My Cart

How To Pick a Tennis Coach with Sarah Kadi of Tennis Canada

There are plenty of tennis coaches out there, but picking the right one is paramount to your progression and enjoyment as a player.
How To Pick a Tennis Coach with Sarah Kadi of Tennis Canada Featured Image

So many of us fell in love with tennis during the pandemic. At Rackets & Runners, we witnessed firsthand the industry's massive boom, and we are delighted that more and more people are playing the sport. 

Of course, with more players, there is a higher demand for coaching. People want to get better, and that’s a good thing, but getting help from the right person is key.

It’s easy for a good tennis player to post an ad, impress students with a flurry of nice groundstrokes, and call it a day on the lesson, but proper coaching goes beyond that. Good tennis coaches are certified, skilled instructors, who understand the complexities of teaching, and are, most importantly, passionate about coaching itself.

We sat down with former Tennis BC and current Tennis Canada high performance coach, Sarah Kadi, to discuss what she believes makes a great coach.

Sarah has over 20 years of experience, and while she considers herself great at her job, she is constantly evolving and looking to improve because of the love she has for the profession.

What first made you fall in love with tennis?

SARAH: What a question! The constant challenge. You never receive two balls that are exactly the same and you have to adapt your play to the situation on the court, but also the different opponents you face. It’s super dynamic and any little thing can throw you off your game, and facing that challenge is what I love.

What is the highest level you achieved?

SARAH: I played division 1 tennis at the University of Hartford and then tried to play some women’s Challenger events, but for a lot of reasons, I couldn’t play a ton.

What made you want to get into coaching?

SARAH: It started as a job when I was young. I was 18 or 19 and I needed to pay for my tennis and I would trade free court time for teaching lessons. Then, as time went by, I fell in love with the challenge of helping someone learn to accomplish something. I started to love seeing that look in their eyes of the “aha” moment where they finally got it. I also love connecting with people at different stages of their tennis journey and trying to see how I can help each individual move forward. To me, that’s really cool and a privilege to help in that way.

When I worked for Tennis BC, I worked a lot with little kids and I felt like I was helping them achieve their lifelong dreams — whatever it may be — I thought it was really cool to be a part of that.

You played high level tennis, and a lot of high level tennis players think they can be good coaches. What made you realize you were a good coach, and not just a good player trying to coach?

SARAH: I got a bit of a reality check. I was a young person who was confident and I was like, “why do I need to take an instructor course? What am I going to learn?” Then I took that course and realized, wow, there is so much I don’t know. I’m someone who is constantly wanting to learn and be better at whatever it is I’m doing and I realized how big of a shift it was from being a great player to being a great coach.

At some point, I had a major realization. When you’re a player, everything around you is about you. The coaching staff, the support staff, people are there to serve you. To be a great coach, you have to do a complete 180, as, right away, it’s about someone else. If something you’re coaching isn’t working, you have to put your ego to the side, and adapt. You have to realize that you are no longer the main character. A lot of great players struggle to make that shift from “it’s all about me” to “it’s all about someone else.”

Here, Sarah brings up a key point in the playing vs. coaching philosophy. To achieve great results in tennis, players must have some sort of ego. At least in singles, players are alone on the court. They are in full control of their game, so they must have the highest level of self belief. It’s easy to maintain that ego when teaching a lesson, but you can’t. A student may not instantly understand a concept and that can become frustrating, but it’s key to adapt to the player, and figure out how else portray the message. That’s what makes a great coach. 

Skill at tennis does not directly translate to skill at explaining tennis, and good players often fail to understand that.

What are some signs that someone might not be a great coach?

SARAH: They have to be a great listener, if not, they won’t be able to connect with you. If they don’t ask for or care about why you’re there, or what you’re trying to accomplish, then they won’t know how to actually make YOU better. They also have to be great at teaching, which means they have to know how to break the skills they’re trying to teach down to the level of the student. It’s not one size fits all, not every student will respond the same and good coaches understand that and can adapt the lesson to an individual player. Like with good teachers in school. 

Bad coaches will try to copy how they play to each student, which will never work especially for a complete beginner.

How do you vary your coaching style to different personalities?

