In February 2019, Dr. Anne Pankhurst made history as the first British subject to be honored as a PTR International Master Professional, also joining the elite group of 53 tennis professionals to ever be selected for the distinction.
However, Dr. Pankhurst has been a history-maker for far longer. In fact, she has developed all the PTR’s educational pathways, including Level 1, 3 and three Level 5 Masters of Tennis programs. She served for 10 years as the LTA Coach Education Director, where she also introduced the LTA’s Coach Licensing Scheme and she has also worked for USTA Player Development – just a few of her many accomplishments as an educator within the sport of tennis.
After attending college to train as a physical education teacher, Dr. Pankhurst progressed through the levels of the LTA Coach Education program, eventually realizing that she preferred coaching to playing. After six years of teaching physical education full-time, she was invited by the LTA to become a tutor, training others to become coaches.
At just 25 years of age, she was asked to become a tutor for the LTA’s Level 1 and Level 2 courses. Four years later, she joined a small team of coaches running the Level 3 courses in the United Kingdom. Eventually, she progressed into the Coach Education Director role, the first woman to do so. Over the next 10 years, Dr. Pankhurst upgraded every level of the whole system of tennis Coach Education in the UK, working initially under LTA Director Richard Lewis.
Based on the three-tiered coach education system Dr. Pankhurst grew up with, she developed a similar 3-tiered coaching education pathway. “I did not, and even now, do not know of a better way to develop coaches than to systematically train them through a progression of courses and levels, with increasingly complex knowledge and coaching abilities and skill requirements,” explained Dr. Pankhurst.
After 10 years, Dr. Pankhurst left the LTA and moved on to become a coach educator at Jack Newman’s Academy in Austin, Texas. Then, Paul Lubbers in USTA Player Development asked her to join him in the Coach Education program. From there, she joined the PTR to revamp their coach education structure first to a tier 3 model, and now a tier 5 model.
“By then, I had recognized that different sectors of the tennis playing community have different coaching needs, and so tennis coaches themselves need specific skill sets to coach those different sectors. The PTR coach education program offers specific training for coaches working with Junior Performance players, Junior players of all ages and Adults at all levels,” said Dr. Pankhurst.
When working with coaches, Dr. Pankhurst focuses on six major issues for player development, particularly in junior athletes. First, she emphasizes the importance of linking each child to a “good, realistic, knowledgeable and sensible coach, who is not working to up his or her own status as coach.”
Next, coaches should work positively with the parents to ensure that they have an understanding and agreement on what is happening to their child and why. Third, coaches must always know where the individual player is on the growth, development and maturation (GDM) spectrum and then build tailor coaching program and tournament schedules around the specific abilities of each child.
As the child is growing, Dr. Pankhurst suggests coaches take regular height and weight measurements because these indicate what is important for the child at that time. Then every element of the coaching program can be linked to a child’s specific needs.
It is also important to avoid playing an excess number of tournaments and to know why each tournament chosen, because competition is a key piece of the development program and becoming a tennis player. Finally, Dr. Pankhurst urges coaches to plan, plan, plan and always be ready to adapt to each player’s needs.
To Dr. Pankhurst, fitting training time and methods to a specific athlete maximizes the opportunities of each development ‘window’. “I always know where each young player is developmentally (GDM), because as a coach I have to know what is possible to work on when and what should be left or avoided. I also know why and for how long to work on specific skills,” she said.
Regarding female junior players, Dr. Pankhurst emphasizes the significance of understanding how gender affects the development rate of a young tennis player. “For girls, GDM comes earlier than it does in boys, and it has different outcomes both physically, emotionally and socially. No coach should be working with female juniors if they do not know and understand how and when girls develop as young people and as tennis players,” she said.
Therefore, when working with female juniors, Dr. Pankhurst advises coaches to treat every player as an individual, obtain high-quality training and information about when and how girls develop and improve different skills and abilities. She adds that respecting every young player and understanding and recognizing why they do what they do is important. Finally, coaches must work closely with the parents because they do actually know more about their daughter than the coach ever will.
Finally, for female coaches looking to make an impact in the male-dominant tennis industry, Dr. Pankhurst recommends that women work hard and focus on what they can control. These are aspects such as work ethic, the willingness to stay up-to-date in the field, always giving high quality of work and respecting others around you.
“You can’t change other people, but if you work hard, are pleasant to be with and you help others, you have given yourself the best chance. Tennis is actually a small world – people talk, and you never know when, or from where, you will get a chance to use your skills and knowledge,” said Dr. Pankhurst.
“I honestly believe that good female coaches are increasingly being recognized – yes, there is a long way to go, but many other professions have the same male-to-female imbalance. We won’t get anywhere by moaning.”
With strong female leaders like Dr. Pankhurst, the outlook for females in the sport of tennis – both coach and player – is certainly extremely bright.