Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Coaching relationships based on ethics and trust

When golfer, Adam Scott, won the Bridgestone Invitational this past Sunday, his caddie, Steve Williams could barely contain his bitterness. Instead of celebrating Scott’s win, Williams seized the moment to stick his tongue out at Tiger. It was a bitter performance from a bitter little man. And to be fair, he has since apologized for his “over the top” comments. But if I were Adam Scott, I would be looking for another caddie. Bitterness has no place in the relationship between a player and any member of his support team.

The relationship between a professional tennis player and any of his employees should be based on trust. But some coaches (and caddies) do not see themselves as the player’s employee. They believe that they are the big shots who are making the call. It becomes all about them. Their narcissism knows no limit. They pass their mouth on everything and everyone – including the player himself.

Roger Rasheed has been known to pass his mouth on players he isn’t even coaching. Take for example his distasteful comments about Casey Dellaqua’s weight gain. In hindsight I should have included him in my entry on male players’ sexist comments on women’s fitness. Then there was his dismissal of Bernard Tomic some years ago, which prompted Bernard’s father to question Rasheed’s credentials as a coach.

Turns out Rasheed was actually an Aussie rules football player who used to coach an Aussie football team. As a tennis player his highest rank was #192. As Tomic Sr. pointed out, Rasheed has never coached a player from beginning stages to top success. He has however linked up with players who are already successful on the tour and tries his best to keep them there. The latest rumor is that he may be coaching Andy Murray. I hope for Andy’s sake that this is not true.

Look I get that not everyone can be a Robert Lansdorp, a coach blessed with the gift of nurturing young talent (never mind his reputation for gruffness). Not everyone is a Brad Gilbert who will tell anyone who would listen that his student is the best ever. Not everyone has the tact of a Darren Cahill to withhold comments when his player is on court, allowing other talking heads to have their say. Not everyone has the patience of Albert Costa to take a team of different and mercurial personalities to Davis Cup victory. 

But every tennis coach should be expected – no, required – to have a basic understanding of professional ethics. And making unprofessional comments about a player you have coached or are currently coaching should be an ethical violation punishable by penalty to include loss of coaching privileges for a period of time.

In the absence of such a system we have to rely on a coach’s own sense of ethics. I was impressed some years ago when Nick Bollettieri publicly and privately apologized to Andre Agassi for past negative comments he had made. I’m still waiting for Peter Lundgren to do the same for his backhanded comments about Federer. And for tennis commentators to stop saying what Rasheed thinks and feels about Monfils.

It was sickening to listen to the stupid comments about Gael Monfils throughout the Legg Mason event. During the semi-finals match between Monfils and Isner, one commentator started telling a story about seeing Monfils in a Paris club getting his dance on. The story was resuscitated again during the finals against Stepanek. And I found myself wondering on what planet is it abnormal for a good-looking 24 year old man to go clubbing? And what the hell did that ancient story have to do with Monfils current form? And was it truly coincidental that all of these negative comments were immediately followed by the announcement that Rasheed had fired Monfils? I think not.

It was almost as if the commentators had a direct line into the frustrations of Roger Rasheed. And understand that I get that Monfils must be a frustrating player to coach. So much talent, so much athleticism, so little mental organization. I totally get that feeling of wanting to reach through the TV to shake some sense into his rasta head.

But there must be a zone of privacy between employer and employee regardless of such feelings. There must be between coach and player a foundation of trust. There must be conversations – arguments even – that are kept private. The media have no right to know. And like any employee, a coach has every right to quit the job. But he should do so with some respect. You don’t keep bad-mouthing your players. Because next thing you know no one will want to hire your footy-playing ass. (Part 2 of 2)