Does Tennis Need Inspirational Speeches?

 Does Tennis Need Inspirational Speeches?

Autobiographical Note

Growing up in Kentucky, I have had the chance to see two quite demonstrative and intense coaches John Calipari and Rick Pitino.  Each man can sell snake oil quite well.  Pitino was even called “the exorcist” by a friend due to his animated court-side demeanor resembling some form of possession.

The Hyper-Intense Coach

In many team sports and in even more films, one often finds a hyper-intense coach inspiring his team to win via a pre-game talk.

There have been some good coaching speeches in real life and in film:

  1. “Peace by Inches”  from Any Given Sunday (see above)
  2. Miracle

There have been some scary speeches:

  1. Last Play – uh …  (see above)
  2. I am a champion – Rip the heart from my enemy and leave it bleeding on the ground … ’nuff said I guess (see below)  

Is Tennis Lacking?

Even if the crazy/hyper-intense coach is a comedic figure and hyper-intense assistant coaches are even worse, it is striking that tennis does not have a history of these motivational speeches.  Maybe Uncle Toni could give a speech that would leave Theoden, the Horse Lord, proud.  Maybe Mirka pulled a Braveheart moment on Roger Federer during a rain delay at the 2008 Wimbledon final.  Still, I have my doubts.

As a tennis player, I have to say there is something about these motivational speeches that is almost laughable.  Jim Courier once roughly said that the hard thing about being a tennis coach is that most tennis players chose tennis because they did not want to constantly be told what to do. Football coach Howard Schnellenberger once said all of the benefits of pre-game hype and motivational speeches last less than 5 minutes during a game.    As Greg Garber pointed out in this excellent column, coaching tennis is exceptionally complex and difficult.

Tennis and Self-Expression

Tennis should be proud that it is not bound by red-faced coaches micromanaging every moment of action.  Tennis should be proud that it is not bound by uniforms. Tennis should be proud that more so than any sport of which I can think no single technique or style is brute.  Tennis is not simply an exercise of who can most effectively mix athleticism with the proper execution of the tennis version of the Fosbury Flop technique. Tennis is probably the sport in which a player can most fully express him or herself honestly on the court (check from the 1:50 point forward).  The greatest level of pride should be placed on that fact about tennis.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. tennis fan says:

    This is quite funny – coach Buzzcut alone was funny

  2. Dan Martin says:

    I don’t think brad Gilbert calling Boris Becker “BB Socrates” to pump Agassi up counts as a crazy or even good motivational ploy.

  3. Mike Swanquis says:

    This aspect of tennis also speaks to the difficulties that national federations have at obtaining “results” (i.e. top tier ATP professionals) by throwing money at youth development. Of course youth programs need to be visible enough to increase the chances that the most gifted natural athletes from any population pool end up exposed to tennis and well-run enough to identify that talent and encourage its growth on a case-by-case basis, but from a pretty early age a tennis player who is going to achieve a modicum of success is going to do through an expression of individualism which cannot (rightfully so) be allowed to exist in the team sports environment.

    Ideally the player eventually reaches the point where the coach is no longer just another authority figure but rather a value-adding peer. Still, short of the rare case when a psychological block appears to be holding back a far greater talent (see: E. Dementieva, A. Volkov*), it’s difficult to imagine how a coach getting inside the head of the player the way an NCAA basketball coach might is going to produce tangible results.

    *and no, the irony is not lost of me that I picked a former professional who would eventually become a coach himself…

    PS – That Pitino character looks quite a bit like a guy I used to know…Vincenzo something-or-other. Wonder if that guy ever made it in politics?

  4. Dan Martin says:

    Mike, Great points. I also think that because in tennis no substitutions are possible (even in doubles), the idea of getting a player too hyped up has a lot of drawbacks. If a football player is going bonkers, the coach can just yank him for a few plays and let him regain his composure. Sending a tennis player out on court like a rabid wolverine is a good plan for flaming out in the 1st set (at least). I think you even see at the professional level of these team sports there is a big diminishing return on all of the ra-ra stuff. Pitino flamed out in Boston, and no one in the NFL, aside from Tim Tebow, really acts like it is the high school homecoming game.

  5. Dan Martin says:

    Reblogged this on Tennis Abides: Dan Martin on Tennis and Life and commented:

    A slight update as YouTube is easier to embed than it was in 2011 …

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