I follow a straightforward philosophy about the nature of expertise; if you can't explain something meticulously, you don't understand it and further if you can't explain it simply, you are no expert. This fundamental truth is particularly troubling in tennis because much sincere debate has been trivialized by information clutter.
Accordingly, a recent sports study examining the rise in popularity of lacrosse participation surveyed hundreds of young athletes and found the most compelling reason that children drop out of sports is "diminished fun due to parents who impose their self-anointed expertise." Not surprisingly, it was found that lacrosse had one of the lowest concentrations of parents who were pseudo experts, and tennis had one of the highest. The study concluded that the rise of lacrosse popularity is aided by parents lacking information and tending to leave their children to be coached by the actual experts. In contrast, it's clear that the exodus of so many young tennis players from the sport is accelerated by readily accessible spam feeding the appetite of information-hungry parents who satiate with knowledge but lack expertise, eagerly sharing it with their disapproving children.
What is the McDonald's of tennis junk information feeding the masses?
It’s social media, of course. And in tennis, way too many "instructional" posts on social media are superficial, and as morbidly fascinating as they are gruesomely misinformative. The tennis social media community attracts the "lowest common denominator, humble brags" that promise an exchange of true ideas and wisdom, but deliver nothing more than self-advancing marketing hype.
In order to inform, the sport needs more astute writing authored by enthusiastic writers to encourage healthy conversation. Knowledge is power and to help the sport and its young players grow we “can't be serious" if we are not serious. As coaches, we must write because the act of writing flushes out ideas by forcing us to organize and clarify thoughts. Tennis coaching requires skillful communication and to be an exceptional coach you had better be persuasive, adaptable, and an expert communicator. After all, it's not about what the coach knows, it's what the student learns. Writing about tennis technique, philosophy, tactics and training sharpens and deepens teaching skills.
Genuine coaches need to present consequential objectives in legitimate forums. Perhaps the most common complaint I read on social media from coaches who present themselves as the sport’s elite talent developers is how the prevalence of poor coaching limits the growth of the sport. While this may be a valid criticism, it's also lazy and remiss because this type of complaint is part of the problem and not a path to the solution. We can brag, blame and promote, or we can write to educate and grow both the game and ourselves.
Writing is not just a right, it's an obligation.
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 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.