Do Former Successful Pro Players Make Better Coaches?

 

 

In watching Rafa and Roger put on their coaching hats during the Laver Cup, it made me reflect on the age old debate. Do former successful pros make better coaches?

I commonly hear former professional players supporting the theory that a successful career at the top level is required to transform into a successful coach. But of course, in the corridors those who have not played at the highest level argue that having been a great athlete may in fact hinder coaching effectiveness.

So who is right?

I would say to a degree neither. There are obvious advantages in having been a great player but there may also be some potential drawbacks. Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin.

Advantages of Former Successful Professional Players Becoming Coaches

Credibility…

The first and most obvious advantage, as we saw with Roger and Rafa, is that former successful players have instant credibility regarding what they say. Players will be more likely to listen and respect what former elite players say because they have been there and done it.

Knowledge of top level experiences…

More than the instant credibility that comes with being a former successful athlete is an actual knowledge of what it is like to be there in the pressure cooker for professional athletes. No matter what anyone says, when someone who has been there and done it is communicating about elite level sport he has the advantage of really knowing what a certain situation is like. He or she can communicate with an absolute authenticity about some experiences that non- former elite players coaches can’t. This is likely to give former successful players a particular advantage when working at the top level in tennis. This is a key factor in the reasonably recent trend of former great players coaching today's best.... 

Modelling…

We all learn powerfully via imitation. The discovery of mirror neurons, which are the reflective neurons that allow us to internalize the actions and experiences of others, have given insight into how we learn this way. Therefore, showing players how to do things is an important teaching tool. So when a former top player performs a skill, it may be more desirable for athletes to imitate. The characteristics that made these people great athletes such as competitiveness may be automatically transferred to their own athletes simply by their example. It makes sense that former elite players have physical and competitive attributes that are highly desirable to model.

Potential Challenges for Former Athletes Becoming Effective Coaches

Personal characteristics…

But is it possible that the characteristics that helps propel elite players to the highest level may hinder them when it comes to the requirements of becoming a successful coach?

The competitiveness, selfishness, driven, stubbornness, and even anxious tendencies that have been revealed in some studies of elite athletes may not align with the personal skills important to the development of helpful coach-athlete relationships.

Empathy for children’s experiences…

In my experience, one challenge that former elite athletes turned coaches can face is the ability to understand and empathize with children’s developmental experiences. Especially when developing young players, what a coach has done, and what she knows and thinks, is likely not as important as his or her ability to understand a child’s experience, understand his or her own coaching behaviours, and communicate in a way that balances appropriate support and challenge for the child based on personal circumstances.

Most kids are not on the path to excellence when coaches meet them for numerous reasons. It takes a highly skilled coach to help players develop the skills required to discover this path. And it can be more challenging for former elite players to relate and understand those experiences. 

Coaching skill…

One final challenge for former elite players turned coaches occurs when they receive coaching positions before having had a chance to develop the required coaching skills. Often former elite athletes may have the personal qualities to become great coaches or could develop these skills with adequate coaching experience but get thrown into positions too quickly. This is particularly so in developmental coaching positions.

A related topic is the repeated mistakes that organisations like Tennis Australia have made in placing former incredible competitors like Pat Rafter in positions where they were way out of their depth in being responsible for overseeing junior player and coach development- WITH NEXT TO NO PREVIOUS JUNIOR COACHING EXPERIENCE! This is nothing short of crazy...

Behaviour change is difficult for all of us, and skill development is often slow. Developmental coaching is filled with frustrations and challenges. This requires skills that can only be developed through experience in coaching, not competing.

Coaching Considerations…

Ultimately, coaches who have been former elite players definitely have some advantages over coaches who have not. But these advantages are not relevant if coaches don’t possess the more important personal skills that are vital in nurturing player development.

Would you like to know more about the services we offer to help you improve your players'/your child's/your own  mental toughness?

YES PLEASE...