Tennis coaching is a difficult career path in and of itself for a multitude of reasons. Now imagine coaching tennis in a completely new country in an entirely foreign language and culture with different expectations and rules. Not only has Grand Slam Master Coach Conrad Singh accomplished this feat, but he has excelled.
Singh grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where tennis is a central part of the sporting culture. From a young age, he played all sports and eventually specialized in Tennis at 16 years old. He decided that the sport was something he wanted to be involved with for the rest of his life.
He went on to study Sports Sciences with a degree in Kinesiology majoring in Biomechanics, Physical Education and Science from Deakin University in Melbourne. He then supplemented this with a Secondary Education degree from Victoria University with post graduate Biomechanics.
All the while, he was still competing at Satellite, State Grade Club Tennis and local prize money events along with coaching and presenting as the TCAV Advanced Coaches Biomechanics Specialist with Tennis Victoria, and later as the Tennis Coaches Australia Author of the Biomechanics Module of the national coaching syllabus for TCA. Additionally, he was directing one of the first full-time programs in Australia and working with the Victorian Institute of Sport Athletes.
Once his education was complete, Singh opted to pack up his bags and move across the globe to Europe. “I was very lucky that I found the right people, found the right role which allowed me to combine my three passions of travelling, competing and coaching. Once the competing slowed down, I began to focus on becoming the absolute best coach I could be and my philosophy began to take shape. I began working with many of the top players in England at that time and we started the first full-time academy at that time with some former greats who helped me to shape my beliefs as a coach. I’ve been very fortunate to be around good circles of people who have been great mentor and coaches,” he explained.
With the lessons he learned from his mentors, Singh and a few of his friends started their own academy in Australia. He experienced success with his players early on, which kept him motivated to continue a career in coaching.
Due in large part to his uncanny ability to develop athletes, Singh was recruited to Japan to coach their professional players. Through that opportunity, he traveled to Shanghai, China for a tournament and was again recruited to develop an Elite & High Performance program at the Shanghai Racquet Club.
After eight years in that role, it was time to evolve again and due to more players outside of the club seeking his services, he set up the first International Tennis Academy in China at that time based Shanghai. The focus was clearly to help professional player development and to elevate these outstanding talents out of just Provincial State tennis and bring them to world levels. In the years since, many of the best Chinese players have come through Singh and his academy such as Zhu Lin, Han Xin Yun, Zhang Ying, Yaya Xun, Xu XiLin, Tang Hao Chen and many more – He also assisted many other players that competed at the Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Grand Slam levels.
However, coaching in China was not always an easy task. In fact, the language barrier was quite difficult in the beginning. Luckily, he was able to draw on his experience working in Japan to help him through the early stages of adapting to coaching in China.
“The best thing that happened to me was that I had spent a couple of years in Japan working with a completely different expectation, standard and set of rules – with the greatest challenge being getting my message across and understood. I simply had to be creative to find ways to make sure the player heard me,” Singh recalled. The cultures are the opposite, but the one fundamental similarity was that I didn’t have the strength of my language. Obviously, you learn and you evolve so that you can survive, but I had to develop methodology that was going to be able to be understood. Whether that was using visuals or using key words, numbers, colors – that was what I had to learn in Japan. When I went to China, it was the same challenge.”
With no other option, Singh quickly learned how to communicate with his students. “With my basic and their basic language, we developed a dialogue, but most of the methodology had to revolve around visuals,” he reminisced.
One of the most significant cultural adjustments Singh had to make whilst in China revolved around the unique family dynamic. “In China, you’re dealing with four parents most of the time – two parents and two or four grandparents. Sometimes you’re dealing with six parents before you’re dealing with the athlete, and that’s very difficult. Coaches always feel like we’re coaching the player, and most of the time you are. In China, it’s the parents first. If they don’t like what they see, they’re going to end that relationship and move on pretty quickly,” he said.
On the court, Singh found it challenging to adjust from the team-based mentality he had learned in Australia to the more individualized approach in China. “Parents believe that if they do five private lessons a week, it’s going to be much better than doing two squads a week or three squads a week. In Australia, it’s the opposite. We believe that it’s all about the kids pushing each other, squad training with some individual instruction,” he said.
Despite the challenges he has faced, Singh has continuously been able elevate players to the next level through his individualized approach to coaching and his respect for the culture. “Today, everybody passes through China for a few months and they feel like they walk away as experts. That’s never going to happen. You’ve got to know the culture, you’ve got to know the people, you’ve got to know the family, you have to know who the decision-makers are,” he explained.
“It’s all about being able to do the things that their culture values. There’s a word in Chinese, guanxi, that means relationships. Chinese value guanxi ahead of money, ahead of anything else. Relationships take time to build,” said Singh. “The old adage of word of mouth referral is so true in China. The more you market, the more you push yourself away from the culture. It’s more about doing a good job. They value hard work ahead of anything else.”
On the coaching side, Singh is able to get the most out of players by drawing on his biomechanics background. “I’m a believer that tennis is almost a perfect balance of science and mind. I really do believe it’s almost 50/50. There are some people that are going to say it’s 20 percent science and 80 percent mental and vice versa,” he explained.
“Without sound mechanics, there’s no way you can keep improving. The game is so fast now that mechanics is what it’s all about to survive,” said Singh. “It’s so physical that if you don’t have efficient, smooth technique combined with the athleticism required, you just can’t survive. The scientific mind teaches you to analyze what best fits. I believe that great mechanics are the stepping stone to success, it’s a platform that will allow that player to go as far as they can.”
Singh also draws on the importance of knowing your player and building trust within the relationship. “Every player is completely different. I can line up four or five professional women that I’ve worked with, and it’s just very different how they expect to be trained, want to be trained, and how much involvement they want,” he said.
“You’ve always got to know the individual, you’ve got to know what drives them. I believe that takes off-court time, whether it be at the lunch table or traveling from one place to the next and having conversations,” said Singh. “Trust we talk about all the time, that all comes from knowing the player. If you don’t know the player, you’ll make the wrong decisions over and over again.”
Finally, if there’s two lasting lessons Singh wants to impress upon coaches, they are to keep things fresh and allow your athletes to have fun. “Something that happens today is that kids go out and they’re training in the same environment, same court, same court number, same basket. That’s not real in tennis,” he said.
“Switching up environments, times of the day, facilities is a really good way to keep both players and athletes fresh. Spending time in other areas of development is also important – adding in the mental, emotional, upgrading in other skills (languages, other sports etc) are all part of the process of becoming a better athlete and student. At the end of the day both coach and players want stimulation in the everyday grind of tennis.”
I would be delighted to offer all WTCA Coaches and Players a home base just 25 miles out of NYC Manhattan. For more information contact Conrad on Conrad@centercourtclub.com or +18623083029