Privates vs. Squads

The following article was written by Graeme Brimblecombe and is reprinted with permission from LifeTime Tennis of Australia’s website (you can find the original article here). I found it incredibly detailed and enlightening in regards to how junior players should be spending their on-court time and how we parents should be spending our training dollars. I hope you feel the same way. Enjoy!

Dear Parents and Players,

Over the past year there has been a significant spike in parents and players wanting more and more private lessons and after talking to parents and players about their reason I want to dispel a lot of the myths that surround an increased dependence that seems attached to having a “Private Coach”.

The first part of all this is that a private coach is necessary in terms of setting the scene for what players should be doing over the rest of the week or short term. There should be a discussion and work done on the areas of a player’s game that they should be working on over the next few days/ weeks. This “Private Lesson” should be as much a goal setting session as it is an on court session and in fact if the coach didn’t hit a ball or stood on the court the value should be no less.

In that lies the problem. Some players and parents are not willing to take responsibility in their own development and work on areas of their games in the other times they are on court. This means that the only time a player is likely to improve is when a coach is on court with them. If a player is unable to work and improve independently it is unlikely they will ascend to a very high level of the game and at times when things get a little harder to improve ( which happens to every player) they are likely to take the easy option and give up. They have not invested in their own development. Here’s a phrase I used to use a lot when I was working with TA and its various subsidiaries.


Meaning that Players who want to be successful and play at a high standard have to be significantly more invested in their development than what a coach or parent is.

Here’s some simple tests. Ask yourself the following.

When was the last time my child asked me to:

  1. Get to training early so he / she could warm up and prepare before going on court.
  2. Asked if they could go to the courts and hit some serves.
  3. Rang another player and asked for a hit.
  4. Organised some practice sets.
  5. Did extra physical work at home. Stretching / running / movement / strength
  6. Watched tennis matches on TV
  7. Stayed behind after losing in a tournament to “Watch” more matches.
  8. Wrote down or did an evaluation of their tennis goals

Now ask yourself where the motivation is?

If it is not with the player there is only 2 other possible motivations. Either the parent or the coach. It should be neither.


Here’s a few other attitudes to be aware of.

Does your child ever come off from training:

  1. Down in the dumps, whinging, sooking, looking for attention because they have lost or not played well.
  2. Do you or your child put more importance on performance or on results?
  3. Do you or your child place the blame for a loss on opponent, coach, parent or other outside factors for that outcome?
  4. Are you or your child more focused on who they are playing or training against than performance?
  5. Does your child train / play unconditionally no matter what else may be going on outside of tennis or do you / they make excuses for their performance?
  6. Does your child ask you not to watch their matches?
  7. How often do you or your child cancel a tennis session for an extra – curricular school activity?
  8. As a parent do I send my child off to a coach or squad because the person or players in the squad motivate him or her?
  9. Does my child motivate the other players he or she is training with?

Ask your child 1 simple question. WHO DO YOU REALLY PLAY FOR? Be careful parents the answer may be a bit of a surprise. If the answer is themselves, does their actions meet their answer.

I’ve been coaching for 30 years and have working with a world number 1 and various other top 10, grand slam, Davis and Fed cup players and managed / coached a Junior Davis Cup Championship Team. As time goes by more and more tennis parents and players are turning to the coaches to perform some kind of magic on their tennis careers.

From my experience you are all looking in the wrong place. Players need to take a look in the mirror. As that is where the magic is. It lies within and what you as a player is prepared to do.

If you think private lessons are the most important part of your players program you are facilitating the very attitude that that gives your child less chance and not more of being successful in this game.

The squad lessons need to be the single most important sessions each player participates in throughout a week. They offer an opportunity to work on so much of what tennis is really all about. However, often parents and players prefer to miss squads in preference of privates. This attitude feeds the beast that will prevent the most important learning opportunities being, accountability and ownership of their own development.

