While most sports recognize the importance of a cohesive coaching team, tennis culture maintains that multiple coaches will confuse and bewilder the fragile psyche of students. It’s the height of irony to protect players from the perils of diverse ideas while seeking to teach them to become master problem solvers in a complex game. An amusing analogy against multiple coaches is "too many chefs spoil the meal" as if developing a player is like cooking a pot roast. Still, it’s not difficult to understand why many coaches do not embrace a student hearing more than one voice. Junior tennis is an individual sport and coaches and their students are not always "team players." Moreover, it’s a sacrifice for coaches to share the glory and profit of a student’s success.
Despite this resistance, an absolute multiple coach prohibition is a concept disconnected from reality because we don't live in an enlightenment bubble, information is inevitable and we are all subject to ideas from varied sources. Even if a player had only one coach, they would be exposed to diverse ideas from family, friends, books, media, school and the world. If you needed a serious operation wouldn't you want a second opinion? How about Dads telling their children to not listen to their Mom and see how that works out for them? Great teachers led by actions more than words, so before demanding that students get rid of all their other coaches, shouldn't a coach first get rid of all their other students?
While I see the enormous potential benefits of multiple coaches, I don't imagine this setup is suitable for every player. More than one coach is not always practical, for example, if it’s not economically feasible. Further, its counterproductive to have multiple coaches if students are unable to reconcile conflicting instructional messages.
A coaching leadership hierarchy helps ensure fluid coordination and management of a coaching team and can be an invaluable tool to broaden the depth and breathe of a young player’s experiences. Additionally, players taught how to think critically at a young age by first taking responsibility for their development as active students will learn optimally and help them organize, prioritize and assimilate ideas to navigate matches and beyond. Coaches, too can learn what their students have internalized to guide them in the context of their aptitudes, abilities and goals. Finally, both students and coaches benefit from open and patient communication framed with humility. A skilled coach will clearly explain their role and expectations and encourage students to do the same.
Coaches will assert that they have rarely seen players with many advisors succeed and that observation while probably accurate is misleading because poor outcomes from unavoidable Information disagreements are dysfunctional, not inevitable. A cohesive team of experts working together and staying in their lane are a powerful force to promote development. As the African proverb explains, "It takes a village to raise a child." The stronger the village, the more likely a young player will ascend.
Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.