Shell Shocked: Part 1

The Making of a Leader

By liz odera

Dominique was very excited that first afternoon, as she signed in and went on to the locker room to prepare for her first tennis session at her new job. Dominique noticed that there was only one other female coach listed on the club noticeboard amongst the 14 coaches at the club. She had arrived early and had the advantage to watching everyone at work, from the clients at different ages and levels of play, and met the other coaches as they confidently carried on with their instructions. She was introduced to some of them by the Head Professional as they left the court, and they seemed pleasant enough. but she felt ready, to take on her role as a professionally certified coach, and confidently stepped onto the court, together with two male coaches to run a session for Academy 1 players. These were 12 intermediate level kids of 7-10 years old, who had grown through the club system. Immediately after the warm ups, James, the lead coach, separated the children into groups under each coach, and the pre-planned programming began.

Dominique was accused of insubordination….

The instructions were explicit, requiring the coaches to work on preparing the players for Team Tennis that would begin in two weeks. Dominique quickly noticed that the interest of the children often flagged during session, unless there was a fun game session on, which included “King of the Court” and other little fun court activities. Dominique’s group of 4 kids, Daniel, Josephine, Allya and Habib, were of varying abilities: though they all agreed to play tournaments, they were unable to keep scores consistently, and could not hold a rally count of more than 6 from the baseline.  In addition, only one child, Daniel had a consistent overhead serve, while the other three could barely toss the ball. Puzzled, she looked across at the other courts and noticed that the adjacent court had definitely stronger players, while the far court had players of mixed ability like hers, and quickly realized that this was going to be her first test as a coach at the club.

Dominique noticed that they were all using green balls, and quickly reached out for a basket of orange balls and used them for the remaining part of the session. She also made adjustments to the session plan as she went along, to cater for the level of the majority of the children, making sure that they had fun and they worked. By the end of the session, all the kids were smiling, and, as she escorted them from the court, she met their parents briefly and introduced herself, giving a word of encouragement, and, when they were leaving, a couple of parents smiled and waved at her.

That evening, she got a call from the Head Pro, requesting that she attend a meeting at the club, at 9.00 a.m. the next morning. He would not say what it was about, but asked that she keep time, as the day’s schedule would be quite busy. Dominique arrived a few minutes early, and was shown into the Head Pro’s office, where she found James also seated. She smiled at said a polite “hallo”, but James ignored her, staring at an object at the end of the room.

The next 20 minutes was a really big shock for Dominique. She was accused of being insubordinate by not following the instructions for the tennis session as planned, and was expected to immediately apologize. She was expected, in future, to ask permission before making any adjustments. Dominique tried to explain her reasons, but the meeting was cut short because the Head Pro had a management meeting scheduled.

Dominique left the office that day shell shocked, and continued the rest of that month, following every session plan as written to minute detail, even when she knew that there were areas that did not work. She felt frustrated, but didn’t want to lose her job: she had just received her first pay-check and the money was good. However, she was very unhappy and felt that perhaps it was time to take some action.

What do you think went wrong and how would you advise Dominique?

(photo by pexels-philip-justin-mamelic-4469778)