Emma Doyle is an international tennis coach and presenter based in Melbourne, Australia. She has been in performance tennis coaching for over 20 years, specializing in improving the knowledge, skills and behavior of both coaches and players around the world.
Emma has coached on the junior and senior tours, been the junior Fed Cup Captain and been an Australian National Selector.
The FCN chatted with Emma after she returned home from a 10 week tour of the UK and Europe having delivered 15 presentations about her passion of communication, language and coaching. We wanted to know about her trip, her experience of working alongside tennis coach superstar Judy Murray and her own ambitions for her future career…
You have just returned to your home in Australia after a tour of the UK and Europe. Can you share with us what you have been up to?
I was over for about 10 weeks in 7 countries, and did about 15 coaching presentations. I was originally offered to speak at the Italian Tennis Conference, which was huge deal! It had the World’s best tennis coaches speaking there including Patrick Mouratoglou (Serena Williams Coach), Nick Bollettieri and Judy Murray just to name a few, so this invitation was the catalyst in me coming over for so long. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what other conferences were going on in that part of the World due to the fact that I would be traveling all that way.
The mission of my work is really to help people discover their inner coach and to do this through language and communication. How we use language is of real interest to me in how we engage and empower (particularly) female players and coaches. I want to also help all coaches better understand how to coach female athletes.
The other opportunity that presented itself was the fact that I spoke at the Scottish Women in Sport Conference – The Business of Sport and off the back of that, I created some opportunities to work with other sports including Netball Scotland, a potential rugby club and schools and continue to build some great networks.
When I visited Wales, I did a presentation on how to engage, empower and coach female athletes and had 17 different sports and 50 coaches attending, which was really awesome to work with all of those sports and impact the language patterns of coaches!
Am I right in saying you also did some work alongside Judy Murray on her quest to het more women and girls playing and coaching tennis. Can you tell us about this?
So firstly, I wanted to tell you about how the opportunity was created in working with Judy. My best friend Julie Gordon (who is a Scottish tennis coach and a fantastic connector of people), introduced me to Judy about 5 years ago, just enough to say hello! I travelled to Scotland not long after that just to watch Judy work and asked if I could come to the Tennis on the Road program to learn.. I think volunteering your time and creating that opportunity for yourself is really important. I did that a lot as a young coach back in Florida, in my mid-twenties. I wanted to go outside of my own back yard as such. The more you spend time with someone in that way, the relationship goes from ‘Hi, how are you’, to ‘Hi, can you tell me about this…’.
Fast forward another two years later after I met with Judy and I started to become concerned about the female dropout rate in sport and so I created ‘Girl Power’ tennis camps for young girls in sport. The girls who were attending showed me some of the Judy Murray ‘Miss Hits’ dances they had learned from her course, so I filmed it and uploaded onto Facebook and tagged Judy Murray into the post saying “thank you”. She asked me to come over to Scotland in 4 weeks’ time to deliver a Girl Power Camp. I said “of course”! That day there was about 30 coaches and 24 athletes and I had the whole day to showcase these camps.
Judy introduced me by saying “now I haven’t learned much in the last few years, so no pressure Emma, I want to learn something from you…so you had better step up!” I was so nervous! But it was a good lesson in just doing your best. Since then we have developed a great relationship and I have actually brought ‘Miss Hits’ over to Australia and even interviewed Judy at the Australian Open Grand Slam Coaches Conference – sometimes we are the only two female tennis specific speakers at events like this, which needs to change and we are working on slowly changing this situation through speaking mentor training. We have now formed a great relationship and she is a colleague and a friend.
February this year was a real turning point in the UK with the LTA and Judy’s program called‘She Rallies’. I was fortunate enough to open the ‘She Rallies’ conference in Birmingham. Judy asked me to kick start the conference in a way that empowers everyone in the room. It was a really great day with a number of high quality female speakers.
My role within the ‘She Rallies’ initiative was to go on a road show around the UK, helping all coaches (as our industry is 80% men), pick up ideas in how to better understand, communicate and coach girls. A big part of that was about learning to use their language better.
I really enjoy working with Judy on projects, such as the ‘Rally for Bally’ event in Glasgow. And I am really excited about the future as we are off to New York in August to deliver the very first ‘Miss Hits’ workshop in the USA.
And what is it like to work with Judy?
Working with Judy has been great! Learning how our styles are different and how to bounce off each other is really important. My number 1 tip when you are working with someone like Judy is to try and pre-empt what she is thinking. So if I know what the next activity is, I know she will need the bats and it’s my job to get those ready. If I know she will need sponge balls etc get those ready etc…so always try and keep in mind what is next, which is important when co-facilitating with someone.
Another tip would be, that preparation is key! Don’t leave any stone unturned – especially with how the sound is set up for a presentation. This one can be so varied…do you need a mic, don’t you need a mic, how do you use your voice, your pauses…etc…all of these things are important!
How did you progress from being a tennis coach with weekly coaching sessions to travelling the world delivering coaching workshops?
It’s all about confidence – I have an excellent formula for confidence which is: confidence = time + experience. A mentor taught me this many years ago, at first I didn’t understand it, but he explained it by saying ‘you can’t short circuit time, but you can short circuit experience’. So as a young coach I was constantly asking, how do I do that? I spent time trying to work out how to get from A to B and finding out who those people were that I needed to learn from. I am a big believer is asking people for a quick coffee at their convenience and picking their brains!
