I have been watching the campaign for delegates for the presidential nomination in both major parties with great interest. One day Donald Trump throws accusations at his opponents, and the next moment, Hilary Clinton does the same. I am not going to take political sides for the purpose of this article as this is not the forum to advocate for one candidate over the other. What I am going to say is that “Neither of the presumptive presidential candidates are afraid to speak their minds or seem to be worried about any sort of backlash.” The candidates are committed to their point of view and each sees their names in the news daily, as the media either applauds or criticizes their points of view and the comments can be downright ugly at times. However, the candidates move forward with a steadfast manner hoping to sway the American public to get votes. At the end of the day, neither candidate seems fearful of pushback commentary that comes their way … they are committed and focused.
My articles are usually directed at tennis players, where I hope to give some good advice to help live a richer life both on and off the tennis court. Now, my comments go to both the coaches and players. I have taught hundreds of players and student/athletes who compete for me on my college squad. Each has an opinion on how things should be taught, coached, scheduled and administered. Each one of their opinions, in most cases, differs from mine and from each other. You hit a forehand a certain way and no other, a backhand one way and not another. The problem with that train of thought is this … you take hundreds of professionals on the international circuit and no two strokes are alike. There are slight variations in everyone's game, and that's a fact. I learn from my students often in how the mechanics of a stroke are processed through a shot that can vary from person to person.
I acknowledge that strokes vary from person to person, even when done completely correct. I now bring you back to real life to both the coaches and players. To the coach, I say this, "You know best, you are committed to your routines, style, rules and regulations.” You came to those conclusions because you are experienced, have had good mentors, have seen success competing and know how to attain it. You are confident and deliver that message with a steadfast focus. The student still believes that they know better. The parent who calls and says, "My child cannot tolerate your style.” The collegiate athlete on a team who does not agree with my timing, style of running and preparation, along with the philosophy of the coach. Here is when I say, "Too bad!” Yes, too bad.
There is a fine line between being a coach who is cooperative, which is the recommended style, and a coach who utilizes a dictatorship style. There is the time though the coach, with years of experience, simply knows better. The coach knows better than a parent, better than a student and better than a collegiate athlete. For those students who just cannot adopt, I say "You can’t or you won't"—two entirely different four-letter words with different meanings. For the young student who grows into a mature post-collegiate individual and ventures out in the workforce, let's see how well it works out for you if you won't do what your boss asks. That attitude will get you great success and is received very well on the unemployment line. In coaching, an "I won't" attitude gets you on the "I cannot" side of the tennis court. I would rather hear students say, "I will" because I believe in you and I know you can.
The responsibility for improvement does not lie with the coach, it lies with the student who says, “I can and will.” But for those who push back, I say with tongue in cheek, “I am wrong and you are right and you win and get your way.” Let's see how that works out for you.
Going back to our friends in the presidential campaign, they stand in front of the American public and state their position and policy. The press loves it or hates it, the public votes for or against, and yet the campaigner has the confidence to believe he or she is doing what is right and does not yield to the court of public opinion. If the political campaigners and corporate CEOs can do it, then I can stand in front of my students in a much smaller audience and believe that what I am doing is right and I can remain confident in my own decision-making process. Any coach that is reading this should learn as much as you can and then be confident in the message you pass along to your players. Believe it, because you know better, and despite what a student says, you have their best interest at heart and want to see improvement. You can help them get better, and you want to get that student better and get them to believe they can improve. “Can” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they will get better. It's simply magical what takes place.
So to the students who I have encountered who say I am wrong and you are right … I now say you win, do it your way. I learned from the presidential candidates that every citizen will not agree, and from a coaches point of view, every student will not buy in.
Coaches, please continue to deliver the message, build a great foundation for the student who wants it. And for those who want to build that foundation under your tutelage, if you build it, they will come. They will come and it will come. “It” is an improved game. Students, please trust your coach because they want you to get better, and coaches, you are right ... believe it and keep delivering that message. You are not wrong! For the student … it takes hard work to do it the way your coaches want, you might get it right. Imagine that.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.