Exclusive: Meet the Founder of Smash Tennis Academy – Coach De En

With Coach De En’s affable personality, it is no wonder that he gets along well with his students. His savoir-faire helps him easily manoeuvre along the intricacies of human relationships, aiding him greatly when coaching students. Swiftly adapting his teaching to match his students’ preferred communication styles and skill levels, Coach De En helps his students take their skill sets to greater heights. 

In this Q&A session, Coach De En openly discusses his tennis journey, reflecting on the challenges he has faced, the fulfilling moments he has encountered, his teaching methodology, and his coaching aspirations.

Without further ado, let us begin the conversation.

1. At what age did you first start playing tennis?    

In Year 1 of Polytechnic, I watched the anime series Prince of tennis and I got hooked on tennis. There was a CCA orientation fair. I came across the tennis booth and I got so excited. I dragged my best friend to join it with me. And that is the story of how my tennis journey first started. 

Recognizing the potential my friends and I had, the coach of Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) invited my friends and I to join the competitive team. As I became more proficient at the sport, I was chosen as the vice captain of the team in year 3 of polytechnic. 

I remember being so obsessed with tennis. I looked forward to going to school to play tennis. Before going for tennis training, I would complete my work in school. My friends and I played till the lights went off at 9:30pm. There used to be McDonalds in my school, and i remember that my friend would rush over and beg the workers not to close the shutters so we could get supper. Those were the good old times. (laughs and reminisces.) 

2. What inspired you to start a tennis academy?

After I graduated from polytechnic, I started coaching part time. My mum was my first student. She told me that I was a good coach as I was patient and knew how to communicate and correct her technique. She strongly encouraged me to pursue tennis coaching as a career, and I decided to take up her advice. After teaching part time, I had a vision to do this with other like-minded coaches and so I started Smash. 

The pioneer team of coaches consisted of some of my buddies from the NYP tennis team. We were all school team players and wanted to teach tennis. 

Subsequently as Smash expanded, juniors from the NYP tennis team joined. After 1-2 years of operation , more potential coaches found out about Smash  and requested to join. 

3. What’s a day in your life like as a tennis coach?

I usually get up at 6am. I get ready, eat my breakfast and review lesson plans. I then get my equipment ready. My lessons usually start around 7am or 8am and typically last 2 hours. I travel down, do my lessons, and chit chat with students after class. 

By the time my lesson ends, it is already noon. I will go for lunch and get  some heavy work done. This includes Finance, admin and marketing. I also use this time to catch up with my coaches. 

Afterwards, I usually have late afternoon lessons from about 4 to 5pm . If it is a kids lesson, it usually takes about 2 hours. Lastly,  I have evening lesons from 7-9pm.

When my lessons are over, I proceed to have dinner. My time after dinner is precious, and I  take the time to review how the day went, plan and get ready for the next day. I also unwind and spend time with my family members. 

4. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of tennis?

Playing the drums, spending time with family, catching up with friends and learning new things!

Smash Tennis Coach De En photo

5. What are some of your core values that you live by when teaching tennis?

At Smash, we view tennis lessons as more than just lessons. We aim to translate that into values on the court by giving our students and coaches a purpose. 

If I had to pick the 3 most important values, I would say it is to foster a community spirit. Our vision is to bring people together, from all walks of life to allow them to bond over tennis. When we are together, we move further and have more fun.

We also believe that every coach has a role to contribute and they should take ownership. Each of them has a vital role to play in Smash Tennis. We also have, passion and energy. We hope to deliver our passion and energy on the court for our students. 

6. Beyond tennis skills, what life lessons or values do you aim to instil in your students through coaching?

I believe that tennis teaches students values – students have to be accountable, and they cannot blame anyone but themselves for their own mistakes. They also have to learn to own up to their mistakes. This is the first step to becoming a good player. 

When playing in matches, it is important for them to learn how to be respectful to their opponents in their mannerisms and react well to calls. 

I also think that honesty is learned in tennis. Since the matches usually don’t have a referee, students have to make their own calls. Sometimes, when the ball is out, they have to admit that they have lost a point, and this teaches them integrity. 

Tennis also improves sportsmanship as students learn to accept things, reflect and move on from it, and became better sportsmen. 

When students are not used to losing, they have to deal with whatever comes their way. We can’t cushion them too much, and have to let them accept failures. This helps them to build character and attitude even at a young age.

7. How would you describe your own teaching methodology?

I would say that I adapt my teaching style to the students that I am teaching. I don’t believe that one size fits all, so I usually have a chat with my students before the lesson, and ask them about their objectives for learning tennis. This is to help them achieve their goals and make sure that our goals are aligned. 

I would say that my teaching style is people-centric – I definitely believe in building rapport and momentum with my students first. Once comfortable, I believe that it will be easier for them to open up to me, and we can work better together. Once in a while, I will check in with them and share their progress with them just to let them know how they are doing. I will also ask them how they are finding it so far, and make small adjustments to keep our goals aligned. This is the time where they can also share with me how I can improve as a coach too.

There are  3 things that I always include in my lesson objectives. Firstly, to have fun and enjoy the lesson! The next goal would be to keep fit. Last but not least, students should always learn something from the lesson. 

8. How do you tailor your coaching methods to different skill levels and age groups?

For my younger students, the goal is to have fun and challenging drills and to push them to think and get out of their comfort zone. With experienced players, I usually focus on high-intensity drills and tennis tactics. 