When I finished my degree (I majored in Exercise Physiology), I took a job as a strength and conditioning assistant and from there I started taking teams away to competitions – so I took the U12’s team to New Zealand (from Australia) and a couple of years later I took the U14 team to Asia and that lead to Europe etc…and before I knew it I was taking the junior Fed Cup team away. So I didn’t just go from one minute coaching at my local club to then traveling the world as a coach, it was a series of incremental steps. Find someone who is where you want to be and learn as much as you can from them…that is how you short circuit experience.
When I went to watch Judy Murray run her sessions, I wanted to know why she did certain things. Why is she doing that…and she would explain, which grew my learning of how to deliver coach workshops.
Another aspect that is important when I look back on my career – the Aussie expression ‘Junkyard Dog’ comes to mind. In other words, I have literally lived in the trenches…I continue to coach at lots of little clubs, I keep seeing and understanding what coaches go through in day to day coaching and always kept my hand in coaching different levels of players. I can’t go round telling coaches how to do different things if I am not living that myself. I don’t believe you should stand up and talk about something if you haven’t actually experienced it yourself.
So much short answer is – through small incremental steps and lots of mentors!
What are some of the key fundamental skills you teach to coaches who attend your workshops?
One of the keys to being a great coach is empathy and to be able to listen. I interviewed Patrick Mouratoglou who said “you have to hear what the player is thinking”. As a young coach, I don’t think I did these things very well, but in my second chapter of being a coach, I asked myself ‘So how do I begin to truly listen and hear what the player is thinking’ – answer: by having real empathy and an understanding of where they are coming from. This is about understanding where in the World they have been brought up, their parents, their environment, their culture, their personality etc…take all of that – that would be tip number 1.
From there, then you need to come from a stand point of making a choice of your coaching methodology, especially with regards to language. Your coaching style of language can range from being direct to indirect. In my early days of coaching I was very direct, telling the player what to do all the time. The problem with that is that tennis is a problem solving game, you have to make decisions on the court…so now about it is important to facilitate a learning environment and a culture where the players are making decisions. Choose your language carefully to encourage decision-making ispoint number 2.
Point number 3 –I really value the power of a future based question, especially when you are working with female players. So rather than asking ‘what did you do wrong?’ or ‘why did you miss that ball down the line?’. Instead you could ask ‘next time, what are you going to do differently?’ Ask them to think tactically. Asking past based questions can have the player focus too much of the negative. Past based questions are useful to reinforced positive experiences, however, as coaches we are often trained to comment on what ‘needs fixing’ which can lead to a negative inner voice especially on game day. Therefore, “next time” ask them a future based question and observe the difference within the language of your player.
Sometimes, I finish my workshops by saying ‘It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. It’s not what you show them, it’s what they see. It’s not what they understand, it’s what they experience.’ This is why language is so important and what makes an effective coach.
It is a well know fact that in tennis there are so few women coaching at the top end of the sport in the ATP or WTA tour. Why do you think this is?
There are a number of different ways to tackle this question which I get asked a lot!
We have to remember that when you watch Wimbledon for example, it’s easy think that there is so much money in tennis However, once you are between the top 100-200 of the rankings, you might be breaking even money wise maybe if you are lucky, but outside of the top 200 your not earning a lot of dollars!
So the problems arises when a female player wants to use a male hitting partner, which means they then have to pay for a female coach and a male hitter, but they may also need someone else such as a physio or S&C coach. It’s just not possible to pay for all of these people. So very often they will chose a male hitting partner to double up as a coach.
I do know that the USTA are providing hitting partners for their female players, so all they need to do is employ a coach …with the aim of increasing female coaches working on the tour. So we are starting to see federations acknowledge this as a problem.
Another challenge is that the WTA tour is 46 weeks of the year on the road, that’s a lot of time! It’s a life style of hotels, the hours are brutal. You might be able to do this as a young coach, but it is not always sustainable due to lifestyle choices. The tour is all consuming all year round, there isn’t really an off season – which is probably why we have seen so many injuries at Wimbledon last week.
Why do you think the retired female players don’t go into coaching? The retired male players do, but why do the female players not stay in tennis and go into coaching?
Tennis can be an isolating sport. When you have been hitting tennis balls your entire life, players that retire sometimes don’t want anything to do with the sport! They may come back to it eventually, however, when they first come off the road, they are just relieved and don’t want to see a racket! They have been pushed from a very young age and now want to do something away from tennis, whether it’s starting a family or something else.
Having said that, there’s an Aussie coach called ‘ Biljana Veselinovic’, who reached 500 WTA has been a tour coach for many years and is doing a fantastic job. So there are some examples…and in Australia they are some female coaches coming through who weren’t necessarily the top players, but are showing signs towards coaching at a high level.
Nicole Pratt is a great example and role model for other female coaches, (WTA #18) she was on the tour for many years, and she is now in charge of women’s tennis in Australia – and she is doing a fantastic job. So there are examples of that. There are also coaching courses to help ex-players become coaches, the WTA does have a pathway for that to happen.
What is on your coaching bucket list?
- I have been accepted to my first ever TEDx talk on the 16th September in Oneonta, New York. I am excited about exploring the lessons that coaching and tennis has taught me for the greater good of empowering more female players and coaches!
- Continuing to develop concepts with Judy and help her to continue the Murray legacy. I really align with her values and philosophies I would love to see the ‘She Rallies’ model grow on a global scale.
- This last trip to Europe taught me that the lessons and messages that tennis have taught me are transferrable into other sports. Therefore, I am excited about working with coaches from all sports to ultimately help all coaches discover their inner coach.