| By Lonnie Mitchel
Photo courtesy of Getty Images


Your tennis lesson is today. Your instructor provides you great information on how to hit your forehand, backhand and on how to work you whole arsenal—down the line, cross-court, move your feet—repetition, repetition and more repetition. All of it is great and valuable information and all you have to do is practice. If you practice, you are assured to get better. The next lesson comes and it is more repetition with the instructor shouting training tips.

My question is this: Did you really practice between lessons? Did you practice your mental toughness and put the responsibility on yourself to put in the work to help you improve? The time between your lessons is invaluable, that is where dividends come. I like to compare taking lessons to a diet. The vitamin is the lesson and enhances the great diet you should be keeping. Metaphorically, a good instructor acts as a vitamin and your regular diet is the work done in preparation for the tournament, competition or for your next recreational tennis encounter.

You might have seen or heard the term "Life Coach" and wondered if this is anything like what a tennis instructor provides. What is “Life Coaching?” The answer is guiding, assisting and inspiring to help a student close a gap between where you are now and where you want to go in your tennis and life development. Accountability is the most important thing a coach can provide to help a student improve over the long term—the attention to detail.

John Wooden, arguably the greatest collegiate basketball coach of all time, developed the “Pyramid of Success.” In the pyramid diagram, there is a series of personality details that will help you simply become a harder worker and better person. Coach Wooden was so concerned about detail that he would even ask the players to tie their laces a specific way. Did it work? Using this method of developing life skills produced 10 national championships.

At times, I disagree with my players as a collegiate coach when they expect me to give them a magic pill and help them instantly to win their match. In college, there are three doubles matches going on, followed by six singles matches. How can I be expected to solve the winning problem for each court with all contests being played simultaneously? My answer to the team is how hard did we work prior to the match? Did we properly prepare? Did we have good habits in all aspects of your life, showing discipline in all areas, specifically schoolwork, punctuality, being a good citizen and practicing as if it were a match situation? Those details are the best assurance to success.

Here is an example … nobody needs a personal trainer to work out in the gym more than just a couple of sessions in order to learn how to perform a regiment correctly. Yet, many will continually hire personal trainers to keep them on track. However, when they paid for one appointment and they are truly disciplined internally, they will go to work out because they have made a commitment to push themselves. To become the best, they make the promise to themselves to improve.

With a large group of tennis players, I have to be a life coach and make players accountable. When I made the commitment to become the life coach and not just an instructor, I saw a change to the type of players we attract and the results on the tennis court eventually improved tenfold. The best season in women's tennis history followed after years of commitment to this style of coaching and the men being invited into a conference with two nationally-ranked teams. The best part of this … in each case, the teams now has new challenges ahead. We need to improve upon that success. Coaching is not about accepting the status quo, but what one does to get to the next level.  I will stay the course! John Wooden took years to get to a national title. Coaching life, not tennis, is crucial to success and is the “Magic Pill!” Twenty-five-plus years of experience  working in the corporate world taught me that those good habits work on the tennis court, but transcends into life after college.

I have come to conclusion that the best thing is to help the student/athlete/tennis player come up with their own solution. I understand that tennis players do need individual attention, and I have offered my help on working on a particular stroke or issue in their game. They need to take this step to be proactive, and if they refuse, they only have themselves to blame. Did that particular student/athlete get to practice early and stay late and get that extra service or volley practice in? The student/athlete is the one who must take responsibility.

In the age of the Internet, telecommunication and social media, there is no lack of information available. Tony Robbins, one of the greatest life coaches, said it best: "It's never a lack of resources, it's your lack of resourcefulness that stops you." An instructor instructs, but a coach manages logistics of a team or club, evaluates talent on an ongoing basis and assists all of their athletes to become better performers, building relationships, meshing their beliefs with many personalities. Life coaching is more of a personal process than what the typical sports coach might use.

To sum up … and I thank the anonymous coach who said this, but it paraphrases everything: “The more support, accountability and training to supplement the player's desire and passion to achieve, the more advantage over your competition.”


Lonnie Mitchel

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 lonniemitchel@yahoo.com.