As children, one of the most common questions we are asked is, ‘What do you want to want to be when you grow up?’ Rarely do we have a real, concrete answer. However, that was not the case for world-renowned motivation and action speaker Emma Doyle.
At just 14 years of age, Doyle administered her first coaching session, and the rest is history. “I walked off that court, and thought to myself, ‘This is the job I want to do for the rest of my life.’ Not everyone has that experience, but for me, there was that really strong moment where I knew that I wanted to be a coach,” she recalled.
After playing collegiately, Doyle coached on the tour for eight years, ran multiple businesses and even served as the Australian Junior Fed Cup Captain. Searching for something new, Doyle decided to delve into public speaking, landing her first-ever gig on a grand stage at the ITF Worldwide Coaches Conference.
Since then, Doyle has devoted her life to speaking and mentoring in order to help female athletes and coaches unleash their true potential. “If you had told me six years ago that I’d be speaking at conferences all over the world, it would have been hard to believe. At the end of the day, it’s all about stretching your comfort zone, that’s how you can make those small incremental steps to get to places you didn’t think you’d get to,” she explained.
Perhaps one of the most significant accomplishments of Doyle’s career has been her invitation speak at a TEDx event. After several rejected applications, Doyle did not relent. “My philosophy is to keep on knocking on the door and keep on finding ways to make your dreams become a reality,” she said.
Finally, she was invited to Oneonta, New York to deliver a TED Talk entitled “Unleashing Female Potential,” in what she calls one of the highlights of her career. Ultimately, the opportunity catapulted her to new heights in the speaking profession.
Despite the many accomplishments and invitations to speaking events that Doyle has accumulated over the years, she finds the most pleasure in connecting girls with sport and empowering all coaches to achieve their best on and off the court.
One of Doyle’s favorite exercises to run through with her clients is to ask the simple question: What makes a great coach? The trick is that you can answer only in a maximum of three words. While there are many qualities successful coaches must possess, Doyle has found one particular commonality between many different answers. A great coach is a great listener.
“It begins with a point of listening and then observing so you can bridge the gap between providing vision for where athletes need to go and where they’re at today,” said Doyle. “I think as coaches, that’s the primary job – to see more in the players than what they can even see in themselves. Especially when you’re dealing with female players, the research suggests that they want coaching to be a joint endeavor. They need to be involved in the vision making process, and I think that starts from a point of truly actively listening.”
Often times, Doyle works with incredibly large groups of athletes, so how is she able to actively listen to each and every player in order to understand what motivates them? “When you have all of them standing there in front of you, my best piece of advice is to cover all of the different learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, data-digital) and behavior styles through great demonstrations and organizational layout. You don’t always get it right and it’s not always A+B=C, however, teaching tennis to large numbers is a great way to develop your coaching skills,” she explained.
Doyle believes that in order to understand your players, you must first understand yourself. “It wasn’t until I was able to grow and learn a lot more about myself that I understood how to bring out the best in others. As human beings, we’re all puzzle pieces. As coaches, we need to fit all of those puzzle pieces in order to bring out the best in our players,” she said.
Doyle also stresses the importance of treating each and every player equally, no matter what level they are at. “They’re all the same, so I approach everyone the same, whether you’re a beginner or a high-performance player,” she said. “This is really important because it’s about respect. I’m providing my energy for each and every person that enters my world, and my energy stays the same no matter what level of player I’m working with.”
Another cornerstone to Doyle’s teachings is emotional intelligence coaching. When all else is equal, being self-aware and managing emotions are two factors that can set a player apart from the rest.
“Being able to be in ‘state’ is critical,” explained Doyle. “When you stay in the limbic system – the place in the brain where emotions live – for too long, it generally does not serve you well, such as, thinking about the past or the future or fixating on one thing.
As a certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, Doyle believes that emotional awareness, emotion control (subject to your personality) and emotional expression are absolutely critical as a coach, as a player, and as a parent to help you bring out the best in yourself.
Controlling emotions during a tennis match is crucial, especially when you’re in the midst of a tough match where nothing seems to be going your way. To help players manage challenging matches, Doyle draws upon her educational resources and many years of coaching experience to provide practical strategies specific to each individual she is working with.
“One of the most common strategies I use with players is an anchor and an affirmation,” explained Doyle. “An anchor is something we do physically and then we have an associated affirmation. For example, you may touch the dampener with your left index finger, and as you do that you would say, ‘I am ready,’ or ‘I love competing.’ This technique is unique for each and every player. Alternatively, when your emotions are too high, one such technique we use is called the ‘stop’ strategy, which requires you to push the butt cap into the palm of your hand before you fire off your anchor and affirmation and then get back to your tactics before playing the next point.”
Aside from helping players achieve their optimum performance level, Doyle is also dedicated to empowering both female players and female coaches. “I believe we all need to play our part. If something really bothers you, you have to do something about it. If you have a cause, run a pilot, see what works, but most importantly take action” she said.
This is where the idea for Girl Power Camps (GPC) came about. After noticing an increasing dropout rate for females in the sport, Doyle created GPC to specifically attract, keep and coach girls in tennis.
“Why do girls drop out of sport? Desire for a sense of belonging (tennis is an individual sport), the enjoyment factor versus winning (competition formats), self-esteem linked to winning and losing, lack of female coaches (role models) and the quality of coaching,” said Doyle. “Therefore, flipping these challenges into opportunities, I created an experience that focuses on developing a sense of mastery, a social and fun environment that allows them to play with their friends, activities that are task-based and competitive within a team setting.”
“That’s what they want, and that’s what they’re looking for. In addition, the camps are run predominantly by female coaches that serve to be indirect role models and shows coaching as a great potential career choice. It wasn’t just about running the Girl Power Camps, it was educating all coaches on how to work more effectively with females and how to empower them and encourage more women to enter this amazing industry which we call coaching.”
For aspiring female coaches, Doyle has one simple piece of advice: Find mentors. “Find people who will stretch your comfort zone. Shadow people who are at the level you want to be at. Experience what they experience, add your own flavor to it and add that to your own coaching toolkit,” she urged.
For female players, Doyle stresses the importance of finding a coach who begins from a point of listening and values the importance of following before they can lead. “Find a coach who spends the time to understand who you are, empowers and strengthens your private inner voice, builds your decision-making processes, and sees more in you than where you are at today,” she said.
“Great coaches ask great questions, and female players must find coaches who can help them facilitate their journey from where they are at today to wherever they want to go in the future, whatever their goals and aspirations might be.”