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Alexander Jurgens on Working With Junior International Players
Alexander Jurgens of the Estonian Tennis Association describes working with international players and the value of character to an athlete.
Alexander (Sass) Jurgens is the Coach Education Manager of the Estonian Tennis Association. He also works with the ITF.
We asked Sass:
- How did you became a tennis coach and what was your journey to where you are today?
- Does luck just happen or is it more about who you know and how you get about? Were you looking for these opportunities?
- What do you believe? What is your coaching philosophy?
- Why do you think you’ve been successful?
- Looking back on your early years, what advise do you have for coaches who think that they want to become a performance coach?
- What advice would you give young (10U) players who show “talent” that might help them to go as far as they can as a player?
- What’s the message for parents who, understandably, want to see their children be successful and are tempted to race through “levels”?
- When you look at successful junior players – would you say that they have any common characteristics?
- Estonia is a comparatively small country, yet it has great success developing top players. Why do you think that is?
Key Take-aways for Coaches
- My current position arose more through a series of lucky opportunities than by planning. The important thing is to grab opportunities as they arise.
- Tennis is a very individual sport and I’ve always tried to think about myself as a person to help players reach their potential. I remember something that you [Mark Tennant] said to me some time ago, “We’re not teachers – we’re learning facilitators”. As a coach I can create the opportunities and facilitate the opportunities for people to learn. I can motivate them – but I can’t teach them.
- If I had to say that I have a philosophy, then it’s that the person comes before the athlete. So, on court I’m always thinking about life skills more than forehands and backhands.
- Where I am today is mostly because I just love what I do.
- You have to be honest with yourself and really understand what performance coaching means; its a lot of travel, frustration and long hours. When you work with performance players they’re often already at a good level so you are unlikely to notice improvement quickly. Also, sometimes a player you’re working with can lose many tournaments in a row in the first round – but you still have to motivate them and yourself. You have to be sure that you know if it is really what you want.
- I would tell talented 10U players not to look for quick results and remember that success today does not mean success tomorrow. I see a lot of players spending too much time on the courts when they’re very young. However, it’s tough. You need to show results because otherwise the player will go to another coach or another club – but there’s a balance because it’s a long journey.
- My message for parents is that there are no shortcuts in sports. It’s important that you trust your coach – if you don’t, you need to choose another coach. Even if you’re a good player make sure that you don’t try to take over the role of the coach.
- I like it when parents call me every now and then and ask questions. A key success metric that parents can understand is results. So, it’s natural that they ask questions. It’s the role of the coach to explain what we’re doing right now and how that will transform into results at some point. It’s necessary that there is a lot of communication.
- The thing I’ve noticed that successful junior players all have in common is there ability to fight on the court. Intensity; they were always really engaged. I think that character is more important than technique. If tennis was all about technique then you could teach a monkey to do it; technique can be taught – it’s just a bunch of movements. But tactical thinking, the ability to cope with your emotions, discipline – those are things that are difficult to teach. They can be developed, but you can’t fundamentally change a person. The first thing I look at when I’m looking at players is who they are as a person.
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