MyTennisLessons is pleased to announce Thomas B. in Los Angeles, CA, as our tennis coach of the month for March. In addition to coaching tennis, Thomas is an actor who has starred in both film and television series. He has been doing a fantastic job teaching his students, so we found some time between lessons to ask Thomas a few questions.
1. You started playing tennis at age five. Can you talk about how you became passionate about the sport and had the desire to reach an advanced level?
Yes, I started playing at around age five. It was honestly a family sport; my dad and mom played and my older brother played, so it was only natural I followed in their footsteps! Tennis has been one of the few constant things in my life, so I’ve been lucky to play as long as I have now. When I was 10 or 11 years old I became one of the top juniors in my country (Belgium), and it’s around that time I started taking it more seriously and realizing I had a chance to become pretty good. I’ve always been very competitive so I think anything you do in life, you should try to become the best you can be.
2. You played professional tournaments and also at the Division I college level. What were some differences between the two playing environments?
The main difference is really the atmosphere. In the professional ranks you have guys playing for their careers, their lives almost, so there’s almost more of a mutual respect among players during tournaments. In college you’re just playing for your teammates, so I’ve always felt there wasn’t as much mutual respect toward players from other teams. Trash talk and cheating were very prevalent in college tennis, but it definitely helps build mental toughness.
3. Can you describe an instance in which you felt really proud of a student you’ve taught?
I can think of an instance recently. There’s a teenager I’ve been teaching, around 14 years old, and when he started with me he was relatively new to tennis but had potential. At the time he lost 6-0, 6-0 against the captain of his high school tennis team. A few months in he was thinking about quitting because he still wasn’t winning, but I persuaded him to stick through it and promised results would come if he kept working hard at it. Flash forward a few months after that and he played that same kid and beat him 6-2, 6-1. He was happy he stuck with it, and I was very proud of him. I think, as an instructor, especially when you teach kids and teenagers, that it’s not always just about teaching tennis, but in some ways being a mentor and positive influence to them and using tennis as a metaphor for dealing with adversity in life. I always tell kids and teenagers I teach that even if you don’t go pro or reach the college level, the fact you stuck it out through good times and bad will be invaluable to how you approach problems later in life.
4. What are some of the biggest challenges of being a tennis coach?
I never felt being a tennis coach was that difficult if you genuinely care about your clients getting better and are willing them to get better. That being said, there’s always issues of making sure people stay focused the whole way through and making sure they don’t get down on themselves, especially with kids. You also have to realize that every student is different. I don’t teach a “one size fits all” kind of style where I try to teach the student my exact motion during certain strokes. Every student has their own nuances and ways they hit the ball, so it’s a matter of figuring out what type of stroke is best for them. I can teach the serve probably 20 different ways, all depending on the student’s natural motion. Time management can become difficult some days, especially if you teach at different venues or peoples’ houses, constantly being in the car driving from one lesson to the next. All in all, it’s quite a stress-free job.
5. What’s your favorite part about coaching and what’s your advice to players hoping to get into the profession?