These days aspiring tennis players have so many options when it comes to developing their game. Do they take the traditional path of private lessons with a squad and some tournament play? Do they move overseas to one of the seemingly thousands of academies to follow their dream or do they scour the internet for all the information they can possibly gather from YouTube, social media, and various other platforms forming their own philosophies and game style.
Tennis Australia are always aiming to raise the bar when it comes to coaching and will leave no stone unturned when researching best practice and how we can incorporate those ideas into our training programs to ensure our players are receiving the best coaching possible.
Luke Dews is an LTA level 3 tennis coach as well as a Tennis Australia club professional coach. Originally from England, Luke has been coaching for the past 20 years and has been in Australia since 2012. He was the head coach at Eastcourts tennis centre in Sydney for 10 years whilst he now works as a private contractor at Heffron Park tennis centre where he coaches players of all levels from grass roots through to national performance level players. Luke recently joined a group of coaches from Australia on a fact-finding trip overseas to visit some well-known academies. The First Serve recently sat down with Luke to talk about this experience and his views on what we can learn from some of the academies he visited.
The First Serve (TFS): Hi Luke, thanks for joining us today. You recently joined a group of Tennis Australia coaches on a trip to some of the most recognisable academies in the world. How was that experience?
Luke Dews (LD): It was an excellent experience. To be included among a small group of well-established and experienced coaches was great. Not only did we get to learn a lot from the places we visited, but also from each other. The coaches in attendance varied from private operators, academy coaches, travelling coaches and coaches working within the NDS program.
Many of the coaches were ex-players and played juniors together. As the only Englishman on the tour, it was great to hear the stories from when they were trying to make it as juniors in Australia.
In addition to the tennis aspect, we were super lucky to visit some beautiful places along the way. Starting in Barcelona and Mallorca, then onto France, where we stayed in Nice. Such a lovely spot right on the ocean which is my happy place. From there we travelled to Italy where we stayed in both Milan and Rome. For the most part of the trip, we were also lucky enough to have Jose Higueras travelling with us, sharing his insights and experiences as a player and coach. He has a wealth of knowledge and is such a down to earth guy. Also joining us was Dr. Mark Kovacs who is a very highly respected performance psychologist, researcher, professor, author, and coach with extensive background in training and researching elite athletes. His expertise is not limited to tennis, working across many different sports. His knowledge of biomechanics for the game is outstanding. He delivered an on-court movement and footwork session as well as a presentation on the serve.
TFS: Which academies did you visit?
LD: In Spain we visited the Real Club de Barcelona, Barcelona total tennis (BTT), the Nadal academy in Mallorca and the Emilio Sanchez academy. In France we visited the Moratoglou academy and then we visited the Piatti academy in Italy.
TFS: What were the main differences between each one?
LD: I would say the main differences between each one was how well they could cater to the players’ individual needs. Usually that depended on the size of the academy and the quality of coaching staff.
The places that had good communication between tennis coaches, S&C trainers, physiotherapists and in some cases psychologist, you could see how the model of what they were running worked so well.
TFS: Did any standout more than others?
LD: Two stand outs for me were BTT Academy and Piatti Academy.
Both academies had an outstanding schedule. At least 2.5 hours of tennis in the morning. S&C followed by match play in the afternoon. They worked their schooling around their tennis. BTT for example had schooling on site which ran 4:30 - 7:30 pm. This is for players looking to “make it” of course.
Piatti’s model and method for me was the best. They had clear guidelines on what they believe works and how they want to run their academy. All the coaches were trained well and on the same page with regards to what they are teaching. The coaches are all committed to producing players and the academy does a great job at mentoring the coaches that join the team. Coaches are paid depending on their performance and ability. There are different levels to which coaches can reach within the academy. This incentivises coaches to become better which also produces better outcomes with players. As Riccardo Piatti told us during his presentation “we are a family”
The other great incentive at Piatti Academy is they record each player that comes to the academy on the first day. They analyse the footage and show the players and parents what they need to work on. This applies to all aspects of the game from groundstrokes to the serve. They then work hard over the time they are there and leave with an after video to see the improvement.
