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GPTCA Elite Tennis: Getting Paid – How, When and Why (part I)
Whether you are just starting out or an established veteran tour coach, understanding the how, when and why of getting paid as a private tennis coach is tricky in the best of times. Just as there are many different styles of coaching on the tour, so are there different ways for compensation. Oftentimes the very character traits that make for a good coach, can be his greatest weaknesses on the business side of the relationship.
Plenty of coaches are eager for the chance to be on the ATP and WTA tours and are willing to work for a lot less salary than they might at a club or academy. Their enthusiasm for the new job and lure of travel can cause them to jump on board without dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.
This year I had the opportunity of discussing this subject with plenty of professional tour coaches. I learned that though some might have sweeter deals than others (a lot of that depends on their player’s ranking and country), they all share some basic elements. And before they go hit the court, they will have locked in a contract just like a business joint venture. I spoke with professional coaches like Alexander Waske, former German Davis Cupper and GPTCA national president of Germany. Waske has been on both sides of the player coach relationship and is the CEO of Tennis-University Europe. He deals with touring issues between the two parties on a weekly basis. Then there is Juan Manual Esparcia of Spain who is an ATP member coach and Master Professional specializing in player development and coaching education. Esparcia also works as a sports marketing and management of players and coaches.
“Many coaches on tour work without contracts,” says Esparcia. “And they do not talk clearly before they start to work, so the problems appears later when results are coming and both parts understand in a different way.”
“This is business,” continues Esparcia. “And in business you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. In my opinion a tennis coach should get a flat salary plus percent of prize money, and bonuses based on ranking achievements.”
When is it appropriate to get paid?
Most coaches I spoke to prefer to get an advance payment equal to four weeks, plus airfare expenses and food per diem. Especially in the beginning of the relationship. Others like Waske do not mind waiting till after the tour.
“I do not get paid in advance,” states Waske. “But I also do not wait long to write my bill. If your client has not paid the last two weeks it is not a huge financial loss, but if it is three months than the problem is much bigger. I usually write bills two weeks after the event, and as things in our world are being done online there is no real excuse of not wiring the money when being on tour.”
“It is important to have something in writing,” says Waske. “Not everybody has written out contracts, but at least you should write an email to the player and maybe his agent with all discussed numbers. Communication is the key, speak about flights as well, in my opinion the coach flies the same class like the player, same hotel as well.”
Another very sensitive area of the coach and player relationship is much harder to define. How can the coach protect his coaching integrity with the player?
“Very difficult department,” says Waske. “The coach is the boss, but the player pays the coach, and whoever pays has the say right? Financially dependent coaches are in a very tricky situation here, cause if they need a steady income due to down payments or such things they need to keep the player happy, and that often resolves in less hard work, laughing a lot, eventually going out together and in the end you carry the bag of your player. Never forget there is a reason why the player hired you, and that is not to become his best friend, but to become the best player he can be. Have a clear, strict line, if he violates it once show him the yellow card. If he does it again and you the coach does not hold him accountable then he will lose respect for the coach and so will all the other players on tour.”
It seems to me that the biggest mistake touring coaches make is that they do not set up a strong enough accountable contract between the working parties. A coach must feel comfortable walking into the workplace knowing there is mutual respect. Having said that it is job as the leader of the team to set the tone and not cross any lines that might blur the role. Getting paid in advance or having a strong contract allows the coach to say what needs to be said without worry of his player getting angry and walking out on him without paying the agreed upon sum. As one longtime veteran coach told me, “it might feel awkward discussing money up front and even sending back a counter-offer but in the end you and your player will both appreciate the fact that you have a clear understanding of what is expected by both parties.”
Coaches and players share a lot on the road and the bond between the two can and often does become more than just a coach player deal. Even the best of coach player relationships have gone sour and most of the time it is over money. One sure way to protect that relationship is recognizing the value of a strong contract. As the old Russian proverb says, “Trust but verify.”