If players would like to be success at this game from the age of 12 they will need to be on court for the majority 5 – 6 days a week.

A balanced on court program will include all of the below.

  1. 1 Private lesson per week (preferable bi weekly) and doesn’t have to be hitting.
  2. 3 Squad sessions per week.
  3. 1 – 2 hitting session per week. – with a player of a similar standard
  4. 1 – 2 set play match play session per week – with a player of a similar standard

These sessions that are self – directed and offer self – ownership are the sessions that players need the most. Develop independence and ownership in your players.

Parents stay out of it, do not get involved in those sessions. They are not your training sessions.

The first part of this is to understand where the feeling or need for private lessons are driven from. After speaking to a number of parents and coaches these seem to be the main points.

From a parents perspective the following were common messages:

  1. There seems to be the desire to receive personal tuition and more focused lesson with the players
  2. The players received more technical attention.

From a coaches point of view:

  1. Coaches generally love private lessons because it fills up more on court time.
  2. To get over a technical hurdle that a player is struggling with
  3. Set the scene with players for the rest of the week

Think about this, if private lessons are so important why is it that the Tennis Australia National Academy programs consist almost entirely of squad lessons and they generally farm the private lessons back to the private enterprise coaches. If private lessons were so important why would they not want to do them themselves.

Over the past 30 years in the industry I can’t think back of a single successful player that I have worked with or seen working that has had a big focus on private lessons.

  • 5 years at Tennis QLD and barely conducted a one on one lesson, all squads.
  • 3 Years as AIS men’s coach and barely conducted a private lesson.
  • 2 Years as NSWIS and TNSW Head coach and didn’t do a private lesson.

These programs have all produced world class tennis players and yet private lessons were an absolute rarity.

Our best players for as long back as I can think did very little one on one lessons with a coach. However the players who have been successful have been those who have been able to put the time in on court throughout their developing years.

Parents I urge you to change your mind set in this space and look to balance out your child’s on court program.

Now the challenge is to get the children to be accountable by focussing on the things they are being asking to work on by the coach while they are not with a coach. When they start to do this then you may start to see where the magic really is.

From my point of view there are a range of benefits that squad session can give that private lessons do not.

  1. The simple volume of work players can get in squad.
  2. Players can and should be working on their technic at all times which should be reinforced by the coaches in squads.
  3. Players get the opportunity to work on more tactical outcomes which drive the technic they use.
  4. Players generally have to be more aware (and are aligned to the match play) of the decision making process and the way in which they cope with different situations.
  5. There are much more live ball activities teaching a greater variety of options and choices available.
  6. There is in most cases more movement and physical activities involved in squad sessions.
  7. There is much more Serve and ROS activities involved in squads again creating a more realistic outcome.

When you ask your coach to do more sessions and he says you are better off doing more squads and more hitting, set play or serves and ROS he is really someone who cares about you. The coach that says let’s do a private lesson or another private lesson is probably someone who cares more about himself.

We get a heck of a lot of people coming along talking about wanting their kids to become better tennis players. I can understand them pulling out if they are sick or injured however the majority of our squad cancellations are now other extra – curricular activities that have nothing to do with tennis.

The frustration for us is that the attitude is that we want you to make our kids better but they don’t want to make a commitment to that. They want to pick and choose and do a portion of the work required and still get a great outcome. I’m here to say parents that is not going to happen.

Have a think about it from this perspective. Why do kids go to school 5 days a week 38 – 40 weeks of the year and 12 years to develop the skills required for university or to go into the workforce?  Why do you think it is ok to look at tennis any different?

The MAGIC is in the dedication and discipline. They are the 2 most important personal qualities required to be successful. By the time your child is playing at a top 20 level in his or her age group in the state everyone playing at this level has talent. Talent WILL NOT be enough. What is going to give your child a COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE from this point forward. I don’t think it exists in more private lessons. What do you think?

