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Behind the scene of coaching

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A couple of years ago Sebastien was interviewed by a local journalist. Here is the transcript of the interview.


News: The first question is how long have you been coaching?

Seb: 27 years. I started coaching at 15. At the time I coached volleyball. I only started coaching tennis 4 years later as a volunteer at my local club.

News: Have you always known that you wanted to be a coach?

Seb: Yes even if life came in between for a while. I coached a lot between the age of 15 and 24 as a volunteer but had 3-4 years when I did not coach. 

News: What happened?

Seb: From 20 to 24 I was in the French Navy and was lucky enough to carry on coaching volleyball and tennis but when I left the navy my new jobs did not allow me any time to coach. I travelled a lot and had a great time. Liam (my son) was getting older and it was time for him to have some stability, so in 2003 the family decided to permanently base ourselves in Cambridgeshire. I started to play tennis in Papworth Everard where I was asked to help the local coach. I did and went on coaching full time

News: Why did you want to become a coach? 

Seb: My love for sport in general.

News: So just the passion sports?

Seb: Yes, I was very fortunate one day that my volleyball coach said to me:  “I think you should help me coach the girls’ team” I think I was 13 at the time. Two years later I was in charge of my own team and later coached at National level. At 18 I started to play tennis and went on coaching the local team.

News: What is your typical day?

Seb: Monday to Saturday I get out of bed at 6.30am. I usually read my email and reply to some of them if it is urgent. I leave home at 8am to travel to the club and be on time to welcome the players (unless I have been stuck on the road behind some tractors). 9am the first lesson starts. I spend my time between Ely TC and King’s Ely. Currently I finish most days at around 8pm (Saturday at 4pm or 5pm). When I am home, I work on the business (answering emails I have not answered in the morning, preparing the newsletter, meeting schools and various organisation to grow tennis in the area…). During half term, I run tennis camps in the mornings and in the afternoon I create the new lesson plans for the following terms.

News: It sounds like a lot of work and not time for fun. What do you enjoy about coaching? 

Seb: Seeing players succeed. It takes a lot of work to achieve that. Hard work from the player (which is expected) and from myself. I literally spend an hour on each lesson plan before stepping on court. Before each term I prepare my lesson plans, sometimes 144 of them for a term – 12 courses of 12 weeks.

News: I play tennis myself but had no idea my coach was doing a lesson plan.

Seb: Any good coach will have a lesson plan. I like mine to be precise. I could easily step on court and think of some drills, set them up and train the players but that’s not me. At the end of each term our players play matches. It allows me to see their progress and see what we can next work on. For each group I think of what will work best to help the players improve. It is challenging but I love it. Coaching is very challenging, and l love the fact that you have to continuously solve problems and adapt. Tennis is a fluid game and I believe coaching needs to be fluid well.

News: How do you coach fluidity?

Seb: It's difficult. I have to be general to allow that fluidity (e.g. rallying, discovering tactics, etc…) but other times I have to be very specific (e.g. footwork, specific pattern of play, etc…). When players ask me a technical or tactical question my answer is very often “It depends". You see, I need a lot more information to give a clear answer. For example, if a player ask me why he/she has missed a shot I need to see what was done with the racket, was the preparation phase done? was the contact in front? Was the finish properly executed? Was the footwork correct? but I also have to understand what was happening in the player’s head: what was the player trying to achieve? and why? Therefore, I often ask questions to my players. “Why have you made this decision?”, “Why did you hit this shot?”, “How could you hit a better shot?”…. I want the players to start thinking otherwise they are always looking for me for the answers. When playing matches you are on you own hence the importance to use your brain. I am not a teacher, I am a facilitator. 10:

News: What are your goals for the future?

Seb: Keep on growing the game and becoming more competitive. 

News: How would you achieve that?

The LTA has launched a wonderful scheme called Tennis for Kids. For £25 each child will receive 6 hours of coaching, 1 tennis racket and 1 personalised T-shirt. This is attracting a lot of young players to every club around the country. Becoming competitive is a lot harder. The first step is to implement a “winning” culture. It means improving the coaching team including myself. I am learning a lot from some of the best coaches in the world such as Toni Nadal and Louis Cayer and pass that knowledge to the coaching team. I have booked a world class speaker for next year to coach our team.

Changing the culture means educating the players and families. We cannot be competitive by practicing twice a week. If we want to be more competitive the 8 & Under players should practice at least 2 hours of group coaching and 1 hour of private coaching. Private coaching is extremely important as it brings fast improvement in a short time.

News: It requires a strong commitment and financial investment?

Seb: Tennis is not much costlier than any other sports or activities. Nowadays Football can be as expensive as tennis when it comes to group lessons. Individual guitar lessons, sports massage, golf lessons… are a lot more expensive than tennis. It only become expensive when you start pushing as you now need to train a lot. To be competitive you need a combination of private coaching, group sessions, hits and matches. If you truly want to improve one-to-one session are essential to ensure your technique improves quickly.

News: Being part of a Performance environment must be difficult...

Seb: Yes! it is because results now matter. We must trust the process but there comes a time when results have to come. Having seen what it takes to become a player, even at national level, we have to be more pushy when coaching performance players. Every ball must be in. First ball errors are like cardinal sins. A lot of players will hit a first ball error and think, “Okay, I’m only warming up” But if you use that sort of mind set and you hit your first 3 shots out during a match, you’ll be 40-0 down because your training allowed you the freedom to make a mistake on the first ball. Performance means we cannot be complacent and we cannot allow the players to be complacent.

News: Do you ever feel disappointed by your players?

Seb: How?

News: if they don’t win

Seb: Not at all. I am only disappointed if they have given up or not given 100% during training. Otherwise I am truly proud of each and every one of them – Performance or social players. I have the same pleasure at watching them compete each other’s than I have watching the pros at Wimbledon.

News: Any side of the job you don’t like?

Seb: Not many things and nothing I cannot deal with. 

News: Like?

Seb: Critics – I still take them very personally even if I try to detach myself and be professional. If a player is not happy with the coaching (or me) I would really like them to come to speak to me. Communication is key and that is why I always ask for feedback at the end of each session. It pains me when someone gets quite angry but never mentioned anything in the past. It doesn’t happen very often but it does hurt me when it does.

News: Is there anything else that you want to discuss about your experience, your past coaching experience?

Seb: Yes, sure. Every player that I’ve coached or had the opportunity to work with, have remained friends all my life. So it’s interesting to come across people that I may not have seen in many years and be able to have a conversation and recall memories that are all good. I have known some of them for since they were kids and are now adults. A few of them come back quite often and even help coaching during the summer. It’s really cool to know you can make a good impact into someone’s life.

News: Finally, Wimbledon starts in 2 weeks. Do you see an increase of people wanted to join?

Seb: To tell you the truth, we are busy the whole year. We do have a deep in winter but we hardly have a massive surge of new players.