Today's post is a bit of a change up from previous articles. It's a Q&A with WTA pro tennis coach Sarah Stone. If you haven't heard of Sarah, it's probably because you've been living under a rock. She currently coaches american Alexa Glatch and is the founder of the Women's Tennis Coaching Association (WTCA).
The WTCA is an organization with a primary aim of helping coaches learn to work with female athletes. They also coach several WTA & ITF players and regularly share extremely educational training content - no fluff here.
Sarah previously coached former world no. 4, Sam Stosur along with other WTA & ITF female players. She has a wealth of tennis knowledge both as a coach and a player so when she agreed to do the Q&A, I was pretty excited. Here it is, enjoy!
MP - Mattspoint
SS - Sarah Stone
Really appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions Sarah. I’m sure there are many readers out there who are interested in your story along with some insights into life on tour as a coach. Before we dive into some topics, can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Hey Matt, thank you first of all for your dedication to women's tennis!
I'm an Aussie living in America who has coached on the WTA tour for the last 10 years (on and off). I grew up in Melbourne and I desperately miss living there! I am a die hard Hawks fan - (Australian rules football) who spends her down time hanging out with my dog powpow and playing my guitars.
I have been lucky enough to work with 5 players that have been ranked in the top 100, with 3 top 50. During the time that I worked with Sam Stosur she won three grand slams so that of course was a great experience.
That's quite the coaching resume! But you didn't just coach, you also played on tour as well - how did the transition come about? And who have some of your coaching mentors been over the years?
I really didn't play for very long. As a youngster I played on the junior Fed Cup team, the ITF junior tour (Grand Slams etc), the WTA challengers on my school holidays but only actually travelled and played pro tennis full time for around a year and a half. I got a bad foot injury that kept me out for 12 months. During my injury time I started coaching my then doubles partner Sam Stosur and actually enjoyed the coaching side much more than playing myself. Even though it was a blast getting to play in the main draw at the Australian open and Wimbledon during my brief playing career, it was very easy for me to move on. The transition was simple.
As for mentors, my dad is one of the best coaches in the world and even though it was very hard for me to have him as my coach, he taught me a lot about the game. You really have many influences along your coaching journey but a few of the people I was lucky enough to have around were Craig Morris, Glenn Busby, Lisa Raymond and Stephan Ehritt-Vanc.
It's really amazing how many people can influence are coaching careers and shape our vision of the game. What are your long-term aspirations both as a coach and as one of the leaders of the WTCA?
My long term aspirations are to create education and experiences specifically for coaches working with female players and to help coaches achieve their professional goals.
The WTCA is such an important mission that it takes up the majority of my days. Just yesterday I left home at 5.12am to catch a flight to New York as I had to do a site check for our NYC coaching female players conference on August 26/27 2017. I flew home the same day and today I'm back on the court with the professional player that I coach, Alexa Glatch. She is every bit as important as the WTCA - I would like to help her break into the top 50 by the end of 2018.
Especially after her injury in 2016, we're eager to see her back on court. Can you talk a bit more about your work with Alexa?
I started coaching Alexa in 2012, it's was kind of by accident, I had a lot of free time during the day and asked her if she needed a few extra hits as there were not many high level players in Colorado.
I told her I don't want to step on your coach's toes so I'll just hit and not say anything. Turned out she had just stopped working with him and wanted a few tips. We got along really well, had the same ideas about tennis so it was easy to work with her. She's an incredible athlete and tennis mind. Injuries have been really tough for her over the five years we have worked together but she's almost ready to go again. A lot of top tennis people didn't agree with my feeling that she needed to technically change her forehand at 22 because it was a clear weakness. But I had a different opinion, funny thing is those same people now tell me her forehand is 40% better so turns out it was worth it! It's never easy to make technical changes to established players but we talked about it together and decided it was worth it....good decision, look out for it this summer!!
Never easy but if it's holding a player back, a technical change is necessary.
Like I mentioned in the intro, you're the founder of the WTCA. What motivated you to start the organization and what’s your main mission?
