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We Must Support Our Coaches

Image courtesy of Jessica Weyreuter & Dream Court

First things first: I am not a doctor or medical professional. Nothing I write below is a medical opinion or fact unless it is a direct quote from a trained and licensed medical professional.

Over the weekend, I was involved in several discussions about the safety of playing tennis in a variety of scenarios. Is it safe to take a private lesson? Is it safe to play with a healthy friend? Is it safe to play on your own court at your own house with someone living in that house with you?

The discussions were mainly sparked by a graph and accompanying article released by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science (STMS) and Dr. Mark Kovacs of the International Tennis Performance Association (iTPA) – both of whom are valuable and contributing members of the world-wide tennis industry – showing the varying risk levels of these different tennis-playing scenarios. The graph and article were later taken off both websites and deleted from social media.

Why were they taken down? As Dr. Jayanthi tweeted yesterday morning, “As a physician heavily involved in the tennis world in an effort to help educate about risks of COVID19 and tennis and leaving information for individuals on lower risk tennis activities, I believe with the rapid evolution of this pandemic, it’s best to have a simple, unified message to stay at home (emphasis added) environments with family to allow healthcare workers to manage the upcoming surge as well as slow the virus. I’m sorry if there were any messages stating otherwise and I wish for everyone to be safe and healthy and one day return to tennis in the right way!”

When I shared Dr. Jayanthi’s updated message yesterday, I got a lot of push-back. And I understand people’s fears of “will my kid fall behind her peers if she’s not working with her coach for weeks on end” or “will I be able to continue to support myself and my family if I can’t teach lessons”. The former is certainly something to think about. The latter is absolutely a real concern.

From our political leaders to our medical leaders, we are hearing the same message: STAY HOME. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. If we as a global society want to put an end to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we ALL need to adhere to this message. That’s not my opinion. It’s fact according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the medical professionals advising the President and the rest of us during this crisis.

I have asked the members of the newly-formed Tennis Industry Task Force to issue a unified, strong statement regarding Tennis and staying home similar to the one put out by the Western Australia Tennis Federation. As of the publication of this article, I have not received a response from any of them. I have heard from people in other countries that their Tennis Governing Bodies are reluctant to issue statements as well. In my opinion, they are doing a huge disservice to the consumers, coaches, and the industry by staying silent.

As one Tennis Friend/Journalist said to me, “There are plenty of professional tennis players who live in places with their own courts. You know what they’re NOT doing? Playing tennis.”

But we as a Tennis Community must find a way to support our coaches and the industry as a whole so it’s there for us when this crisis comes to an end. If lessons and in-person play are off the table, how do we help our coaches pay their bills? 

In my opinion, it’s a 2-way fix. First, Tennis Players and Tennis Parents need to make a commitment, if their own financial situation permits, to their coach to engage the coach on a regular basis if certain conditions are met. That’s where Part 2 of the fix comes into play.

Tennis Coaches need to give Players and Parents a reason to engage them even while in-person coaching is off the table.

I’m seeing incredible creativity on the part of many coaches to keep their players progressing and, in turn, paying for services. Things like daily lesson plans that include reading tennis-related books (check out our Books page for some ideas) then discussing the takeaways together in a phone or video call. Things like having the player videotape shadow swings of different strokes and analyze then discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly and how the player can adjust various components to improve. Things like having in-depth conversations about tactics, mental toughness, and developing rituals. Things like developing at-home workout programs to help the player stay fit and ready to play. Things like hosting webinars (UTR is offering a free platform to Tennis Coaches here).These are just a few of the ideas I’m hearing about, but there are many more things Coaches can do to remain valuable to their Players and the Parents.

Our first order of business is to stay healthy – physically, mentally, and fiscally. The clear message of how to accomplish that is to STAY HOME and get creative. Let’s support our Tennis Coaches as best we can so they are there for us when COVID-19 is no longer such a threat.

I, like all of you, am looking forward to the day when we are once again well enough as a country and a world to venture outside our own homes, hug our loved ones, and, yes, play tennis. Until that day, though, STAY HOME.

NOTE: Please check out our COVID-19 Resources page for some very creative train-at-home ideas.

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