A private coach is a 'big mental advantage'

Updated: June 17, 2004, 3:17 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

Marc De Hous is the coach of Belgium's Kim Clijsters, the former No. 1-ranked player in the world and a finalist in three of the past five Grand Slam singles events.

Clijsters, 21, lost this year's Australian Open final in three sets to Justine Hennin-Hardenne but captured back-to-back titles in the Paris Indoor and Antwerp. A tendon injury in her left wrist and subsequent surgery forced her to miss the French Open and Wimbledon, but she is expected to return to the WTA Tour later this summer. Clijsters will be at Wimbledon, cheering on her fiancÚ, Lleyton Hewitt, who is the No. 7 seed.

De Hous, in his third season of coaching Clijsters, graciously took some time this week to answer some coaching questions from ESPN.com's Greg Garber via e-mail.

ESPN.com: What was the most important aspect of your role in coaching Kim to the No. 1 ranking?

Marc De Hous: Kim had just broken up with a coach she had for six years, starting at her local club, afterwards at the federation centre and then privately, so she went through a difficult time. She tried other coaches but still wasn't happy.

Together with a private physiotherapist, we created a certain mental stability again. She had the feeling that she had a good team around her. A big advantage I had was that I knew Kim from the [Belgium] federation centre, I had practiced with her and I had travelled with her two times, a couple of years before I started working with her professionally, and she won a few tournaments. So she knew me, I knew her, and most of all, we got along very well.

Although she had been ranked No. 3 and dropped to No. 9 when I started working with her in August 2002, I still believed that she had the capability to become the number 1 player in the world because she has both the physical and the mental strength, two very important qualities in today's tennis.

ESPN.com: How do you integrate your philosophy with her tremendous talents without compromising either?

De Hous: A very good question because a lot of coaches do maybe more damage than good, meaning that they want to change their player too much, technically or tactically. Players of that level don't like those kind of changes because they feel comfortable the way they play.

This is what I did when I started working with Kim: I was convinced Kim only needed to "change" a few things in her way of playing, and with "change" I mean enlarge her arsenal of weapons. So she felt good because I wasn't going to change her game, and I felt good because she was committed to make those few enlargements. In the end, I think it was the right way for Kim, and she made very good results.

ESPN.com: How do you keep a relationship fresh when you spend so much time together?

De Hous: There's no special secret for that in any kind of relationship. Both our personalities match well; we get along very well. Then it's all about commitment, about you as a coach believing in your player and your player believing in you. It's about both doing your job the way it should be done and then you'll get respect from one another.

ESPN.com: Some top players (Roger Federer and the Williams sisters) do without technical advisors -- could they be better if they had some help in that area?

De Hous: There'll always be players who'll do without coaches -- although I've heard Federer is looking for a long-term coach again.

My experience is that most of the players like to have a private coach. It's mentally a big advantage to have someone who looks after you, who'll prepare you during practice, who'll support you during and gives you feedback after a match. Someone who helps you focus on your game only (not on arranging practice courts, practice balls, hotel reservations and plane tickets, etc.).

There is no general rule. Some do without, some with and some players only have a coach from time to time like going to the gas station. Every player has to find out what's best for him/her, and what he/she can afford of course!

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.