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The Drill Sergeant Coach

Thanks to a Facebook post by my new friend, author and speaker, Frank Giampaolo, I’m have been giving some serious consideration to coaching style and philosophy. Specifically, he wrote about the Drill Sergeant style of coaching and it’s negative effects. Over 370 coaches, students, and players commented, shared, liked, etc., including the likes of Johan Kriek.


WHAT JOHAN KRIEK SAYS: I enjoy reading everybody’s comments and ideas here…i agree with just about 99% of it. As a former pro i learn every day some new things, mostly good but I have had my fair share of screw ups and that is also how one gets better at this junior coaching business…we are in the “people business” folks and if that is not a thought foremost in every lesson or clinic, you will fail a lot…By design and how we become great individual players is the “ego” or “I” as it is explained so well by Styrling and I have to “check my ego” a lot as I have a tendency by “default” to do it my way….doesn’t always work…. I have to chuckle because if any of the things that had happened to me and my generation in school ( corporal punishment), running for miles because of misbehavior without water until we are done etc my teachers would still be in jail!!…😉 No question the “wussification” of too much in our society has it’s consequences and I will bow out at this …🙂 Enjoy the “journey”!



MY STYLE: So, I naturally began to examine my own style and I commented on this post as well. I have never been and will never be a Drill Sergeant coach. It’s just not my style and the people who have gravitated to me as a coach don’t want that style. Should I take on lessons with a player who does respond to that style? Nope. The relationship between us would be fruitless at best, painful at worst. Why do ATP and WTA pros change coaches so much? They are looking for a relationship that best suits them. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s magic.


I think of all the partnerships that have led players to heights they previously didn’t reach. Sampras and Annacone, Murray and Lendl, Djokovic and Becker. Those coaches couldn’t have more different approaches, but it works for their player.


IS THIS A BAD THING? So, back to the question at hand… is the Drill Sergeant style a bad thing? Nope. In most situations at the club level, it’s probably appropriate. Let’s be honest, my lessons are mostly non-working ladies and beginner to intermediate juniors. All of these are in tennis for one reason: It’s fun. What about the high-level juniors that might be 1% of my week? I have never had to resort to making kids to sprints, pushups, laps, etc. for punishment. Ever. I won’t do it. If I’m not good enough to have their attention and their intensity in what I’m teaching them, I don’t deserve that job.



It’s easy for me to teach this way, because I’ve been around long enough that people who need a Drill Sergeant know better than to come to me. And, believe me, I’m good with that. I don’t want to do it. Should others do it? Yes. I’m a fan of the show The Biggest Loser and so much of what they do is Drill Sergeant coaching, because the contestants they are dealing with have found ways to avoid and enjoy a comfort level that is dangerous to them. And they get amazing results. But if you’ve watched the show much, you know that there are usually two different styles of coach: Drill Sergeant and Encourager. Julian Michaels was the original Drill Sergeant and Bob Harper was the Encourager. Some people thrived under one and some thrived under the other.


WHAT I BELIEVE: I believe there is a place for every style, because every student is different. I have worked with all kinds of pros, Drill Sergeants, laissez faire coaches, extreme technical coaches and encouragers. They have all had a clientele of people who respond to their style. If your students respond to “physical encouragement,” pushups, laps, sprints, as motivation, then do that. If not, find your voice, encourage in your own way.

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