April Showers


April showers bring May flowers. What they DON’T bring is outdoor tennis.

I live in the Atlanta suburbs. It rains here. A lot. Especially during the month of April. And there are several tournaments scheduled this month throughout our Southern section which means getting on the court and working on your game is kind of necessary.

But what happens when it’s raining 2 or 3 days a week, the place you train has no indoor or covered courts, and you have a tournament coming up? How do you prepare to compete?

There aren’t many coaches around here who have Rain Day lesson plans. It’s surprising to me, especially given the cost of drills and private lessons in our area. To those coaches who simply cancel for the day if the courts are wet, I would like to offer some suggestions of things you can do with the players to ensure they’re staying Match Ready.

1. Watch and review and analyze video. Don’t have any video on-hand of your players? YouTube is chock full of tennis videos free for the taking. Sit your players down in front of a tv or laptop or iPad and actively watch what’s happening in each point. Take note of shot selection, spin, what the players do between points and on changeovers. What do the players eat or drink when they go to the bench? What happens on a break point or a set point or a match point? How do the players handle a double-fault? These are just a few things to look for, but you get my point. There is so much to learn from watching yourself and others play this game, and watching on video allows for pauses and rewinds as you get your young players thinking about what’s happening between the lines and between the ears.

2. Throw in some extra fitness training. Coaches, if this isn’t your forte, there are again several videos on YouTube illustrating various footwork and fitness drills that you can do in an enclosed space with little to no equipment. You could also bring in a fitness professional for the afternoon to work with the players, maybe even someone to teach them yoga.

3. Have a strategy session. Throw out various point scenarios and ask the juniors what shot they would choose and why. Get them thinking about the court in terms of angles as opposed to straight lines. Help them understand the geometry of the court so they can make better decisions during match play.

4. Teach them to play chess. This goes along with #3. Thinking 2 or 3 steps ahead is crucial in chess. It is in tennis, too. If you don’t know how to play chess or how to teach it, our old friend YouTube can come to the rescue.

5. Work on shadow swings. If you have read about the Russian training center Spartak, you know the coaches there didn’t even allow the young players to use a tennis ball for several months. All the work was done with shadow swings until the technique of the various strokes was perfected. It never hurts to revisit technique, even with older players. It’s amazing how quickly someone can retrain his/her brain just by slowing down the motion of the stroke and making small corrections along the path of the racquet.

6. Practice Mental skills. Do some visualization. Have the players come up with and write down the steps they’ll take between points, on changeovers, and between sets. Discuss them and hone them and then practice them so more. Bring in a guest speaker to help the juniors understand why the mental side of the game is so crucial.

I would love to hear from y’all about other creative ways to spend rainy days. Of course, sometimes a rain day is the perfect excuse for a day off, a day to let the body rest and recover. But when you’re faced with rain more often than not, especially right before a tournament, it’s important to use that time to prepare, even if it means doing so off the court.

REMINDER: If you would like more junior tennis information than the couple of articles I post each week, be sure to “Like” us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (links on the sidebar on the right side of this page). There are some great discussions happening online!


Counting Down in Mallorca

My son’s Mallorcan Adventure is coming to an end very soon. He’s returning home next Friday after spending a great month at Global. Once he’s been home a while, I’m hoping he’ll be able to reflect on his time in Spain and share some insights with me. For now, all I know is that it’s been tough – very tough – from a physical standpoint as well as a mental and emotional one. Training at Global is different from what he’s used to at home. There, they are training players for the pro tour, to be The Best in the World. That type of training looks and feels a lot different than how he’s been training here.

My son has been in regular contact with his coach here during this whole process. That’s a good thing. Julius has encouraged him to stay tough, to stay focused, to soak up as much as he can, to enjoy the local culture, and to come back ready to keep moving forward in his training. I’m excited to see how things progress, both on and off the court, over the next several months.

