Garry Cahill on Working With Junior International Players
Tennis Ireland’s former High Performance Director & Davis & Fed Cup Captain, Garry Cahill, shares insight into life as a performance coach.
Garry Cahill is the Director of Prodigy Tennis (founded in 2019) and he coaches players on the WTA tour. For 13 years, before Prodigy Tennis, Garry was the High Performance Director for Tennis Ireland. Garry has also been Fed and Davis Cup Director for Ireland.
He didn’t come from a tennis background; he played Gaelic football and hurling and fell into tennis by accident! He kicked the ball into the tennis club and had to go in and fetch it. Whilst there he picked up a racket and started playing.
He got into coaching while he was still playing reasonably well and needed to make money! He then started to see it as a career. He believes that players often don’t recognise coaching as a “real” job.
He has always been interested in performance coaching and thinks he was probably expecting too much from club players!
We asked Garry:
- How did you became a tennis coach and what was your journey to where you are today?
- Is there anything from your experience of the sport of hurling that has helped you in tennis?
- What is your coaching philosophy? What do you believe as a coach?
- It sounds like what you’re saying is that you’ve got to “work with the person first and then the player within”, you’ve got to understand what makes that person tick. Is that correct?
- Why do you think you’ve been successful?
- Is your approach as a “reflective practioner” the reason why you’re studying business management at the moment? Is that to get an outside view to help you?
- What advice do you have for aspiring coaches or Davis Cup / Fed Cup captains on things they should do to help them on their journey?
- What qualities are you looking for that say to you – this kids got something special
- What’s life as a performance coach really like? Why do you do it?
- What’s the difference between junior national level and the players who make it at international level?
- Why do you think there are so many players from Eastern Europe on the junior tours?
- After you left Tennis Ireland you set up Prodigy Tennis. Can you give us an overview of what that is and what it does?
- You have expressed an opinion about the myth of developing technically sound kids at an early age. What do you mean by that and what is your belief about getting the foundations right early on?
Key Take-aways for Coaches
- Many coaches start off coaching by accident, not by intent.
- Hurling as a sport is a good base because it requires a lot of coordination. It also has a team aspect that is useful for a young player.
- Garry’s philosophy has changed a lot throughout his coaching journey. Obviously, you’re working with players to make them the best they can be as a player but, now he sees there’s even more than that because very few players with actually make it [as a senior player]. That makes it hugely important to take care of the player’s other needs – including the values that they’ll need for life and not just for tennis. Garry has also realised the importance of forging solid relationships with the athletes. You must have a relationship with the athlete – especially when you coaching at a high level. Younger coaches tend to focus on the skills but, the skills are not that important because on the whole, you can assume that they have those skills. Philosophy also changes when you’re working with younger kids. So, you need a philosophy that is adaptable. Garry now also believes in making athletes responsible right from the beginning. Early on he thinks he probably did too much for his players, but now he believes that athletes need to become responsible early on.
- You’ve got to work with yourself as well as the player. You need to understand how you can flex your style based on the individual that you’re working with.
- It’s probably easier as an ex-player because you’ve got the background.
- I’ve been successful because I’m a reflective practitioner; I’ve always learned along the journey and I’m always, always looking at something that helps me to get better at what I do. That’s one of the things that I’ve always done well. I take the time to reflect and look at what I’m doing well, and what I’m not doing well – and being honest about that. I’ve always questioned things before I go with something. I try to be selective and not just go with anything you see or read.
- When you’re in a tennis world all the time you’re thinking that everything is tennis and tennis is the only way. Going outside of tennis, outside of sport, helps me to see the wood for the trees.
- Coaches should learn as much about the sport as possible, about themselves – their strengths and weaknesses – and interpersonal skills, spend time with people who have done it (mentoring is really useful). Go on the tour and watch people, get to know players and coaches. Get to know people in the roles that you’d like.
- It’s hard straight away to look at a player and see potential. You need to have time to see the player and know their mentality. You shouldn’t make decisions quickly; the longer you have before you make a decision the better. I’ve seen players who look great and then 4 years down the road they’re not playing tennis anymore. I’ve also seen the opposite, players who weren’t great and then they’re excellent. You have to see not just how good they athletically and technically, you need to see how much they really want it, how much they’re prepared to work on a daily basis, how quickly they learn, their background (will they have the support they need). It’s a combination of a lot of things. The whole idea of looking for talent is over-rated.
- Being a performance coach is not what people think. It means 25-30 weeks a year away from home (and family) in a place and with somebody where you don’t know if you’re still going to have a job a few weeks down the road. You don’t know where you’re going to be – but it’ll probably be living in a horrible place. You need to be willing to make sacrifices. Grand slams are only a few weeks a year.
- Do it because you genuinely love it. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices then performance coaching may not be the job for you.
- The ones who go further are usually the ones who have the right pieces put in place when they’re young so that they’re able to develop.
- There is a factor where the better juniors are the ones who are physically more developed. Sometimes that’s just the case – they’re more developed, bigger and stronger, when they’re younger so they’re just more effective.
- The ones who are more committed, week in and week out, and are prepared to make the sacrifices (maybe education) to do that.
- Financial support is also important. There are a lot of talented kids who aren’t able to make it because they don’t have the funding.
- The mind set of Eastern European players is probably the biggest factor in their success. They have a culturally different approach to sport. They tend to see sport as a career path, a way of making a living. They’re also tougher and perhaps more ruthless? Not better coaching or structures. It’s a hunger / cultural drive.
- We should be developing technical skills AND building the game. We should be doing both, not one or the other. I believe that kids should be taught the right way, right from the beginning.
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