C and B Level Course in Milan Completed
From Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th of November I spent three fun and informative days at the Centro Sportivo Pavesi in Milan following the course and the symposium on tennis organised by the Global Professional Tennis Coach Association (GPTCA) where I was kindly invited to follow the event by Alberto Castellani (president of the GPTCA) and Claudio Pistolesi (GPTCA president for Ireland, Japan and India).
The students present (more than 200) were divided into two different groups according to what level of qualification they were seeking, B or C (A is obtained at the moment only through experience on the tour as a coach). Each group was then lectured on the various aspects of the coaching role, from how to run drills and exercises on court to the off-court side of the job. As it emerged from most of the teachers, or rather lecturers, how to handle and educate a player to behave is just as important as the work done on the court. Alberto Castellani first and then Alessandra Parroni (psychologist specialising in sports psychology) focussed on stress management and how to be able to activate your body at the right time for a match, or how to handle an increase or a decrease in activation levels during a match. Alessandra Parroni also proceeded in giving a demonstration on a meditation technique to relax your body and mind.
In trying to prepare the students present to the real world of coaching young aspiring professionals or established professionals a coach must be knowledgable of all the rules and regulations concerning the ITF Junior and Futures tours and the ATP Tours. All the aspects of these two circuits were discussed with Federico Ricci (director and head of the Jarkko Nieminen Tennis Academy in Finland) and Giorgio Di Palermo (ATP Board member). From entry list deadlines, cancellation deadlines, penalties and all the anti-doping procedures. With Di Palermo the issue of anti-doping procedures was examined thoroughly as the recent cases of Troicki and Cilic had stimulated the curiosity of the students.
On Saturday the GPTCA courses merged with the 15th Tennis Symposium. A very interesting speaker was Claudio Mezzadri, a former player from Switzerland (best ranking 26th in 1987) and former Davis Cup captain. His lecture (maybe discussion is a better term) was centred around Roger Federer as he was involved in the 17 times Grand Slam champion's development and called Federer to play in Davis Cup for the first time. The most interesting aspect of Mezzadri's talk was when he first saw Federer he had the feeling of someone who knew he was gifted with a special talent and someone who knew he was going to become a great tennis player.
After the lectures the two groups of aspiring GPTCA coaches were also shown on court how to work with players. Claudio Pistolesi showed drills with three of his students how to use visualisation techniques by just isolating the player with a towel over the head to focus the mind for 8 to 10 minutes on the perfect shot you want to practice in that particular session. Pistolesi also showed a new piece of equipment, IKKOS training glasses created for swimmers, but useful for a number of sports. These glasses repeat on a loop the video selected of the perfect shot (either by a pro or a recorded perfect shot by the same player being coached) and helps isolate the player with the aid of earphones. Saturday afternoon was dedicated to a display of various training techniques by Patricio Remondegui, coach Adriana Serra-Zanetti (she was also taking part in the demonstration), the first Italian woman to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2002 paving the way for the successes of the latest generation of Italian women, from Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta to Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. The point of this lecture was to show the variety of exercises that can be done to keep players from getting bored.
There were two highlights of the three day course for me personally and they were Toni Nadal's lecture followed by a demonstration of the drills and exercises as well as the presentation of an A* GPTCA degree to Gianni Clerici, one of only two tennis writers inducted in the Newport Tennis Hall Of Fame (the other is Bud Collins). Through his books, articles and TV commentary (with Rino Tommasi, Roberto Lombardi and Ubaldo Scanagatta) he inspired me as well as many others to love and get involved in tennis. Claudio Pistolesi talked about how reading his book “The Ultimate Tennis Book” inspired him to insist in his tennis career in difficult moments. I have been lucky enough to meet Clerici on several occasions and seeing him receive a spontaneous and well deserved standing ovation was one of the best moments of the three day event.
The other highlight of the course was the lecture and on court demonstration by Toni Nadal. The lecture (which soon became an interesting and lively Q&A session) shed a lot of light on world number 1 Rafael Nadal. From Uncle Toni's humble words (“It is not difficult to coach someone to the top level. I managed which proves that it's not difficult.”) and focus on the players character, personality and making the game of tennis simple (“I am tired of people coming to me with complex and complicated theories on how to play tennis. It's a simple game and you need to place the ball where the other player isn't and hit the ball as hard as possible.”). It is easy to see why Rafa is the fighter and the humble player he is today. Toni Nadal's coaching philosophy came through in the anecdotes he recounted from making the player responsible for his career (no excuses) to always speak the truth to your player. Before the 2007 final against Federer he remembered telling Rafa, “he hits the forehand better than you, he hits the backhand better than you, he volleys better than you and he serves...” at which point Rafa interrupted him saying “enough, enough!”. After speaking the truth he went on to explain to his nephew how to try and overcome these difficulties. Always speak the truth to the player, it's also a matter of respect towards the player.
By Paul Sassoon, www.ubitennis.com
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