TFS: Since your return, have you implemented any of your learnings into your lessons?
LD: I have taken a lot of what I learned at the Piatti Academy on board and will continue to do so. I want to introduce more S&C work into my program as that is such an important aspect of building strong players. I am trying to organise more 2 players to one coach sessions. I saw very few private lessons once players had the technical fundamentals in place. The best academies were all two players to one coach. This model creates a competitive and realistic environment for players.
TFS: How different is the coaching in Europe compared to Australia? Does their philosophy vary greatly to ours?
LD: The philosophy across the board in Europe is “work hard” simple. I think there are great coaches in Australia but the work ethic from players isn’t as strong. Coaches are a product of their environment. Europe seems to have a better coaching system in place. Italy for example have a fantastic coach development program. Coaches must achieve strict criteria to move up levels. They must also reach yearly targets to maintain their qualifications. In Australia, coaches can be lazy when it comes to educating themselves simply because the system allows them to be. There are of course coaches in Australia that produce great players and have the drive to do so. But I think we are a long way from the culture they have in Europe. Saying that, we are geographically hindered in comparison to Europe. They have a huge population and short distances to travel to other counties for tournaments etc.
Comparing the places, we went in Europe; the players just seem have a greater hunger and love for the game. It’s a lifestyle for them. They live and breathe it. I think that we get a little caught up in Australia with worrying about UTR points, in some cases players not even wanting to compete in the fear that their UTR will go down. I think coaches need to change that mindset. We want our players to be excited to play.
TFS: How do you think we stack up as a coaching fraternity compared to Europe?
LD: I think if Tennis Australia put in place solid guidelines for what they would like all facilities to achieve, we can produce a better coaching environment for our players. This could be funding for clubs that are ticking the boxes. Coaches need to become better qualified to run classes, especially at a red and orange ball age because they are our grass root demographic. If we are coaching well from an early age, we are implementing strong fundamentals which is important for when they move into playing tournaments etc.
TFS: In Australia we tend to break coaching up into technical, tactical, physical, and psychological components. How would you categorise the breakdown of what they focus on?
LD: They also focus on these elements. I would say that they merge technical and tactical very well. However once players are playing points, they don’t talk about technique. They link S&C specifically to the player’s needs. This is where coaches and trainers need to be in alignment. With regards to psychology. I think what they do well is hold players accountable for their behaviour. For example - at Piatti, if they do not abide by the rules posted on the gate. They are reminded to go and read them again. If they repeat offend, they must hit with red ball (or lower-level kids) kids for a week as punishment. I believe this carries over into how they conduct themselves in match play situations.
TFS: What lessons/philosophies do you think we as a coaching cohort should be introducing to our programs immediately?
LD: Work hard. Don’t get caught up in chasing points and needing to be at this level by this time or have this rating by this date. Just work hard and let the results speak for themselves.
TFS: Any final thoughts?
LD: Overall, the experience put a fire in my belly. Not just as a coach for my players, but as someone who wants to see coaches get better. If this trip taught me anything, it is that you only get out what you put in. We can’t expect to produce top 10 players if we are not willing to put in the work ourselves to be better mentors. Coaches are a huge part of a player’s life. Often a part of the family. It’s important that we take on board that we are shaping a portion someone’s life, so we should be doing the best we can for them and that means we need to keep learning and growing as coaches too.
TFS: It sounds like an amazing trip that has inspired you to continue learning and pass on the lessons you learned overseas to your players and younger coaches which can only be a good thing. Thank you very much for your time and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
The big takeaway for me when hearing about the various academies and what constitutes best practice was that whilst we can all have varying philosophies wherever we are in the world in terms of technique, tactical beliefs and benefits of private versus squad lessons the one thing that is always associated with excellence is hard work and needs to be embraced if you intend on making a career in tennis.