment in their future development.

I have often given players a small piece of paper with 1-3 keys points that will help them in their next match.  We will talk together the morning of the match on each point so that the player is clear what must be done.  During the match I encourage the player to pull the note out of their bag and review it when they start to get off-track.

·       Review all matches with your player after competition.  It would be pointless to send your player into matches with a strategy or something to work on technically if there was no review after the match. Prepare this talk carefully so that you stay on topic and don’t include topics in the discussion that were not part of the pre-match plan.

This is where the piece of paper from the pre-match talk becomes helpful, keeping the coach on topic and clarifying to the player the key points that may have been forgotten during the heat of battle.

·       Make notes on things that need work in practice back home. If you want to make practice sessions as relevant as possible there is no better way than to watch your player in competition.  You need to make key decisions on topics that need attention on the practice court.  These will be broad ideas regarding patterns, offensive and defensive abilities, technique and how well they performed mentally.

Make sure that your training systems implement this information directly into practice. Be relentless in the creation of “The Thread”, linking match-play information to topics to work on in practice.

Traveling with players or an individual can be challenging but by creating structure on and off-court you can avoid many of the problems that crop up, allowing the player(s) to focus on reaching their potential in their matches.