Winning tennis partnership comes to an end
Andy Murray has announced he is parting ways with his revered mentor, Ivan Lendl. Some doubt if Britain’s No.1 can return to winning ways without him, but are coaches really so influential?
It was one of sport’s most formidable pairings. In their two years together, Andy Murray and his coach Ivan Lendl gave Britain its first men’s singles champion at Wimbledon in 77 years, triumphed at the US Open and claimed Olympic gold. Yet this week they shocked the tennis world by calling time on their relationship.
Where did it go wrong? Earlier this year Murray compared it to a cooling romance: ‘I would try to impress my girlfriend a lot more the first few months I was with her than I do now. It’s the same with Ivan.’
They have barely spoken in the six months since Murray had career-saving back surgery in September. Lendl claims other commitments have prevented him from coaching properly.
After they joined forces in 2012, Murray found the finest form of his career. He has won 83% of his matches when Lendl has been there, but only 69% when he was absent. Do coaches really have such a profound psychological effect on athletes?
Many Manchester United players would say so. They speak with awe about their former manager Alex Ferguson and the sense of invincibility which he gave his teams. Footballers would dread a bad performance lest they experience a terrifying tirade from the Scotsman, famously dubbed the ‘hairdryer treatment’.
Other coaches help athletes with their insight. Dave Brailsford, the coach behind Team GB’s phenomenal cycling success at the London Olympics, is praised for his meticulous use of statistics and sports science, studying every detail that might bring his cyclists the slightest advantage.
Yet others say that the most important element of coaching is care for the athlete. Legendary boxing trainer Eddie Futch trained Joe Frazier for one of the most famous bouts of all time, the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ with Muhammad Ali. But in the 14th round, Frazier’s eye was severely injured and Futch threw in the towel. This end to a momentous fight has been a sore point for boxing fans ever since, but many see it as an incredibly brave, caring gesture. Perhaps, like Futch, Lendl knows that part of coaching is also knowing when to stop.
Coaching to victory
Some say coaches should receive far more praise and attention than they do. While an athlete must have talent, this will come to nothing if not directed by an experienced and intelligent mentor. We celebrate sporting stars on the playing field, but success is just as much about who gets them there.
Others respond that while coaches are vital in choosing who plays in team sports, for individual athletes it is their own ability that is crucial. Even the finest coach cannot make a champion of someone with insufficient talent. Andy Murray will be just as successful with whoever takes Lendl’s place.
- Do successful coaches deserve more praise and fame?
- Are there some sports where coaches are more important than others? Which sports are they and why?
- Think of a favourite coach or mentor you have had and list five of their qualities which have helped you. Compare with the class and draw up a list of the three most important traits a mentor should have.
- Pick your favourite sport and research its most successful coaches. Design a slideshow presenting your top five, giving reasons for your choices.
Some People Say...
“No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it.’Peter F Drucker”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I don’t really play sports – why should I worry about coaches?
- Just as a good coach is important to a player, other mentors like parents and teachers can affect different parts of our lives. Thinking about how others contribute to our success and well-being helps us to appreciate what they do for us. Sometimes our mentors also encourage us think for ourselves and make our own decisions which is also important.
- How else can a coach make a difference?
- Psychologists believe that even the body language of coaches can affect performance. If they stand slumped with shoulders hunched on the touchline, athletes may lose confidence. Perhaps this is part of Lendl’s success; he is well known for his unchanging expressions with eyes hidden behind dark shades.
- Alex Ferguson
- Last season with Alex Ferguson, United won the Premier League with 11 points more than their nearest competitor; this season, with the same team but a new manager, they are currently languishing in seventh place. Some will say this is clear proof of how a manager can be more important than the team.
- Hairdryer treatment
- In one of these tirades in 2003, Alex Ferguson kicked a boot at David Beckham which cut his face. The player left Manchester soon afterwards.
- Thrilla in Manilla
- This was the third and final fight between the two great rivals in 1975. It is thought to be one of the greatest in boxing history, between two of the sport’s best ever fighters.
- Threw in the towel
- The idiom ‘throw in the towel’, meaning ‘to quit’, comes from boxing, where a coach would literally throw a towel into the ring to signal that their fighter cannot or should not continue.