My opinion regarding coaching in matches has changed 180 degrees over the past few years.
I used to want players to have no in-match coaching. It’s how it has always been. Tradition. One-on-one.
The reality of competition is that tennis coaches are already helping players A LOT with their emotional support by clapping, showing a fist, verbal encouragement, or standing up in support. That already helps the player emotionally, which is a huge benefit in a match. The coach’s box is a very strong emotional anchor for the player. That’s why they always look there. Also, players naturally react negatively to losing points. The coaches box does a tremendous job of helping mitigate that negativity. They offer energy when a player needs it, and also offers calmness when that is required.
That’s coaching. Pure and simple.
I applaud the WTA for pioneering coaching in matches in recent seasons. It was a critical first step to this discussion. But having the coach come to the court is not the answer. That reaction was too often hyper-emotional. Not a lot of coaching really happens when the coach has to mitigate a meltdown.
I was in Milan in November for the NextGen Finals (I have now been to the tournament three times) where the coach sits close to the court in a corner by the towel box. This is the answer. Players were allowed to interact with their coach if they wish. Why this worked so well was that the TIME CLOCK dictated the length of the exchange. If the player wanted to hear something or ask something then it was always a short non-invasive exchange and then back to the baseline to serve or receive. I see this as the ideal solution.
Whether you agree or not, you must understand one thing. Coaches are coaching all the time. Key words embedded in a supportive sentence. Body language. Signals. Specific encouragement. It happens allll the time.
At the NextGen finals, you basically had no idea the coach was even there or was a factor. The right balance was struck with the ability to help a little but not too much that anyone noticed it, or it disrupted play.
At the moment, coaches are at risk of receiving a warning or a penalty for a job they are employed to do = help their players win matches. The NextGen model works. I watched all the matches there. I offer you first-hand knowledge of seeing it succeed.
The time has come to implement it across all tournaments for men & women. Thanks for reading & opening your mind to improving this key aspect of our sport. I look forward to your comments.