Develop Your Coaching Immune System

Due to modern information technology, you have literally thousands of hours of tennis coaching at your fingertips, at all times. Go on YouTube and search for something as simple as “tennis serve,” and you can easily spend five hours watching video after video.

Good coaching is great. It can help you blast through a plateau, giving you an insight you hadn’t thought of before, and when you start experimenting with that new idea, you quickly realize it’s efficacy and begin training it into your game immediately.

But what about bad coaching?

Bad coaching has the potential to harm your tennis game, but only if you let it. The difficult part of exploring the world of tennis coaching is actually differentiating the good from the bad. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Isolate the signal in all the noise?

In order to step out into the wild west of online tennis coaching and survive, you need to develop a strong, well calibrated coaching immune system.

Coaching Immunity in Kids

I’ve observed many, many young kids that end up with effective, efficient, fundamentally sound strokes, despite receiving all the sorts of the bad coaching I’ve discussed at length on this website. (Forcibly turning the racket, consciously pointing the butt cap, etc.)

How is that possible?

Those kids simply ignored the bad advice.

Certain kids, due to their personalities, intuitively understood that their primary criterion for evaluation was how they themselves felt about their strokes. The coach’s advice, by contrast, was a secondary consideration; it was subordinate to their own feeling out on the court, and it was therefore only considered in service to that feeling. When a student with this attitude receives bad advice, they try it for a few shots, feel like it doesn’t work, and then abandon it.

The 14-year-old girl whose story I told in The Fault Tolerant Forehand had a very different experience. Despite the fact that her wrist hurt on every forehand, she was still obeying all the volitional-racket-rotation, wrist-flick tropes that her coaches spouted at her. Unlike a kid with a well developed coaching immune system, this girl’s personality wasn’t such that she was willing to discard the coach’s advice, even though it didn’t work.

Bad Advice as a Pathogen

Bad tennis advice is like a pathogen. Without an immune system to attack and kill it, bad advice will infect and damage your tennis game. Many kids have a naturally strong coaching immune system. Their natural attitude is that they have the authority to determine whether or not their strokes are working, and this orientation grants them protection against pathogenic advice. They are bold enough to experiment with their own bodies. They internalize the coach’s words as mere experimentation suggestions, not as gospel.

They internalize the coach’s words as mere experimentation suggestions, not as gospel.

This immune system quickly kills anything like the “roll your racket over the ball” pathogen, and their forehand and wrist remain unharmed. It doesn’t matter if they’re taught to “turn sideways,” without ever being taught to unwind that turn during the forward swing. Their experimentation will quickly show them that their stroke works far better when they unwind their hips as they swing, and so they do that. Their immune system then protects this insight – despite the fact that the coach is constantly repeating “turn sideways,” they quickly discard any thought that they need to stay sideways,

My 14-year-old student didn’t have a well developed immune system. Her natural inclination was that the coach is the authority, and the coach must be correct, and the fact that her wrist hurt on every forehand was something wrong with her, rather than something wrong with the coach. Therefore, there was no immune response, and the pathological advice damaged her.

What Constitutes the Immune Response?

When you get out on the court, you have the authority to decide what works, and what doesn’t. You’ve got to trust the signals your own body sends, both positive and negative. Listen to them, and you’ll be able to take control of your own tennis.


If anything hurts, it’s almost definitely wrong. If you’re on your own, abandon it, and if you’re with your coach, tell him/her immediately that it hurts, and they’ll likely have an adjustment for you.

More Results, Equal Effort

Normally, if you try to hit harder, you hit harder, and if you try to hit softer, you hit softer. But sometimes, you’ll get a piece of advice that allows you to hit harder without putting in more effort. That’s gold – keep doing that.

Further, it’s typically the case that in order to miss less, you’ll need to hit softer. Again, sometimes you’ll get advice (perhaps on proper visual tracking), that will allow you to miss less without hitting softer.

These kinds of signals, whereby you achieve better results without putting in more effort, strongly indicate you’ve implemented something worthwhile into your game.

Comfort Level

Does Roger Federer look comfortable out there as he slices and dices his opponent? How about Iga Swiatek when she rips a down-the-line forehand winner? Leylah Fernandez as she redirects the ball and closes the net? Emma Raducanu as she effortlessly floats in and out of the forehand corner?

Of course they do. Tennis at the highest level flows naturally. If you’re trying to follow a particular piece of advice, and it’s uncomfortable, chances are it’s wrong for your body.

Usually, this happens when advice isn’t properly derived from first principles, but rather from lower level details. A classic example – teaching the continental grip on the serve without simultaneously teaching the proper hand path. These two technical adjustments go hand-in-hand; neither functions without the other. Unless your student innovates the correct swing path on their own (and many do, especially natural throwers), the continental grip will feel absolutely awful, and they’d be better off just using eastern.

Learning = Experimentation

Tennis is a game that, ultimately, you must teach yourself. Think of coaches as mere guides along your own self learning journey, a journey fueled by your own experimentation.

I don’t just want my students to become better players; I want them to become better coaches for themselves.

Many people internalize a tennis lesson as “learning how to play tennis from the tennis coach,” but that isn’t quite right. Unless you’re a complete beginner, a tennis lesson should be used in order to answer a question. Everyone reaches roadblocks in their experimentation, and a tennis coach can help you blast through them. Even when your practice is going well, you might still want advice on what to explore next in order to make the biggest or fastest improvement to your game.

In any of these situations, the primary driver of your progress is you. You, experimenting with your own body, figuring out how to orient it to produce the results you want. Insofar as coaching assists in this process, it is allowed to integrate into it, and insofar as it harms it, it is discarded.

A Complete Approach

I always stress the necessity of experimentation to my students. I implore them not to take my word as gospel, but instead to experiment with what I’m saying, to pay attention to how their body feels as they try to integrate it, and to take note of the results.

I don’t want a student to get out on the court and think “oh, what was it that coach said?” Not at first, at least. Instead, I want them to go, “wait, I know it felt different in the lesson,” and then try to remember what it was that clicked for them which made it feel like that.

Ultimately, I don’t just want my students to become better players; I want them to become better coaches for themselves, and in order to do that, they’ll need a strong immune system.


  1. Poida
    October 2, 2021

    Enjoyed reading this and agree with fundamental premise that each student must experiment however, this can be time consuming and frustrating without some sage guidance. Bad habits are very hard to break, in tennis and in life.

    The challenge is of course finding a skillful and compatible coach. Most tennis consumers have no chance, it’s a buyer beware market. Just look at the number of subscribers some of these “tennis content marketers” channels have on YouTube. The more content they churn, the more subscribers they get and the more they earn. There’s no quality control mechanism in place so indeed it’s important to develop a strong coaching/content immune system. Easier said than done unfortunately for most rec players.

    Keep up the great work and spreading the word. 👏

    1. Johnny (FTF)
      October 2, 2021

      Yeah, I’m well aware. Most of it isn’t harmful, it’s just mostly useless noise. It’s very difficult to distill down the useful information from the vast sea of stuff that’s out there.

  2. Poida
    October 3, 2021

    It’s also basically a form of sports entertainment packaged as tennis instruction.

  3. Jonathan
    November 28, 2021



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