Top Tennis Coach Offers Parents Sound Advice

Hands on! Thomas Högstedt, world-renowned tennis coach of world No 2 Maria Sharapova, mentors junior star Zoe Kruger in a coaching session for a select group of SA juniors, coaches and parents at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. Photo: Thys Lombard

Thomas Högstedt, world-renowned tennis coach of world No 2 Maria Sharapova, has cautioned parents not to exert too much pressure to play tournaments in the process of grooming juniors for a professional career.

The Swede Högstedt is currently in Stellenbosch where he is conducting coaching sessions and making presentations to coaches and parents of juniors who have embarked on tennis careers.

Högstedt pointed out that his native country Sweden has over the years produced world No. 1’s such as Björn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg, yet there was very little junior coaching available during their formative years. In addition, it has also produced world top players such as Thomas Enqvist (4), Anders Järryd (5), Magnus Norman (2) and Jonas Björkman (5), amongst others.

“In Sweden where we have between eight and nine million people, we’ve had five guys in the top 100-ranked in the world at the same time,” said Högstedt, himself a former campaigner on the ATP World Tour. “It is so that as players and coaches we had to take responsibility because we had very limited coaching at a young age.

“Tennis is also a mental sport and players have to learn to make a lot of decisions by themselves.

“It is an over rated concept that every hour (you spend on the court) has to be with a coach. The kids have to learn to love the games and learn to love pressure but I think the biggest problem as a youngster is too much pressure to play certain tournaments.

“When this happens you can lose out on the importance of working long term on your game, your technique, and getting your game ready (for competition).

“I have seen with many great players like Sharapova that at a very young age, they had lots of practise tournaments where they train and work on their game. Results at an early age are not so important.

“I have seen here (in Stellenbosch) that there are kids who have an extreme (poor technique) grip in a shot and if that kid plays tournaments all the time, nothing is going to change. It is a matter that has to be discussed with the parents and coaches so that it can be addressed.

Many of the parents of the top juniors will get involved and follow a track of a coach or team. One has to be careful of not getting too much information (advice). There are ways of becoming a champion and ways of not becoming a champion.”

In Stellenbosch, Högstedt is accompanied by Professor Richard Sutton, a clinical Kinesiologist and visceral Osteopath. He refers to himself as a ‘physical therapist’ and has worked with tennis players around the world. The Johannesburg-based Sutton is highly recommended by Högstedt who has called on his services to prime the physical condition of many of his protégés, including world top players like China’s Li Na.

“I have learnt a lot from Richard,” said Högstedt. “He worked with me to bring Li Na to the top 10.”

Sutton said it was pleasing to note that more and more attention is being paid to the physical condition of players.

“There is an emphasis on the fitness but the problem is that it is too one-dimensional,” said Sutton. “Tennis is a very complex sport that requires multiple abilities to be developed. The integration of the variables is quite difficult.”

Tennis South Africa CEO Ian Smith said the visits of Högstedt and Sutton was a major boost for tennis development in South Africa. “Rather than spend a fortune on sending juniors abroad, we’ve brought Högstedt and Sutton to work with juniors, coaches and parents,” said Smith.

“We’re also hoping that people like Högstedt and Sutton will see what we’re doing for tennis in this country. Hopefully they’ll encourage some of the world’s best to play here when we have tournaments.”


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