Before our kids were born, my husband Anirban decided that he wanted them to play tennis because he knows tennis and can understand the pitfalls with coaches. It is sad that not everyone has this advantage, and therefore we are sharing our experiences. For those of who wondering if we forced our kids to play tennis, I can assure you we did introduce our kids to other sports (golf, dance, karate, basketball, soccer, football, as well as art and musical instruments), but eventually they chose tennis.
One thing that I remember early on was Anirban’s resistance to let any coach change our kids’ grip. Anirban was coached by Akhtar Ali, who was a legendary coach in India. He coached many pros including his son Zeeshan who was ranked just outside top 100 ATP, multiple grand slam doubles winner Leander Paes, WTA top 20 Sabine Appelmans among others. He was very firm in the idea that after a certain age, if your player is competitive and does not have a grip that can bring injury later, or prohibits him or her from reaching full stroke production potential, then it is more harmful than beneficial to change a grip. I remember our kids playing at a facility for two years where we liked the amount of similarly competitive kids but did not want the coaches to change our kids’ technique. We repeatedly asked the coaches not to change our kids’ strokes or grip. Every time Anirban went out of town, this one coach in particular, we’ll call her K, would try to change our kids’ grips. By this time, our kids were 10 and playing at a national level and had been competing for over 4 years.
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Changing the grip because the coach likes a certain grip may illustrate a coach who wants to have a reason for you to come and take private lessons with them. I call these coaches Capitalistic Coaches, someone who is seeking additional revenue streams rather than actually making needed changes in a player’s game. The ideal is to have a coach who understands that kids are built differently, with different body types and game styles and grips. The ideal coach is making a living but not ripping you off with unnecessary changes just to make more money. The ideal coach is truly interested in helping the player. In the above circumstance, I am not sure if there was a greedy intention or just a lack of knowledge. Anirban came back from a two-week trip, saw that the coach changed both kids' grips, again, right before a big tournament. Both kids went and performed terribly at a state tournament, and we switched clubs immediately. If your child is younger, or newer to tennis and you and your coach decide to change their grip, make sure it is not close to any meaningful tournament.
The sad part is that others were not able to identify which technical changes were needed and which were money-grabbing coach tricks. A good rule of thumb is if your kid has been playing competitively for 3 to 4 years, you need to thoroughly investigate if the grip change is for cosmetic improvement or is it indeed necessary. Ask if the change is needed because it can hurt their game later or risk injury or has long term stroke production limitations. If everyone at your club has been changed to the same grip, that sounds like a coach’s preference rather than what is best for the player. Our recommendation before changing your player’s grip is to check with 4-5 trusted, knowledgeable coaches/former player parents, which might be easily found at a tournament. Get the opinions of people not profiting from you on whether or not a grip change is needed for injury prevention or stroke maximization.
I hope this can help inform you of our experience with grip changes. If you are new to tennis, consider reading more of my articles on Capitalistic Coaching, and how to spot the bad coaches. May the grip be ever in your favor!
Anirban Dutta is the Co-Founder of Tennis Wizard. He is a former NCAA DI College player and assistant coach, minority owner of tennis club & academy, USTA TX board member, USTA National Pro Circuit committee member. He has two teenagers playing ITF juniors.