Smash Tennis Coach De En photo

9. Can you walk us through a typical training session with your students? How do you usually prepare for lessons?

I usually start with warmups to get the blood flowing. I have high-intensity warm-ups that are tennis-specific. The warmups also lead to the main activity for lessons. This helps to kill 2 birds with one stone. I then tweak the lessons depending on the student. Smash has a syllabus that is catered to all levels. We have a starter syllabus,  Intermediate and advanced syllabus to make sure that we meet the needs of all our students. 

10. When faced with challenges or setbacks, how do you support your students?

I think many students use tennis as an outlet to channel their negative emotions. These can be frustrations, fears, and unhappiness. I hope to be able to provide this channel for them to release their emotions.

11. Besides the challenges, what aspects of coaching bring you the most joy or fulfilment on a daily basis?

Tennis helps to build confidence. When students feel like they are improving, they gain confidence and they learn how to be more confident too in general. Learning something new really puts the student at a vulnerable position, but when they manage to master the skill, they gain confidence in all aspects of their lives, not just in tennis. 

12. How do you keep the atmosphere fun and motivating for your students during training sessions?

I think it is important to be aware of the level that my students are at. I incorporate a growth mindset when teaching them. I give them exercises within their level but also add in challenges inside, It takes time to get better. Learning tennis is a marathon, not a sprint.

We have to understand that we are there to aid them in long-term progress. We try to keep it fun by injecting fun drills, and humour into the lesson. Make jokes from time to time, and keep the students engaged. Also give them assignments to do so that they are accountable for their progress, so that they are in tune with what is happening.

For kids, we also Include their parents. Parents have to be part of the equation. When the kids go back home, they spend time with their parents. Parents are important in setting the tone, checking in with their children, and encouraging and motivating them. 

Smash Tennis Coach De En photo

13. Can you share a funny or memorable moment from your time running Smash Tennis Academy?

When I got married recently,  many of my students were happy for me. Some of my students sent me gifts and angbaos. It felt like they were my friends instead of my students. I also sent them photos of my wedding ceremony, and we looked at the photos of my wedding together during lessons. It really feels like a close-knit tennis community here in Smash. 

14. If you could organize a themed exhibition match at your academy, what would the theme be and who would be the participants?

I would want to throw a glow-in-the-dark tennis exhibition match. This could be indoors or outdoors. The participants should wear light-coloured clothing, and not smile too much because their teeth will glow in the dark too. (laughs)

As for the participants, I will invite my students and coaches. They are more important than any celebrities out there. 

15. How do you take care of yourself mentally and physically as a tennis player?

I don’t feel a need to decompress after a long day of work because I enjoy what I do, and I absorb it. It may be tiring physically and mentally, but I get a strong sense of satisfaction from it, and I find it rewarding. 

With that being said,  I do enjoy spending time with people that matter, to meet my emotional needs. I also enjoy spending time alone by myself sometimes to unwind.

16. Can you share an example of a creative or unconventional coaching method that resonated with your students?

Sure! I was coaching a couple, and I realised that it happened to be Valentine’s day on that day. I thought it was nice that they were learning tennis together,  and I wanted to use tennis to get them to bond together. 

So on the spur of the moment, I came up with some couple rivalry drills . It was pure fun, and they were enjoying themselves immensely.

People usually think of Valentine’s Day as buying roses and chocolates. But to me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be spent that way. Just doing things together is also a nice way to spend time together. It’s not about purposely making this an occasion to spend time together, it’s really just about enjoying and making full use of the time you spend together at any moment. 

Smash Tennis Coach De En photo

17. How do you cultivate a sense of belonging and camaraderie within your coaching community?

Smash Tennis usually organises get-togethers for coaches every 3 months. We bond over tennis and play matches together. 

The coaches in Smash often keep in touch with one another, and look for me when they need help. I also make it a point to have regular check-ins with the coaches as I believe that staff welfare is important. 

18. The tennis business is very competitive in Singapore. How do you ensure that Smash Tennis Academy is always staying updated with the tennis scene?

We provide quality instruction and teachings and are up to date with the game. I think having sound teachings – and ensuring that all coaches have the correct technique is important. Hence, when coaches first join Smash Tennis, we require them to go through a Smash certification course. This is to standardise the teachings that we give to our students. 

We also focus on strong rapport and connection with students. Our coaches go the extra mile to ensure that our students are comfortable and their needs are well attended to. We don’t focus too much on the competition, we just provide the best service that we can give to our clients.

19. How does Smash Tennis Academy incorporate technology or innovation into its coaching methods?

We provide ball machine rentals to students who want to work on reinforcing muscle memory and gaining better strokes. This is a supplementary service. 

We also have video analysis where we take videos of students and provide analysis of our students’ playing so that they know how they can better improve. Last but not least, we provide video summaries so that students can recap what they learnt in the lesson. 

20. What other plans do you have for Smash Tennis Academy in the future?

We will be continuing in the direction that we have been heading, which is to build a strong tennis community for adults and children. 

There is this African proverb that I learnt in the army, and it has deeply resonated with me. It says, ‘’If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. ‘’    
Likewise, my vision for Smash Tennis Academy is to build a strong tennis community, for adults and children. We hope that Smash Tennis Academy will be a vibrant and energetic community where students can play, learn, and grow together.

Smash Tennis Coach De En photo featured

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