I was in Sydney spending time with one of my former doubles partners and best friends, Nicole Kriz, and I said to her we have to do something here. There are hardly any female coaches on tour (she is a tennis Australia coach). Our mission: To keep more girls in tennis by advancing the coaching of females across the sport. A positive side effect of that is to create more opportunities for women to coach high performance female players.
That means specific education and experiences for coaches working with female players in order to understand the unique differences between male and female players. With more engaged and educated coaches working with female players, the participation numbers will increase. It's very important that coaches working with female players want to work with female players. Sounds pretty obvious but something we want to hammer home.
The WTCA is truly terrific - not only by showcasing the talent female players possess but by openly sharing top notch coaching education. Tennis training has traditionally been a bit secretive, is this still the case? Or are players & coaches becoming more open with their training methods/techniques?
Most top players still keep their cards pretty close to their chest - why would they want other athletes to learn the secrets that they believe are a competitive advantage?
I think coaches and players are open with the training methods they believe are common knowledge but they will likely keep their "system" top secret unless they are discussing it with a team member.
The WTA tour seems to be more open now then it was a few years back. When healthy, Serena does seem to have the edge, but are players outside the top 20 and top 30 (and beyond) more competitive now than they were 10-15 years ago?
Many of my friends who have played on tour over the years talk about this topic pretty frequently. Generally, most feel that the overall level is extremely high, much more physically demanding and competitive. There is much more depth in the game now. One thing I think people miss is that there is not a consistent top 10 group but that's just the nature of the sport, it's always changing.
Certainly the physicality has increased. It's a really tough sport both from a physical and mental perspective. The game has become increasingly demanding. Players are spending a lot more time developing strength and power. Females are certainly not shying away from the weight room as much as they may have in days gone by. It would be nice to get to a point when female athletes are no longer worried about being judged for having "those arms", fearing they will not be perceived as "feminine looking". We are closing in on that. In my opinion, it's important that sports women are celebrated as athletes first and foremost.
Working with many female players in the past myself, I can attest to the increased physicality of the game today.
From a outsiders view, an often overlooked aspect of the tour is the amount of stress that today’s players go through. From matches, to travel, to media, sponsors and everything in between. How much toll does this take on a player and what are some strategies players utilize to avoid burnout?
Travel is probably the number one stressor a professional player needs to look closely at. Poor scheduling can really lead to burnout. It's important to plan off weeks throughout the year and be sure to check out the local sights when you can. It's easy to just sit in a hotel room every week. By making the effort to explore your local surroundings a little each week can make the endless travel a bit more enjoyable.
Based on your experience as both a player and a coach, what would you say are keys to developing a junior player? A player who has the ability to move onto the pro circuit.
I think it's advantageous for female athletes to play multiple sports when they are young. It doesn't mean join a soccer and track team, it just means it's important for young players to implement these other skills into their weekly training. It helps them develop as athletes and that is very important in the modern game.
Also, make sure you have a good private coach who understands how to teach technique and progression accurately. There are many people who can tell you theoretically how to hit a tennis ball but are very weak when it comes to doing the on court work. Lastly, do your home work. If a coach has a history of working with players for two or three months at a time there may be a reason for that - don't follow the crowd thinking they must be good because so and so is working with them. Look at the strokes of players they have worked with for a period of time - it's often a great indication of a coach's technical teaching capabilities.
Sarah, appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions. Before we finish, tell us what 2017 looks like for you and what social media channels people can follow you on?
Well, 2017 is exciting for the WTCA as I mentioned. We have a conference in association with the PTR in NYC August 26/27 followed by a Coaching Female Players Symposium planned for December 6-9 in Delray Beach Florida. There is a revolutionary course written by orthopaedic surgeon Dr Erin Boynton coming in May and we will be officially launching the WTCA Baseline certification in the next few weeks!
Or or website www.womenstenniscoaching.com
Stay tuned and thanks for supporting women's tennis Mattspoint!!!