Parent Coaching and Its Danger to the Future of Tennis

Eduardo AfiniContributor IIISeptember 22, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08:  Donald Young of the United States reacts against Andy Murray of Great Britain during Day Eleven of the 2011 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

When parents want their kids to learn something—let's say, how to play the guitar—they search for a professional capable of providing such a service for their little ones. Moreover, in addition to studying and preparing for a profession, usually people have to be certified in order to work as an expert in their field.

Professional certification is no different with tennis.

There are two great institutions in the United States: the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR)—organizations that prepare, certify and provide tools for tennis professionals to become great coaches. There is also the International Tennis Federation (ITF), providing the same service worldwide.

In spite of the existence of these regulatory organs, there seems to be too many people who truly believe they can teach tennis.

There are a bunch of club-level players—those who may have had a couple of lessons in their lifetime or play every other Sunday—who feel it is right to introduce the game of tennis to their kids, making a terribly wrong move right off the bat.

In terms of technique, tennis is a complex sport, and it is very important to learn stroke mechanics properly in the early stages of the process. Those who learn on their own and suffer to get rid of bad habits understand this perfectly. Improper teaching shows a lack of respect to the work of the USPTA, PTR, ITF and its certified professionals, as well as being a disservice to the game.

The fact that random and unprepared people are allowed to teach and coach tennis is a definite issue for the sport. You wouldn’t go to a doctor or a dentist who claimed to have acquired their skills on their own or by reading articles on Wikipedia, would you?

Even at the top level of the game, there are questionable parent coaching relationships. Maria Sharapova parted ways long ago with her father and coach, Yuri Sharapov. Caroline Wozniacki, who is heavily criticized for not winning a Grand Slam title, has announced that her father is no longer her coach. Even Uncle Tony, who could not properly explain Nadal’s service-grip change to Pam Shriver on TV during last year’s US Open, may lose his job, rumor says.


In the U.S., the most obvious case of parents getting in the way of a player’s development is Donald Young. His parents refuse to hand him over to professional coaches, despite the effort of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in requesting and suggesting so.

Young is a talented player, the former No. 1-ranked junior player in the world, and was once recognized as the future of tennis in the country. He didn’t live up to the expectations at all, ruining his relationship with the USTA due to his and his family’s stubbornness.

Young has been heavily and openly criticized by Patrick McEnroe, who is in charge of the USTA’s player-development program, and by Davis Cup captain Jim Courier—who suggested during a 2011 US Open broadcast that it is time for Young to "grow up and get some real coaching.”

Tennis coaching is a serious and important duty, and should be taken as such.

Players need proper coaching in order to get to the next level. There are many stories of success in the pro circuit that illustrate this point. Brad Gilbert was directly responsible for Andre Agassi winning his French Open title in 1999, thereby clinching his career Grand Slam. Coach Larry Stefanki has made Andy Roddick’s longevity possible and was responsible for Fernando Gonzalez’s best run of his career.

Even the great Roger Federer hired Paul Annacone after having won more Grand Slam tittles than any other player in history.

So, dear tennis parents: Unless you are former players and are certified to do so, know that you cannot teach tennis! Please leave the task to people who are professionally trained to do so.