Coaches and Equipment
I spend a lot of time on Facebook and the internet looking through tennis related articles and it is great to see the amount of coaches updating their pages with some very interesting articles. I think tennis is moving onto a new level in Ireland. We have more players than ever playing on pro tours and this too can only help raise the profile of the game here.
As these progressions are made I think it is important that our coaches and the Coaches Association make sure our coaches are equipped to give the best advice and not just on strokes and tactics but also on equipment.
I am not a coach and am in no way criticising coaches, but from my experience (20+ years in the racket retail industry) there are a lot of coaches who do not give the right advice to their students when it comes to rackets or stringing.
Shop staff, especially those in specialist sections, should know what they are talking about but they aren’t the ones who are on the court regularly with the players so they can only advise them on the features of the racket, not whether it would suit their game or not.
Coaches, either as part of their training or off their own back, should spend a lot more time studying up on the types of frames available, how they perform and the latest technologies.
They should know the difference between Head light and Head heavy and how the overall weight of the racket changes how it plays. They should then be able to advise their students on the category of racket most suited to them.
All the top brands change some rackets in their range every year, offering new technologies, so you can never stop learning.
My suggestion would be that, at one or two of the coaches conferences during the year, there should be a section on equipment where the latest rackets and strings are reviewed. I have no doubt plenty of retailers or distributors would be more than happy to speak at these events.
When it comes to strings and stringing, the same applies, but there is a bigger problem here. At least with rackets you are generally dealing with a shop, with stringing, you can be dealing with someone who has bought a machine and strings from home to make an extra few quid. Don’t get me wrong there are some very good machines and some very knowledgeable stringers out there but from my experience they are in the minority.
There are a few problems with home stringers, lack of knowledge when recommending string, cheap quality string to make as big a profit as possible and a poor quality machine that provides inconsistent tension. You should always look for a stringer who has a stringing qualification. This shows their commitment to their trade.
I have being stringing rackets for a long time now and on doing my Professional Restringing Course, I learned more in the first hour than I had in the last number of years. There are right and wrong ways to string rackets, both will get the job done but the difference is quality. Since then I have gone on to become a Master Racket Technician with both the European and U.S. Stringers Associations.
Now, if you as a coach are not monitoring how and where your students are getting their rackets strung, you are allowing their performance to be affected.
The most important thing to remember when advising anyone about stringing is that they are not professional players (yet!) so therefore should not be, automatically, using the same string as the pros.
Polyester is the fashionable string at the minute and the amount of juniors using this type of string is frightening. It is a powerless string which emits a lot of vibration. A professional players body, who trains daily, can absorb this vibration but unfortunately our aspiring juniors, whose bodies are still only developing, can not. This leads to shoulder and elbow injuries and can end up in time, being the reason the child gives up because of recurring problems.
The chance of this happening could be greatly reduced if coaches were up to date on the various types of string available and how they perform. I know you will always have that one child or the pushy parent who wants what Nadal uses, but in general players listen to their coaches advice.
So I suppose to sum up, I would love to see two things happen, the coaches Governing body (TICA) taking responsibility for their part in being up to date with equipment and, coaches playing their part in staying up to date with advances in technology so that they can give the best advice possible to their students.
If anyone would like to contact me about rackets or stringing I would be glad to help out in anyway I can.
As a follow up to this post. In July 2018 I became the Irish Training Manager for the European Racket Stringers Association. I made contact with TICA, through Liam Cassidy and Roger Geraghty and we have agreed to hold workshops for the coaches. On attending these workshops, coaches will be allocated CPD points.
We are also looking to add a section on Rackets and Equipment to future qualifications.