SARAH: You need to read them. The student to coach relationship is like any other. You need to build trust with the person that you’re working with through questions and making them feel comfortable. It takes time and it’s going to be different for different people but you always need to remind yourself, “how can I help YOU?”

For example I coach lady’s league and they were just getting into tennis. As soon as they realize that I’m there to help them, they start opening up and feeling comfortable, and once they get to that point they are.

It’s experiences like these that have helped make Sarah such a well rounded coach. Like she said, not every player will immediately hit a perfect forehand, not every player will be receptive to the information you give them, not every player is taking lessons to become a pro tennis player. Each student is there for different reasons, and understanding that is key to providing the best lessons.

What's more? It can be intimidating for lower level players to see a hot-shot athlete who's personally achieved so much in the sport. Like Sarah said, it's important to quickly put those nerves at ease by asking them questions, and empathizing with their personal situation.

A lot of players have started playing tennis since the start of the pandemic. At what point should a player seek out a coach?

SARAH: Honestly, from the beginning. If you learn how to do something the wrong way, you’ll build some pretty bad habits and, especially for adults, those bad habits could lead to some injuries. Especially with tennis; if you start wristing the ball with a racket that’s too heavy, there could be major impacts up your arm.

Sarah is absolutely right; put a Pro Staff RF97 or Speed Pro in the hands of a beginner and it will not only staunch their development, but could absolutely cause immediate injury, or discomfort down the line. The fact that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic endorse those rackets is certainly attractive, but that doesn't mean they are right for you. There are plenty of fantastic beginner friendly frames at the between 270 and 285 grams, like the Pure Drive Lite and Team or the Wilson Ultra 100L and Head Speed Team.

Also, most people start a sport because they want to enjoy it with a friend. If you take lessons at a reputable spot like a club or a public centre, they’ll start you off at the right level, and that’s the key. We all want to play really well right away, but getting there involves fundamentals and it’s important to have someone guiding you especially during the early steps.

That’s also another sign of a great coach. A lot of coaches who were great players will feel much more comfortable coaching someone who’s very good at tennis. Trying to teach rudimentary sports fundamentals (how to move, how to make contact with the ball) does not come easily to a highly skilled player, and it takes skill as a coach to get there and understand the importance.

Do you think tennis coaches should get some of certification for legitimacy?

SARAH: Absolutely! You’re not going to get into an Uber with someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license, and it should be the same with coaching. Coaching certification goes through the Tennis Professionals Association which is an arm of Tennis Canada. Taking the time to get that certification doesn’t just help you develop skills as a coach, it also proves to the student that the coach in front of them is taking the profession of coaching seriously.

Also, getting a certification will teach you things, especially if you go into it with an open mind. To this day, when I do a certification course or some sort of webinar, I learn something new and I can build off of that. Coaching is constantly evolving. Look at school teachers. They will have professional development days where they learn new skills to adapt the changes that happen over time. That’s the same with tennis coaching and it’s key to stay current in your ways.

Is it irresponsible for good tennis players to start a coaching business out of nowhere?

SARAH: Here’s what I will say: the sport has become inaccessible to some people due to lofty prices for court times, club registration and even coaching, so do I think there is a space for it? Yes. But as soon as you decide you’re going to try your hand at coaching, you need to go into it with integrity right away. You have to take it VERY seriously, like any profession. Get the credentials, certification and get legitimate access to courts. These are all things that will give your new business more legitimacy, not only for your students, but also for yourself.

If you’re on a budget, is it better to take more lessons with a less legitimate coach, or fewer lessons with a certified one?

SARAH: If you’re on a limited budget and learning to play tennis, I would look to play in a group setting because on top of learning, you’re also making friends and that adds a whole social component. You’re hitting with someone the same level as you are and at the same time you can arrange to go hit together between lessons. At some point you can even make a group and arrange to take a group lesson together, which might cost a little more than a randomized sign-up lesson but it will be more specific to your own needs, almost like a private lesson.

Coaches are popping up everywhere, and while there are plenty of good ones, it’s imperative to better understand who will be teaching you before you go out and spend your money.

Like with any profession, coaching is serious and there is a big difference between someone who loves their craft, and someone hoping to profit off of the discipline. When you find a coach, make sure you are dealing with the former; your overall experience will be so much better in the long run.

To see if your tennis coach is certified, click here.

Related Articles