For many of the Naas LTC members out there, who I haven’t been introduced to as yet, I feel I should give some background to my time working in Ireland.
My name is Justin Clarke, a naturalised Irish citizen, native Australia, and Senior Performance Coach holding coaching qualifications with three different Professional Coaching authorities worldwide – LTA (United Kingdom), ATPCA – (Australia) and of course, a qualification from Tennis Ireland.
However, a coach can hold all the qualifications they might wish to yet it won’t matter at all, unless a is able to adapt their knowledge to their immediate surroundings. For me as a coach, player and employer, is this ability within a coach that is an unwritten, yet real-world qualification. This is not Spain, this is Ireland – and the Irish tennis condition will often ask a lot of a different set of tennis fundamentals than a continental European country.
For nearly a decade before coming to work at Naas LTC my coaching career has been spent largely working with High Performance Tennis Squads in Ireland, and this has been responsible for shaping the way I coach at all levels today.
During my tennis coaching career, it was not always the case that I would feel the need to run a competitive session so often. In my native Australia, for example, there are many tournaments year round for a player to engage in throughout their region, state or country. So, for frequently competitive players involved in heavy tournament schedules, squad training simply working with other players and a coach is enough – without points, without matches – just working hard on a facet of the game by itself in readiness for competition on the weekend is motivation enough to give 100%.
In stark contrast, the Irish junior tennis calendar owns a severe lack of tournaments for players to become used to the brutality of competition. There is just no possibility for a heavy, year round competitive tennis schedule. Simply put, it is my opinion that Irish junior tennis players do not spend time enough dealing with loss or learning to compete.
For near on a decade in Ireland I have seen hosts of junior players throw in the towel, become disillusioned with the sport and hang up the racquet because they suffered a few first round losses many months apart. However, on a global scale, suffering consecutive first round defeats is normal. In most countries, players might lose, yet still would be able enter a tournament the following weekend if they would wish. And the same the following weekend. In this totally natural way, there grows an understanding that in a 64 person draw, there will always be only one player who does not experience a loss – 63 players of 64 will taste what a loss feels like.
While Irish junior tennis players look every bit as good as a junior tennis player from another country technically, due to the lack of tournaments throughout the year in this country, unfortunately, Irish junior players do not own a ‘typical’ learning curve with regards to competition.
And so, throughout my tennis coaching career in Ireland, year upon year, I have found the increasing need to incorporate competition into each and every session I put on.
This is but one system of squad coaching in a sea of many, but for the Irish condition, I know it works.
A year before coming to work at Naas LTC, I had the opportunity of spending 8 years developing Irish junior players who travelled from all over the country to the indoor facility at West Wood Clontarf Rd. To give you all an example of a session in my final season there, in a squad of 20 players training for 3 hours on a Wednesday night, there were 3 players who were, within an 11 month period, all Nationally rated Irish Junior number #1’s – over 3 different age groups – Under 16, Under 14 and Under 12 – all training together – no complaints, just work – in the same program, all under the one roof and with each player understanding that once they walked through the gate they each had the equal chance of moving to the top court. 30 weeks a year. 7 days a week. And in each and every one of those 30 weeks, all players dealing with loss frequently. Learning to compete. Learning to lose. Learning to get up and try again.
Tennis is a brutal sport. You are alone. And yet, while it might be brutal and lonely, it will also teach a young person a lot of good lessons about life itself.
Whether the players themselves understand it or not, this squad system is a safe and regular way to learn to deal with the pressures of competition in a country where the amount of tournament on offer means they will not. By attaching the
Another pleasing aspect for coaches working with this style of squad session is that many themes within the game of tennis such as tactical awareness, fairness & sound on court behaviour, player work ethic etc can be viewed under a more pressurised condition. While nothing can ever really match the real nerves of match play, a competitive, high quality session can get very close at times. This system I employed in my performance squads in the past will work within the ‘New Naas system’. This is the new Naas system of ‘Improving together by working together’.
This season, I will continue to work with all my coaches to help introduce the New Naas System. I have proved it works in Ireland. It has even gained me an Irish citizenship. I will give 100%, just the same as every other year here in Ireland. I have proved enough. And so, whether it is proved at Naas LTC is not just up to me or the coaches. All the players must also get behind it – so I ask that all concerned get behind it. Give it a chance – It will take time but I know it will work!
If I have made a career in Ireland from bringing people together from different clubs across Leinster and Ireland, and showing them how to get better by working together, then, by rights, this should be much easier in a club setting… right…?
Before finishing, I should add that these 9 years of designing periodised high performance junior tennis programs has been for an Irish junior tennis calendar that is largely played on synthetic grass. Though, while the programs have been designed for synthetic grass, the vast majority of these programs been carried out on indoor hard court.
This year at Naas LTC will be the first year that my high performance program, a program that has been tweaked and refined each year for synthetic grass competition, will actually be carried out entirely on the synthetic grass surface itself – rain, hail or shine. All season.
Hard work can be fun. I hope you all have enjoyed being involved so far..
Director Of Tennis