The 'Coaching Dossier' takes you inside the lives and personalities that make up the WTA Coaching Circuit. In this edition, get to know Chinese Taipei's Alan Ma, who is using his wealth of experience to lead an international team of coaches at the Star River PTC in Guangzhou, China.
WTA Insider: How did you first come to pick up a racquet?
Ma: I basically grew up on the tennis court. My father was an avid tennis player who played almost every day. I would go to the tennis club almost every day after school ever since I can remember.
WTA Insider: What do you love about the sport?
Ma: Tennis is a game with a long and rich history. A truly international sport that is played all around the world, it is also a game that can be played at any age. You can play and enjoy tennis until you’re 100 years old.
Moreover, tennis imparts important life values to its players. It teaches persistence and focus, because tennis is a game with no time limit. You can fight back and win no matter how far behind you are in the score.
And the most interesting and challenging part of tennis is that you don’t always win a point because you hit a great shot, or lose a point because you hit a poor shot. It’s a game that requires you to just stay focused on playing the best you can each point and letting the result happen. Tennis is the only sport where you can win more points than your opponent and still lose the match.
WTA Insider: What was your pathway into becoming a tennis coach?
Ma: Simple. I went to Temple University in Philadelphia. During one college summer vacation, I taught tennis and made more money than working as an intern somewhere. Bad decision.
“Bad decision” was just a sarcastic remark, since I was a Finance and International Business major and did work with a financial firm briefly after I graduated from university, I decided I loved coaching tennis more.
WTA Insider: What was your first tennis coaching job?
Ma: I was 19 years old and it was the summer before going to college. I worked at a club in Chicago - learned how to maintain Har-Tru courts and was a hitting partner for a few young players from the Chicago area. One of them was a very talented young girl named Katrina Adams.
WTA Insider: Do you have a coaching philosophy? If so what is it?
Ma: I have two primary beliefs. First, teamwork. I always enjoy having a team working together towards common goals for players.
For example, as of right now our team consists of 14 coaches from 10 countries. I don’t have set rules on how a player should play or hit balls, and I prefer for our coaches to have different points of view, approaching development from various angles. I believe this is the best way to serve our players because each player is unique physically, emotionally, and culturally. The key is to have respect for different points of view, and see our diversity as our strength.
Second, our goal is to maximize each player’s potential, both as a player and as a person. We aim to help each player find their strength and focus on learning and changing, not just on results.
WTA Insider: Can you talk more about your team setup?
Ma: I started a team called Star River Professional Tennis Club in Guangzhou, China in 2012. It's not an academy since we don’t have schooling. We primarily work with professional players and our coaching team and players are from many countries and regions.
As of May 2020, our team includes:
Tim Nichols (USA) - Zhu Lin (China)
Goran Tosic (Serbia) - Zheng Saisai (China)
Mark Gealer (England) - Magda Linette (Poland)
Roberto Antonini (Italy) - Zarina Diyas (Kazakhstan)
Ernest Zurabyan (Armenia/Russia) - Liang En-Shuo (Chinese Taipei)
More coaches: Teppei Kaneshige (Japan), Izo Zunic (Croatia), Fabian Cosmao (France), David Gilles (France), Carlo Billardo (Italy), and Alejandro Vial (Argentina)
More players: Xun Fang-Ying (China), Moyuka Uchijima (Japan), Zhang Ying (China), Ng Kwan-Yau (Hong Kong China).
WTA Insider: You have worked with players of different age and skill levels. What is the difference/key to coaching a young up-and-comer vs. an established WTA pro?
Ma: A player’s game consists of four components: Tactical, Mental, Physical and Technical.
The first two, tactical and mental, are more about education, an inside-out approach required is required. The second two, physical and technical, is just about spending the time, the repetition to build the skill sets. An outside-in approach is required.
With a young up-and-comer, education is a big part of the daily routines. Having a clear vision of where they want to go and what are their responsibilities is vital to their long term development.
Also they need to know their responsibility to the game itself. We are firm believers in this: appreciate their opportunities and look for ways to contribute and give back to the game.
With more seasoned pro players, other than continue to find new ways to help them to improve their overall game, it is also about helping them find balance with their high-pressure professional life and their personal life. We do our best to alleviate the daily tedious work like hotel booking, visa applications, treatment, equipment, etc. so they just focus on improving their game and have time for themselves.
WTA Insider: What is a “good day” for you as a coach?
Ma: Making an impact and making a difference on a player's life.
WTA Insider: What is a “bad day” for you as a coach?
Ma: Under-delivering on my effort to help a player.
WTA Insider: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career as a tennis coach?
Ma: Never underestimate the power of persistence and hard work. Respect different points of view from other coaches or parents. And always, always appreciate our opportunity to be a part of something amazing.
WTA Insider: What do you enjoy about being a coach on the WTA Tour?
Ma: Helping players realize their potential and dreams, and the opportunity to visit many great cities in the world.