One thing I realized that makes things so different at Global is the mere fact that my son is there on his own – his momma isn’t there to feel badly for him after a hard day on the courts or to talk to the coach to find out more detail when things aren’t going well. It’s up to him to dig deep inside himself and find the fortitude to keep working, to avoid complaining, to go back out there the next day even though his hands are blistered and his muscles are screaming. You know, it’s interesting . . . my son has always said he doesn’t respond well to coaches who are overly critical, who don’t offer praise, who get angry and yell when he doesn’t perform up to their standards. Turns out, maybe he was wrong. To his credit, he’s learned how to take the criticism and use it to get stronger. And the coaches at Global have noticed and have let us know they are pleased with him for it. I don’t think it’s part of their philosophy to share that pleasure with my son, though – it’s just different there – so my husband and I have respected that philosophy and kept their words of praise to ourselves. Still, as a parent, it’s nice to hear that the coaches do see a change in his attitude. In my mind, that means there’s been a step forward in the maturation process, which is exactly what my husband and I hoped would happen. Like I said in my first post about his adventure, this was never just about the tennis.

He Made It To Mallorca


My son left Atlanta late Monday afternoon for his trip to Global Tennis Team in Mallorca. After a 2-hour departure delay – and a little snafu with security (let’s just say that apparently Accelerade [use code ACES15 for 15% off and free shipping if you want to order!] looks an awful lot like an illegal substance, especially when packed in a one-gallon Ziploc bag) – my son was in the air and on his way to Paradise.

My husband had asked him to call us once he landed in Barcelona, again when he got to the gate for his transfer to Mallorca, and one more time once he had met up with Afiza from Global at the Palma Mallorca airport’s central meeting point. Since there’s a 6-hour time difference between Atlanta and Spain, we knew we were in for an interrupted night’s sleep. At 4:10am, we got the first call. He was safe in Barcelona, no problems on the flight, but he had only slept about 30 minutes during the previous 9 hours in the air. My husband reminded him to call again once he was at the gate for his departing flight to the Palma Mallorca airport.

The next two hours crept by with very little sleep on our end. His connecting flight was due to leave at 12:30pm Barcelona time (that’s 6:30am Atlanta time), so we expected a phone call sometime around 5:30am at the latest. However, the next call we got was at 6:45am – from the airport in Palma! Our son had already arrived in Mallorca but was having trouble locating Afiza. Oops! He completely forgot to call us that second time from Barcelona! Okay, the important thing was that he was safe. And that his luggage had arrived. Now the task was helping him connect with Afiza, so my husband got on the phone with both of them and led them to each other. So far, so good. We asked our son to call us one more time once he had a chance to get the SIM card for his cell phone so we would have his local Spanish number.

By the time we heard from our son again, he had already been on the tennis court for an hour and a half, eaten lunch, picked up the SIM card, moved into his room, and was getting ready to head to the beach. Afiza emailed me to let me know that she was enjoying getting to know him (“Love your boy. Very charming.”) which made me feel great, of course. Turns out he’s sharing a room with Barbara Tipple’s son (see the podcast of my radio show with Barbara from July 15, 2013) from the UK as well as a young professional player from Mexico. I emailed Barbara to let her know our boys were rooming together, and she replied that she would be visiting Global mid-August to celebrate her son’s birthday and would make a point to meet my son and take him out for dinner one night – it’s nice to know another momma will be there who can report back!

This morning, when I first woke up, I texted my son via Viber to see how his first full day was going. He texted back right away that he had gotten a good night’s sleep, which I’m sure he needed. He had already hit and done a fitness session then gone to the supermarket to get some “essentials” (I’m not sure what that means!). Lunch was coming up shortly followed by another hitting session and more fitness.

Those of you with teenage sons will understand this, I’m sure, but my son is not the best communicator, especially on the phone or via text messages. It’s tough to get a read on how he’s truly feeling though I suspect we would know if something wasn’t going as planned.

That’s it so far. I hope to have more to report later!