New GPTCA National President of Singapore
Elite Tennis Editor-in-Chief Marcin Matysik caught up with Robert Davis, GPTCA A* Level Coach and national president of Singapore to talk about his new assignment as Technical Director of Tennis Operations for Sport Singapore.
ELITE: How is it going from ATP World Tour coach to Technical Director?
RD: When you are a coach on the ATP Tour or the Challenger Tour, you are a bit like the Commander-In-Chief. You only need to communicate with the player. On most issues you get your way. Roger Rasheed, Toni Nadal, Jose Perlas, Bob Brett, and Magnus Norman all come to mind. Each of those coaches have different styles and ways of communicating but there is no doubt who is in charge. Another aspect that is quite different is on the Tour you spend a lot of time together off the court with the player. There is no ‘On and Off’ switch between coach and player and you tend to share a lot and very few secrets. For the tour coach and player tennis is not so much a job, it is our life.
Switching from coach to technical director you have to remove all of your ego and recognize that you are now a part of a team. They may not follow all of my suggestions. The team studies the subject being discussed and then decides what they feel will be the best direction. Honestly, I can see from the short time that I have been here that is the best way. Because as a foreigner here in Singapore there are so many little things where local knowledge is critical for success.
ELITE: Did you have any role models for Technical Director?
RD: I believe that Doug McCurdy is a great example. What he did for the ITF, USTA, China, Korea and now Turkey is proof that if you want long term success you have to have a good plan. Wherever Doug has been successful players have followed. I have learned from observing and talking with Doug the real value of creating and administrating pathways. And then Craig Tiley (Tennis Australia) comes along and takes the role of Technical Director to a whole new level.
Elite: Why Singapore?
RD: These are very interesting times for sports in Singapore. Fortunately, tennis has been flagged as a core sport which gets a lot of assistance at every level. The support team for tennis at Sport Singapore are working seven days a week ticking off all the boxes to grow the tennis industry here. Other than the four grand slam nations, plus Canada and Belgium, I don’t know of another country that is doing so much on so many levels for tennis as Singapore is doing. Their mini-tennis in schools projects are very well organized and they are reaching a lot of kids. I have no doubt that very soon, Singapore will be setting the standard for mini-tennis projects in Asia. Secondly, Sport SG is developing more and more adult programs by creating leagues that invite corporate partners. And finally, the amount of coaching education courses they are doing shows how committed they are to the future of tennis here. They have been very methodical and deliberate in putting together a pathway.
They (Sport SG) have been studying other nations models over the last three years to see what they can learn from each. A good example is what Sweden did in the 80’s and into the 90’s. They had an excellent tennis structure in place so when Bjorn Bjorg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg exploded onto the world’s tennis scene, Sweden captured the nations interest to play tennis. A government study was done on Swedish tennis called, ‘The Miracle of Swedish Tennis’. They discovered that the one of the main strengths of their tennis back then was it coaching competency. On every level of tennis from the adult volunteer at the club to its elite coaches they were all very good. They had high level teachers who could activate them with mini-tennis programs and pass them along the pathway all the way to grand slam champions. Sweden became so good that they began exporting coaches all over the world. Both Sweden and Singapore have a high standard of living, excellent educational system and subject competency, culture of hard work and team first mentality. All of these factors are needed to build a pipeline.
ELITE: Does Singapore have any professional players?
RD: Not yet, but they are on the way. Let me back up a bit. There is a lot of money and opportunities in the tennis industry in Singapore but to date few success stories. We have more tennis teachers than any other nation in Southeast Asia, and probably only second to Japan in terms of total amount of teaching professionals. So, why do we not have more successful players? A good illustration that was shared with me on this topic is the one of the hunter versus the farmer. Hunters come and take what they need and leave, but the farmer is on site day after day planting and working for the long term. What we are building now are a corps of tennis professionals who have the farmer mindset. We will be offering teaching and coaching courses from the GPTCA, PTR and ITF. We want to expose our Singaporean teachers and coaches to as many coaching philosophies as possible. We recognize that there is no “one size fits all” way to coach and teach, but there are some basics and shared core values. That is the strength of the GPTCA.
ELITE: You also work as a writer for the ATP, has that influenced you for this job at all?
RD: Yes, it has had tremendous impact. Through all the interviews with coaches and players and studying their playing activity, I have had my tennis education expanded greatly. It is like you are in a live classroom listening and watching the players tennis drama unfold. You hear from them about the breakdowns, breakthroughs and all the little detours along the way. Another plus to have been on the Tour is that you get exposed to so many national associations around the world so you get to see what works and what does not work. However, as technical director, you have to be able to communicate and illustrate in an organized and logical manner.
ELITE: Currently, you are working on two books. Can you tell me about them?
RD: The first one is on Bob and Mike Bryan. Their story is incredibly fascinating. How they became the greatest team in the history of doubles offers lessons that every coach, player and parent can take something from. The book also explores inside the world of men’s doubles past and present. The second book is a collection of conversations and interviews with many of the greatest coaches who have been or continue to be on the ATP Tour and many of them are GPTCA national presidents. Also, the book contains interviews with their players and what they learned from these coaches. I want to hear from the players on what they thought of the coach during their time together.
ELITE: What do you think is your main responsibilities to your job at Sport Singapore?
RD: As Technical Director, I feel it is my duty to share as much information and experience as I can with the team. Also, I feel that my time on the ATP allowed me to meet the best and brightest tennis minds in the industry and I need to share those contacts with the team here. On the court, expose our players and coaches to other Asian players like Rendy Lu, Aisam Qureshi, Jason Jung, Toshihide Matsui and Christopher Rungkat. By seeing how these professionals conduct themselves on the court and during fitness sessions they can see what it takes to make it on the professional tour.
ELITE: How will you know if you have been successful in your job with Sport Singapore?
RD: Great question. I am not sure how you can measure it. I believe that Singapore has a very good pool of tennis teachers with the ability and aptitude to rise to a high level. When Singapore starts exporting tennis coaches and technical directors to other Asian nations we can probably say we did a good job. Regarding player development we have set some performance goals that will allow us to measure progress.
ELITE: What are your goals for GPTCA in Singapore?
RD: As said earlier, I feel that it is beneficial to make available all teaching organizations for the coaches here. Where we can improve in Singapore is to help the tennis instructor/teacher learn more about coaching in competition. That is the strength of the GPTCA - coaching in competition. My objective is to have 50 Level C members by the end of the year. And next year, hopefully, we can start to see some candidates rise up to Level B. We are planning to send some of our coaches to some ATP World Tour and Challenger tournaments so they can see what it all about. Just like with players, exposing our coaches to professional tennis will allow them to learn faster.
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