The 'Coaching Dossier' takes you inside the lives and personalities that make up the WTA Coaching Circuit. In this edition, get to know Croatia's Izo Zunic, who has developed his own philosophy for handling adversity on the court and off of it.
WTA Insider: How did you first come to pick up a racquet?
Zunic: First time I started playing tennis was because of friends when I was 10 years old. At that time in Croatia, tennis was big because of Goran Ivanisevic and his success in tennis became popular.
My friends wanted to play tennis, and I just wanted to hang out with my friends, so I started to play too. And, I started loving it! I started enjoying the practices, group practices. At that time, it was not so much individual, it was more in the groups. You would come with other friends and have the groups in the morning and afternoon. You’re playing against each other and the weekends were for the tournaments.
So, it was great, practicing over the week and over the weekend you go and travel somewhere. That was also a great point as to why I feel in love – going to tournaments, trips in the car, traveling, playing soccer on the side with people from other cities, playing tennis. Every second week was something so rich with enjoyment. That is why I really fell in love with tennis.
I also really loved competing. Sometimes I would go crazy and be emotional but that is a part of it where you learn a lot. But I loved competing and climbing up the ranks. That is how I started tennis and fell in love with tennis.
WTA Insider: What do you love about the sport?
Zunic: Well, there are so many things. I love that it challenges you at every level: mental, physical, emotional, tactical. It pushes you to develop certain traits that help you not only in tennis but in life. Such as hard work, self-discipline, gratitude, perseverance, grit, and many more.
It pushes you to become a problem-solver, and for me that is a great skill to have in life. For me, tennis is a great way to optimize human potential.
WTA Insider: What was your first coaching job?
Zunic: It started my last year as an assistant coach at my college. One year I didn’t play so I became the assistant coach and that is where I really fell in love with coaching. It intrigued me with how to deal with people, how to help them, inspire them, help them see themselves better than they are, basically paint the picture of who they could become.
Between undergrad and grad school, that is where I got a job at being a club coach. That is where I realized maybe I want to move toward the high-performance side of tennis. After that I got the assistant coach position in grad school, same role I did in undergrad.
After that I decided to try to be a high-performance coach, move to Florida, work in some academies, and then I got the chance to work with Ani Mijacika and went into the ITF and WTA circuits and got to work with different players.
When I was working with Magda Linette, that is where I met Alan Ma, who really took us, especially me, under his wing. He helped me with my coaching and introduced me to the Star River Professional Tennis Club team, where I met 20-30 coaches who have been there and are high-level coaches. That is where I really learned a lot, through Alan Ma and all the coaches there, different philosophies and approaches.
WTA Insider: Do you have a coaching philosophy? If so what is it?
Zunic: My coaching philosophy is to guide and help my players develop a growth mindset and what I call an ‘ImP’ attitude towards all the things they face as a pro tennis player, to help them become more self-aware and better problem solvers on and off the court.
The ‘ImP’ attitude is something that I came up with, researching all the successful people across the board (athletes, politicians, businessman). Through Carol Dweck’s book where she explains the difference between a fixed vs. growth mindset, I believe successful people are more in a growth state of mind. And for that, they have a special attitude, which I called an ‘ImP’ attitude. ImP stands for ‘I’m Possible’, so when you see the word ‘IMPOSSIBLE’, when you lower the letter “M” you get ImPossible.
I want to inspire people to change their perspective. The moment you change the way you see things, the things you see change. So instead of trying to change things, you change yourself.
That is the philosophy of the ImP attitude. It is about a change of perspective, to see the opportunity where others see a problem, to see learning where others see failing. You have the four habits and I put them together, once you follow those habits then you acquire the ImP attitude; it is all based on the Stoic philosophy and that is how I see it.
WTA Insider: Has your coaching philosophy changed over the course of your career?
Zunic: The core of the philosophy did not change, but I believe everybody’s philosophy evolves over time. You’re getting older, more experienced, work with more players, see different things, and I believe my philosophy will keep evolving the more I’m learning and seeing but the core will stay the same.
The most important thing for me is to maintain a growth state of mind. Also, I learned what not to say and how to approach the same project but with a different approach. Your approach towards teaching, towards doing something changes. How do you apply the philosophy in that new time or situation?
WTA Insider: What is a “good day” for you as a coach?
Zunic: A good day for me is every day, no matter if it is a match or practice, as long as we gave it our all, left it all out there on the practice court or match court. Or if we are traveling, conversation, whatever it is we do, as long as we gave ourselves completely. Then we can sleep with a successful feeling of accomplishment having given everything that you had.
You will not get to the goal every time you step on the court, but by giving everything you have, that is success for me.
WTA Insider: What is a “bad day” for you as a coach?
Zunic: There are two situations that represent a bad day for me. One, God forbid, someone in the team or the player gets injured.
The second thing is if we lose perspective. If we lose a perspective on what we have or what we did that day, how fortunate we are being involved in the world of tennis. Once you lose that perspective then there are many bad days. But if you don’t lose perspective and gratitude for what we do every single day then there should not be a bad day.
WTA Insider: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career as a tennis coach?
Zunic: Tennis is teaching me nonstop. Tennis taught me to really enjoy challenges, embrace the failures, and to grow stronger because of them. It also taught me not to take myself too seriously.
WTA Insider: What do you enjoy about being a coach on the WTA Tour?
Zunic: Being part of the team where we all help our player to be the best she can be. Help her optimize her tennis while together creating a common goal, tackling challenges, while competing across the world, it doesn’t get better than that.
Plus, while on tour you create some great friendships, you learn many new things, you see different cultures, visit different cities. It is really something special.