BTT: Mark you have enjoyed a very successful coaching career post-playing days (and sometimes during) was it always on your radar?
MH: When I was deep into competing and having dreams of global tennis domination( that never happened!!!! hahah), my main focus was purely on doing all I could to be successful and focus solely on my needs. I had stopped touring very early in my tennis life, around the age of 18/19 and then took up a coaching role in Perth. I had basically ended my travelling tennis life and needed something to make some money and survive, so coaching it was. I was so raw and inexperienced, although I did help my personal coach here in Melbourne whilst I was training full time to help subside my training costs. I would train from 9-3 each day then help him in his coaching business from 4-7 every night. This gave me my first insight into coaching.
In Perth, I was an assistant at a Perth club and was coaching 30-40 hours a week, all levels and standards. I loved those days and never thought I would do anything but coach or teach. I felt with my personality it suited perfectly to that role of coach. I was relatable to the younger kids and was also able to challenge the adults who took lessons.
BTT: What was it like playing tournaments and coaching some of the guys at the same time?
MH: Life on the futures circuit when guys are trying to kick start their ATP ranking life is challenge in itself, with limited funds and low prize money. I went back full time tennis on the road playing when I was 30 years old, knowing I would never be able to make top 100 but I wanted to play, compete, challenge myself and see what work opportunities where out there. I was able to play and travel anywhere I wanted to. Being probably the oldest rookie out there, and having coaching experience I tended to gravitate to those who were looking for assistance on the road to help accelerate their development and get them out of Futures events into playing better tournaments. Because funds were scarce at this level and I still wanted to play, I was able for periods of time to coach and play with some of the guys on the road. This was done to keep costs down for those athletes. I was still getting a little bit of prizemoney and when I could, I played doubles with the guys too. We were bare-bones tennis back then and those moments when times were tough, challenges needed to be faced, were the moments when you get to really test yourself. Coaching the guys required a lot of planning and forward vision, taking the mindset of what the athlete needs compared to my needs. It was easy but it was a necessity for those guys to get them some help as there was nothing for them. I hope in some small way it helped them….
BTT: Lots of players go on to coach after retiring from their playing career, do you have any advice on how to get started?
MH: It is not an easy transition and its not suited to every player. Just because you played, does not mean you automatically become this great coach. You may have insight into the game and a feel for the game, but your clients may require a coach who has skills in player development, skill acquisition, beginner tennis etc etc. having knowledge is great but being able to communicate the information in a manner that the client can understand and execute is a skill in itself. At times the player has to be humble enough to go back to the start line of the coaching game. Be willing to learn, adapt and take constructive criticism. The challenges come with coaching all players as they are all different and you have to be able to assess which way they will learn best. Understanding what the client’s goals are in tennis will also determine the action plan for the new coach. We are privileged to coach players in this sport, so every interaction from a paying customer has to be maintained at the highest quality, irrelevant of their level.
BTT: How much does playing experience come into coaching professional players?
MH: It can be helpful as there is an understanding of what it takes to become elite, being able to deal with off court pressures, travelling habits tournament planning, mindset, professional habits and the like. But more importantly the coach has to be trusting and have a huge element of care and compassion for the athlete. The relationship built on trust and care will help the athlete feel comfortable with the coach and then an open and honest dialogue can be had. Coaching a younger professional may have different experience needs compared to coaching an older established pro. An 18-year-old may require greater “care” for longer periods of time, whereas a seasoned pro may need to have greater independence in certain moments. As the modern game changes constantly, the coach must try to keep ahead of the game a little and have witnessed/experienced what the current tennis trends are. This is what their athlete is experiencing so you need to understand what is going on.
BTT: What were some of your favorite moments as a player?
MH: I loved being on stage, performing. Give me a small crowd and I’d love to be out there. I probably wasn’t the conservative traditional tennis player back in the day…my multicolored hair and over the top behaviour made me stand out a little. That feeling of performing and being successful was highly addictive. When I was out playing in my 30’s, I had many moments when money was tight, real tight, down to double digits in the bank account. But what I loved about those moments was the situation where you put yourself in. You had to win to keep the dream alive, you needed money so digging in and competing was a non negotiable. If you could fight and scrap a win, then it was time to pack up and head home. I had a moment like that in Holland. I was in a dubs final and desperately needed to win to get some much needed cash. We did win, but the trophy was worth more than the prizemoney as I found out. It was a 10kg wheel of cheese!!!!! How am I going to travel with a 10kg wheel of cheese. I ended up selling it to someone from my hostel for some good dollars and that helped my travels to continue.
I always felt fortunate to be able to play a sport for a career( don’t think the money I made over the journey made it a profitable career). There are so many people in far worse situations that I could have ever been in whilst playing tennis. I was doing something that I love, being able to travel the globe, determining my future plans and the worse possible thing that could happen if things went pear shaped for me, was to head home to my family! I would of got a job somewhere and start that new chapter. So I was grateful for all my time on court and those are my favorite memories.
BTT: Priory to retiring were you taking any steps toward life beyond the tour?
MH: During my latter stage of pro life, I purposefully met with as many people as I could and kept my vision open to work prospects whilst travelling. It was part of my plan, but 2 to 3 years into my tour, around the age of 33 or so, I was more diligent in looking at coaching options. I knew there was a slim to no chance of making the top 100!!!!!, so it was time to look to see what would next be on the cards. I felt I would be able to travel until I was 35 and then knuckle down on coaching, not sure where, but coaching . You never know who you meet or what contacts people have so I presented myself to everyone and anyone with the hope that a connection could be made. As it turned out, I met my future fiancé whilst in Canberra and followed her back to Melbourne and found work with Tennis Australia not long after.
BTT: It’s certainly not the easiest transition, adjusting to regular life and routines can be difficult, how were you supported through that process?
MH: I felt I made the transition to “normal” life pretty easily. I knew in time that I wanted to hang them up and get into coach life so I felt like It was easy to switch to that role. My fiancé is not from the ‘tennis world’, so having her with all her friendship group quickly made life more normal. Although I still get itchy feet and want to travel if I was home for weeks at a time. That itch has now subsided and I’m very content with my new work role and family life.
BTT: Turning back to coaching, what is it that you love so much about it?
MH: Firstly, we are not curing cancer….we are helping people play tennis, either socially or more competitively. We have it good. People come to use to enjoy a recreational activity, so the environment is always enjoyable and far from stressful. What isn’t to love about that? For me, developing relationships with people, watching them enjoy the sport, socialise and interact with each other, having young kids improve their social and physical development, have clients set goals and achieve them, be a role model and enjoy the on court life are the main things I love about educating and coaching. So many people are in a situation where they work jobs out of necessity, probably jobs they hate and I am teaching tennis and developing a fabulous member experience at the club. If I’m moaning about my tennis life, I have lost perspective!.
BTT: Lastly mark, we want to know tow of your favorite memories, one as a player and the other as a coach!
MH: Favorite memory as a coach- way too many to list in order. But some of these below when I think of them, put a massive smile on my face.
Having Zhu Lin win a Bronze medal in the China National Games. Being a small part of Serena Williams 6 Australian Open titles. National coach for the girls 14’s World Cup (Ash Barty in the team). Helping Martina Hingis during her 1st Australian Open title at 15 yrs of age. Having coached a junior to win his 1st national title.
Favorite memory as a player.- Having my parents watch me win a Futures title in singles and doubles.