Coaching for Life, by Paul Annacone: Book review from Roger Federer’s ex-coach

Tennis coach Paul Annacone has seen it all. He’s been at the side of two the sport’s greatest ever male players: Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Under Annacone’s tutelage, both men achieved a level of excellence rarely seen anywhere in the sporting world.

And Coaching for Life offers a fascinating insight into this excellence that young players can take on board.

Now, this is not a memoirs or anecdotal blow-by-blow from Annacone, unveiling the hidden and salacious secrets of the world’s biggest sporting icons. No. This is a useful guide for budding players and coaches alike to transfer skills learned on the court into real life. And also improve your game.

Annacone, it seems, was born to be a coach. Speaking to the former tennis pro from his California base, he explains why Coaching for Life is, he believes, a worthy guide for those learning the game.

“Being a fan of excellence it’s been fun for me to learn from some of the greats. From Rodger, Pete and Tim and how they go through their processes to see how they deal with adversity and pressure,” he said.

“If I could put an umbrella over all of it, it would be to embrace the adversity and challenges that you go through.”

What stands out from this book is, of course, the anecdotes from Annacone’s time as a coach of Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Tim Henman.

All three have had their lives picked apart over the years, with their every movement tracked by media and fans alike.

But Annacone is not here to deliver celebrity tittle-tattle. He uses Sampras, Henman and Federer as vindications for his coaching strategy, which is set out per chapter through the book.

To understand one’s potential you must also grasp and manage expectations, which is why Sampras was able to win an eighth Wimbledon title in 2000 despite suffering a career-threatening shin injury. Instead of going to the extremes — either withdrawing from the tournament or going headlong into it — Annacone describes how careful, calculated management got Sampras into the final.

Time and patience is the overarching premise of Annacone’s philosophy.

As Federer says: “Paul was the master at constructing, managing and executing the process.”

And that is why this book is so valuable to those either seeking to become a coach or have children developing into players. Too often we hear stories of coaches — mainly fathers — drilling their kin to boredom and exhaustion to almost force the game into them. Annacone concedes repetition and monotony is part of professional tennis — you have to hit thousands of balls to perfect a forehand and maybe never will. But he also stresses the vitality of understanding, of empathy.

The best coaches are hard task masters but empathetic to the players’ needs. We’ve seen that in the relationship Andy Murray had with Ivan Lendl. Annacone knows superstars are not made overnight and preaches the idea that a coach is the nudge in the right direction which is all that’s needed.

Coaching for Life is not a guide on how to hit a tennis ball. It’s not a strategy book for taking down an opponent. It’s a self-improvement book with tennis at its core.

Coaching for Life, by Paul Annacone. Irie Books