Exclusive – Merlin Van de Braam on the modernisation of the LTA’s coaching courses

Merlin Van de Braam

Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association has set out on an ambitious mission to revolutionise their coaching qualification courses, with new programmes already being rolled out for thousands of candidates.

Following the inspirational successes for British tennis in 2021 that has included Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open win, Cameron Norrie’s victory at the Indian Wells Masters in October, as well as huge wins for Joe Salisbury in doubles events and enduring success for British wheelchair competitors, the LTA are keen to tap into the new enthusiasm for the game at all levels.

One key area of focus has been within the LTA’s coach education programmes, with the pathway from Level 1 to Level 5 recalibrated after an extensive consultation with those involved in the game at all levels.

Tennis365 spoke exclusively with Merlin Van de Braam, Head of Coach Development and Support at LTA, as he guided us through the evolution of the coaching programme overseen by the organisation.

The LTA Assistant (Level 1) prepares coaching talent to work with young players

Can you take us through the journey of change for the LTA coaching programme?

About two and a half years ago, we did an industry insight exercise to look at what was good, where we could improve and what were the key challenges moving forward. We listened to coaches and asked them what they needed from those working with them on court, and we spoke to employers of coaches to ensure we develop courses and products that serve the needs of the industry. This was a systematic review to understand what employers wanted and from that, we have put a pathway (which includes Level 1 LTA Assistant) together that fits their needs.

What has changed on a Level 1 coaching course compared to the start of 2021?

The most common role for an Assistant coach (Level 1) is essentially the following key points; being a great communicator, inspiring and motivating the players on court and giving support to the lead coach as they implement the lesson plan and structure of the session. Communication, demonstration and feeding were all key aspects of what our insight showed was required so we have put that at the core of the LTA Assistant Level 1 qualification with the video assessment element of the course focusing on those skills, which accounts for 50 per-cent of the final mark.

Why did you need to change the coaching courses?

The industry insight suggested that 68 per-cent said it was too easy to pass Levels 1 and 2. There was a real perception that you could just move through the course, fill in the forms properly and you would get through fine and that’s how I felt when I did the Level 1 course myself to get a flavour for what the LTA were offering at the time. Also, the previous course was not related to what you will do when you pass and that is the main change of what we have brought in now. This qualification is not just a stepping stone to being a full-time coach. It’s a qualification to become an assistant first and foremost. In the old Level 1 course, you were assessed on leading a tennis session, but that is not what the role of an Assistant will be when you get this qualification and are out on-court in the field.

Merlin Van de Braam
Merlin Van de Braam

What can candidates expect if they sign up for an LTA Assistant (Level 1) course now?

We have bolstered the curriculum through our LTA Learn platform that has invaluable coursework and video content on there for students. In the past, you could fill in forms and say you have done certain tasks, but you didn’t need to provide evidence on video so that is a key area we have changed. The industry research told us that communication, demonstration and feeding were the areas that were weak in the previous Level 1 and 2 courses, so we have focused on making them a priority now. We want learners to have an advanced knowledge of the basics, not a basic knowledge of the advanced within the LTA Assistant.

How important is it to get coaching standards at a high standard in park and club tennis?

There are times when I walk past park courts, see coaching sessions going on and feel deflated because they lack quality, are not inspirational, and as a result are probably not helping to grow the game. The sessions are just ticking over and not really developing nor engaging the participant in the right way. Another challenge we have is that in some instances, the coaching we see in parks and in clubs right now might actually hinder a player’s development. By that I mean we have a lot of overly technically coaching in this country. Culturally it is something that has been around for years.

People always talk about and want to change technique, yet we know now that best practice coaching is actually tactically driven. You learn how to play the game and then get technical advice on how to achieve the tactical outcome you want. You might look good if you have the right technique, but you won’t know how to play or win matches. There is a lot of work for us to do to permeate this culture change to every active coach (and participant!) in the country.

Do you feel the success of Emma Raducanu, Cameron Norrie and others in British tennis this year can inspire new candidates to move into coaching?

We hope so and the evidence from the numbers on our coaching qualification courses encourages belief that there is new enthusiasm in British tennis. The number of people who have been on a Level 1 coaching course is more than ever this year and that includes the period of lockdown. So without any courses in January and February of this year, we still had the biggest number of assistants qualifying this year and that is so encouraging. Getting involved in coaching as a parent or enthusiast and helping out at your local venue is actually not as hard as you might think. Our courses are build with lots of online work so you can do it when it suits you. It’s just two days over a weekend in most cases, plus some home work, to get qualified formally as an LTA Assistant at Level 1.

For more information on LTA coaching courses, click HERE