Wimbledon - The Rise of the Super Coach

It’s the start of the lawn tennis season and the Wimbledon Open Championship. If you follow the action on television or radio you will likely hear commentators refer to the rise of the ‘super coach’. The title ‘super coach’ will be a well-used word in the media commentary boxes surrounding the immaculately manicured tennis courts of Wimbledon, the home of the oldest tennis championship in the world. The term will be used to describe Boris Becker (coach of Novak Djokovic), Ivan Lendl (coach of Andy Murray), John McEnroe (coach of Milos Raonic) or one of the many other ‘celebrity’ coaches working with the world’s top tennis players.

The entry pass or ‘badge of honour’ to celebrity ‘super coach’ territory, in the tennis world at least, is an array of past grand slams. It’s likely the close-up shots from the multiple television cameras around the Centre Court will focus strongly on these tennis greats of yester-year now turned professional coaches. Commentators will seek to find links between their behaviour in the coach box and their past playing style on court, whether this be McEnroe’s passionate personality and twitchy body movements which reveal he lives every shot on court, in contrast to the calm aura of Lendl’s stoic and impassioned presence.

Lendl’s quiet demeanour, deadpan face and authoritative presence in the coach box appears to have a calming and settling effect on Murray with noticeably less fist pumping and expletive outbursts by the currently ranked number 2 player in the world. In words attributed to Lendl’s coaching rival Boris Becker, ‘the fifth set is not about tennis, it’s about nerves’. Lendl appears to have a calming effect on Murray’s on-court behaviour. For Lendl this latest contract is his second term as coach, having contributed to Murray’s two Grand Slams and Olympic Gold Medal when he beat Djokovic in all three tournaments. In contrast without Lendl as his coach Murray has failed to win another Grand Slam and despite reaching two Grand Slam finals in 2016 he lost both... to Djokovic, the world number 1 ranked tennis player. You can see why Murray wanted Lendl back as his coach.  

What makes this new breed of tennis ‘super coaches’ different from the rest is their track record and experience at the highest level. Some things you cannot learn by the book or by observation, rather you have to live it and ex-champions can offer this extra coaching dimension. They understand the nerves and the doubts and are able to provide the right word at the right time. They’ve been there, seen it and done it; thus enabling them to bond more easily with their protégés and help develop the winning mental mind-set critical to being a world champion. Their past success brings credibility and respect. And it’s not a new phenomenon, Lendl hired ex-Grand Slam winner Tony Roche to help him develop a more rounded game so as to take his performance to a higher level.     

In general terms though the use of ex-champions as coaches was relatively rare until recent times. In contrast, in the past tennis coaches of the top players, whilst generally being ex-professional players, never made their name at the highest level on the professional playing circuit but honed their coaching craft focusing on a scientific approach to technique and match play. However, at the highest levels of sport today, with all the pressure this entails, there is arguably a greater need for a focus on the mental mind-set and personal attitude rather than technical skills, hence the rise of the ‘super coach’. In a quote attributed to Rafael Nadal on tennis at the highest level… ‘Tennis is a mental game. Everyone hits great forehands and backhands’.        

For Lendl and indeed the other elite coaches working with the world’s top 10 tennis players, his coaching work can be very lucrative with such coaching contracts reportedly offering up to 20% commission and bonuses on total prize money, which for a top 5 tennis player can reach in excess of $10m.  We are used to hearing of the incredible rewards open to high-performing sports coaches whether this is in tennis, baseball or more prevalently football, particularly the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A. Yet how does this compare with the role of the super coach in the business world? Whilst the profile of CEOs of the top performing global companies is high and well publicised, we rarely hear stories about ‘super coaches’ in the business world.   

Who are the celebrity ‘super coaches’ of the business world? Arguably the most well-known life and business coach is Tony Robbins, although he is probably more well-known as a motivational speaker, self-help author, and entrepreneur. He was mentioned in Forbes ‘Celebrity 100’ list in 2007 and he is reputed to have consulted and/or advised many Fortune 500 CEOs, military and sports leaders as well as international political leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and three Presidents of the United States, not forgetting influential legendary figures such as Princess Diana  and Mother Theresa.

Other great luminaries of the professional coaching world include Marshall Goldsmith, David Rock, John Whitmore, Christy Whitman, Jack Canfield and one of the first professional coaches to emerge in the 1980s, Henry Kimsey-House. Most of the globally renowned coaches are authors of best-selling books and often undertake presentational high profile road shows to large audiences. Most CEOs and executives are unlikely to employ such high profile coaching gurus for a variety of reasons, including availability and cost. Also a high profile globally renowned coach may apply criteria to client selection e.g., clients must be a major global company or world figure, and charge rates dependent on time input and ROI. If you are fortunate enough to qualify for such a coaching guru then work on a budget based on a fee rate of $5,000 per hour and you hopefully won’t be far out.      

Of course, most CEOs and executives will be working with coaches outside of the high profile coaching guru ‘pool’ just like professional tennis players who are outside of the top 10 world tennis rankings. It is estimated that there are 47,500 professional coaches worldwide with 76% of these coaches based in the so-called high-income areas of North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand; geographical areas which account for just 11% of the total global population (International Coaching Federation/ Price Waterhouse Cooper, 2012). The high level of coach choice arguably makes the selection decision harder particularly as professional coaches vary in terms of experience, qualifications, and personality. 

When considering the rise of the so-called tennis celebrity ‘super coach’, it is clear that such an approach is not totally relevant to most business leaders, yet one key thread that emerges is the importance of a successful track record and the business experience this offers to clients. A mix of business savvy and coaching technique brings credibility and value to a 1-1 coaching relationship. At Collingwood Consulting this is an important feature of our executive coaching service. All of our associate executive coaches have an outstanding track record in their specialist business area, extensive consultancy and coaching experience and recognised accreditations including being certified to provide feedback on world leading assessment instruments.

Returning to our starting point and the Wimbledon fortnight; when following the player action on the court remember to follow the coaching action off the court as well and note the differences in coaching style. Whatever the result and whoever wins the Wimbledon Open title it’s highly likely there will be ‘super coach’ involved. So bring out the strawberries and double cream, crack open the Pimms, relax and enjoy the tennis action and try to spot the secrets of the ‘super coaches’ in between the on-court player action.         

The author of this article, Dr. Paul Turner, holds a Ph.D. in organisational coaching. He is an associate consultant and performance coach with Collingwood Consulting.  For more information on our executive coaching service please contact Jennifer Jones, Director of Consultancy Services, on 01829 732374 or e-mail jennifer.jones@collingwoodconsulting.co.uk.

About the Author

Leave a Comment

* Indicates fields are required