Last weekend we set up shop at First Break’s annual LA Tennis Bash at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach. Celebrities, pro tennis players and sports lovers of all kinds were there to support the good work that First Break does. We loved meeting some amazing people who’ve had incredible careers and young players that are in the height of their game.
To tell us more about what First Break does, along with what it’s like to be a pro tennis coach we have the co-founder of First Break (& Coed model :), Marc Lucero on the blog today.
COED: Hi Marc! First off, tell us what First Break does and your involvement with the company.
MARC: First Break is a 501c3 non-profit organization based at the StubHub Center in Carson. We provide access to tennis programming for kids, as well as education. The majority of our kids come from the Carson area and are on scholarship; however we also have kids who come from all over LA because of the quality of the coaching that we provide. Our goal is to use tennis as a vehicle to teach life lessons and ultimately change lives. I serve in an advisory capacity – I spend a lot of time with co-founder Rick Buchta talking about long term strategy for growing First Break, attending meetings with potential donors or strategic partners, and also working with our great coaching staff and helping facilitate their growth too.
C: How did you first get into tennis? What is your earliest memory of playing tennis and cultivating a passion for it?
M: I got into tennis when I was 9 years old. I had actually seen this skinny kid with long hair and jean shorts (Andre Agassi) play on TV and I was intrigued. Then three friends of mine from school told my mom that there were going to take tennis lessons once a week during the summer at this Swim and Tennis Club down the street from my house and asked if my brother and I wanted to do it also, so we joined them. And I fell in love with it! It just started as something fun that I did with my friends, I remember hitting “home runs” over the fence and laughing about it in those early lessons.
C: What led you to starting First Break and how has it grown over the years?
M: First Break was founded by a few of us who have been in and around tennis our entire lives – we have been so fortunate to have had our lives enriched by our involvement in the game and felt that we wanted to try to pay it forward. The places I’ve seen around the world, the experience I’ve had, but most importantly the friends I’ve made and the things I’ve learned about myself and the characteristics that have been ingrained in me- I’m beyond grateful to my parents for supporting my tennis. The issue with tennis though is that it can be cost prohibitive, so we wanted to ensure access to any child that wants to participate and remove the financial barrier to entry. We started by going to an elementary school in Carson once a month and doing all of their PE classes that day. Eventually we were asked to come back a second day a month to do a lunchtime clinic for a class of the principal’s choosing. We would take nets, racquets, balls, and volunteers. A number of pro players also would join us at the school. For most kids, this was their first time holding a racquet. Eventually, after a year, we had grown the relationship to the point where we had kids who were willing to start classes at our site.
C: You’re a pro tennis coach too! Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to coach one player, have them develop their career with you and handle the wins and loses with the right amount of ease to progress in the right direction.
M: Its incredibly challenging. It can be daunting to have someone’s career in your hands. Athletes have a finite window and your job is to optimize their career. Professional sports are about results but maybe the biggest challenge is creating a focus on literally anything other than results. Because if you ride the ups and downs of the wins and losses, you’re going to be miserable. And you will end up making decisions that are probably not in the player’s long term best interests. I believe in focusing on a player’s long term development and that by doing the right things to make them a better player in the long term, the results will come.
C: What’s your strategy as a coach? Are you more of a “Pete Carroll”, with a holistic way of coaching, or are you more of a “Bill Belichick“, with a tough love approach?
M: In general I am much closer to a Pete Carroll personality-wise. I’m laid back and I believe that we, as coaches, should care first and foremost about the player as a person. And we need to understand them as people and foster a relationship. My job is not to be their friend but I need them to trust me and buy in, and I know that they’re more likely to buy in and to put themselves in a vulnerable position if they know that I care and that I’m withholding judgment. The things I value stay constant but the way the message is delivered may change depending on how a certain player receives information, what their motivations are, how they’ve been coached in the past, where the emotional scar tissue lies, etc. This is a topic for another day but I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what a “tough” coach really is.
C: Has coaching taught you anything specific that you practice in your daily life? Do you have any tips for people who have a specific goal that they want to accomplish that requires the dedication and hard work that a tennis pro requires?
M: I have two main thoughts on this and one ancillary thought. The first is the value of planning; goals are good but their purpose is defining where you want to get to in order for you to make the plan on how to get there, which is what really matters. Diving into the process is where the good stuff happens. The second is that anyone can try hard physically. It doesn’t take much to do that. But how engaged mentally are you? Are you learning from feedback? Are you noticing patterns or trends? How much of your decision making on a daily basis corresponds with what you’re trying to do? That is what I think separates people. The related thought I have comes from talking to friends about their own work situations- I think the vast majority of people in professional industries are poorly managed. There is so much fear of failure, misplaced expectations, and lack of worthwhile communication. It seems that very few companies are truly optimizing human productivity. This is an area I hope to explore at some point.
C: How do you stay healthy while you travel so much? What’s a day of food and exercise while you’re traveling for an important match?
M: I have to prioritize my own well-being on the road. Otherwise my value to the player I coach goes down. If i’m not exercising I can get cranky, I can get tired, I can get negative or nitpicky, and that kind of coach is no fun to be around. So I try to make time to work out, and the workouts will vary according to the city that I’m in. I know what cities have Soul Cycle and will make sure I pack my bike shoes. I know which tournaments have gyms I can go to early the AM or which cities have gyms I like in town. I will also try to do mindfulness practice in the mornings, this really helps me start the day the right way. Food can be tough also depending on where but I try to eliminate the variables when I can. I travel with my Magic Bullet and Laird Superfood Creamer w/MCTs and ghee, and I make my version of bulletproof coffee in the morning. Lunch is usually at the courts, and they always have at least a salad bar, which is fine. Dinner varies city to city but we can usually find somewhere thats good. We go to the same cities year after year for the most part so by this point I have a pretty good idea of where I like to have dinner at most tour stops.
C: Do you have any pre or post match rituals to get you ready for what’s ahead or to wind down from high adrenaline?
M: Before a big match I have to work out hard. SoulCycle, weights, hot yoga, something that punishes me. Because this burns off anxious or nervous energy- I need to be calm when I see her before the match and talk about game plan etc. I don’t want her to pick up any cues from me other than I’m totally calm, prepared, and that I believe in her. Winding down is a lot harder, especially if she plays a night match that goes late or if its a big match. I will try to take some quiet time in the locker room afterwards to collect my thoughts and slow down, and a lot of times I’ll avoid my phone for awhile. If its a big match, the phone is nonstop and just creates anxiety that I don’t need to deal with. In general it can be pretty tough to wind down after the night matches. You’re amped up, you eat late, by the time you finish everything you need to do to wrap up that day and then prepare for the next one, its tough.
C: We have to throw it in there– do you have any favorite Coed items while you travel?
M: I take the tees and the shorts on every trip. They’re perfect for my on the road workouts; I like that they don’t get super heavy when I start sweating. Plus if i’m in NYC or DC and walking through the city to get to a Soul Cycle or something, the clothes look good. I also like how the shirts make my arms look haha.
C: What has been your greatest accomplishment as a pro tennis coach?
M: This is a tough question. I’m most proud as a coach when I see the players being quality human beings in real life; dealing with kids and autographs, acknowledging the people who they don’t “need” to, listening to how they answer questions, and when they stand up for what they believe in; this is what I think matters. Anything on court kind of pales in comparison I think.
C: Where can people find you and how can people get involved with First Break?
M: @first1break @marclucero