Good morning Kris Soutar, its a pleasure to have you here today. For those that don’t know you, please introduce yourself and what you have done in the tennis world?
I’m now half way through my 27th year as a tennis coach. At the start I did what most do and coached a huge variety of tennis players from parent and toddler sessions up to sessions for retired people and everything in between. I believe it is important to ‘earn your stripes’ as a coach and serve some form of apprenticeship under someone who has a lot of experience. I was fortunate to be the assistant coach to Robin Kerr who provided the perfect apprenticeship for me. He was disciplined and would literally dictate his methodology to me as I scribbled away. He would take me on the court and make me do feeding tests, he would make me write lesson plans and then had them in for him to check. When I think back, he was the perfect mentor for me at that stage of my career.
From here I became the head coach at a tennis club and then started to get the itch to specialise as someone who coached competitive tennis players. This coincided with Judy Murray becoming our Scottish National Coach. This meant I had another perfect mentor. My first memory of Judy’s appointment was her ambition. It was clear to me she genuinely wanted to develop world-class tennis players from Scotland. Most people have a ‘why not us?’ mentality which I believe can be good in some cases but it is not realistic. Judy was, and still is, amazing at looking at everything from a birds eye view and realising what needs to get done to move things to the next level.
I had many great years as, what some would call, a performance coach. I travelled to many countries around the world with Scottish and British tennis players and saw young children develop into self-reliant, independent thinking people who use those skills in their every day life to this day.
Around 10 years ago, I decided to go into the world of coach education. I have always been a bit of a geek and it suited me to go into the educational world as I love understanding the what’s, the why’s and the how of everything connected to tennis. I also love working with people and I am lucky to travel to many different countries meeting and working with new people.
I am now the director of my own tennis company and split my time between being the workforce development manager for the Judy Murray Foundation, a tutor for British Tennis and running my own consultation service with coaches, players and parents. In my spare time (of which there is little) I produce and host a podcast show called Kris Soutar’s Tennis Journal and I regularly write blogs on my website www.theservicebox.com and host a YouTube channel. I’m a busy boy but wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks Kris. So your an extremely qualified tennis coach, having coached at all levels. What is your favourite level of player to coach?
I don’t have a favourite ‘level’ of player, I have a favourite ‘type’ of player. My favourite type of player to coach is someone who genuinely loves the game of tennis and is hungry to learn how to be their best. In my experience, it is often the late starters (or late specialisers) who show this OR the people who have not been in the system from a young age. I see too many children get to their teens who are clearly caught up in the rat race of the junior competitive tennis world. It is clear they are just plodding along and don’t have that passion you need to reach your potential. So, give me someone who loves tennis and clearly wants to learn and I’m a happy coach.
You must have had some amazing experiences in performance and at grass route level, having worked a great deal with Judy Murray, what has been your favourite experience?
The bulk of my performance work was done with emerging juniors and not at the senior level. Ironically, many of our successes in Scotland have come from not having a lot of what is needed, coaches, indoor courts and time on court. This meant we didn’t have juniors jumping from one coach to the next as there were hardly any coaches to jump to. When I think back, I coached the vast majority of my players from around 8-9 until 18 years old. Some of them tried their hand on the pro tour and gained world ranking points and many of them didn’t make it that far. This is why I have an issue with coaches suggesting they ‘produce’ players. I would commit to all my players yet some moved through the ranks quickly due to who they are not who I am.
In terms of favourite coaching experiences, I would say captaining Scotland was always a massive honour for me. I love sitting on the court with players during matches and to do this while representing your country is the pinnacle in my opinion.
In terms of coach education experiences, Judy and I have worked with approximately 5,000 people around Scotland in the last 4-5 years through Judy’s Tennis on the Road programme. We travel around Scotland in a Peugeot boxer van loaded with equipment and we build workforce out of the local community. We tend to go to rural, under-privileged or places with no tennis history so this, for me, is special as people really appreciate your help. There is still too much ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in tennis and we love going to help these people. The looks on their faces when they see Judy is priceless too.
How different is being a workforce development manager to working with competitive tennis players?
It is completely different. It is a hard one to articulate. This is the easiest way for me to describe it. Performance coaching is largely selfless. It is all about putting the player (person) at the heart of everything. The coach is there to facilitate everything that helps move the player towards their potential. If I’m honest, there isn’t much gratitude from players in high performance tennis. There is too much entitlement at the highest level. However, as a coach, you suck it up and do everything in your power to help the player.
Workforce development feels much more of an even relationship. Maybe it is because you are dealing mainly with adults but I think it is more because the learning environment is different to that of a player. For one, when you are working with a coach you are largely thinking about the players who will benefit. This feels like a much healthier mindset compared to the selfish mindset of a tennis player. There is a lot more gratitude in workforce development than player development.
You recently came on a consulting trip to Ireland where you delivered fantastic training sessions to some local kids at my local club in Letterkenny and had another couple of days at Hawarden Club in Northern Ireland. What do you make of the up and coming tennis players in Ireland?
I’m not one for predicting what level a player will reach. There is enough pressure placed upon young players already. What I will say is there are many parallels between Scottish and Irish Tennis. Of course, you have similar weather and your club scene is very similar to ours. It does feel like you have less indoor tennis courts, but maybe that is a false perception. This means the bulk of the players programme will have to be based at the club. Personally, I believe this is a great thing as it means the players will not have to travel too far for their tennis and it is possible to give them an identity in relation to the club. However, it does feel like the very best players are travelling a lot for national coaching. This is a huge time and money commitment and I believe isn’t sustainable in the long-term. My suggestion would be to invest in more of a regional set up and empower the coaches at a local level.
I guess it comes back to what I mentioned above, if you invest in the players you only benefit the players but if you invest in the coaches you will benefit 1000’s of tennis players for years to come.
However, I have to say, Garry Cahill is an exceptional coach so maybe it is worth the travel………. Or get Garry out and about to the coaches and players. He has so much knowledge and experience, it seems like a shame if this isn’t passed on to the coach……..Sorry Garry ☺
Finally, with the US Open not a million miles away who are your predictions for the mens and women’s singles this year?
There is a difference between who I predict will win and who I want to win.
In the men’s open I would love for Delpo to win but I believe you would be hard pushed to look past Novak again. He has his mojo back and is awesome on hard courts.
In the women’s, it is way more open as to who could win. I’m a massive fan of Halep. I love the way she moves and, bizarrely, I like that she isn’t an emotional robot. I find those players boring to watch. However, I have a feeling a big hitter could do well. I love Keys but she is struggling with niggly injuries just now so form won’t be good coming into the open. Let’s go with Pliskova, she has to come good at some point so why not this September.
I believe the women’s game is in great shape at the moment. There are so players who could step up and do something special and the overall levels have really improved in recent years. I really hope we can attract more female coaches to attract and retain more female players into our amazing sport.
Many thanks for that Kris. It seems you have had an exceptional career on and off the court and we hope that continues for many years to come. Kris can be reached on his website , on his podcast – Kris Soutars Tennis Journal and also, please find out more about the Judy Murray Foundation.
Mark Wylam (Owner Sportsprosconnect.com)