By Greg Bach
When Patrick McEnroe steps on the court to work with players of all ages and abilities at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in Manhattan, his pre-practice conversations veer from forehands, footwork, and other aspects of the sport he loves.
Instead, the former professional player, acclaimed ESPN broadcaster, podcast host of Holding Court, and dad of three focuses on connecting with the kids.
He’s all about listening, acknowledging, and caring.
And impacting young lives.
“My message to coaches out there is always listen to the kids,” says McEnroe, who carved out a terrific professional playing career and was a long-time U.S. Davis Cup captain. “Who knows what is going on in a child’s life at home or school? So the first thing I say to them is ‘How was school today?’ or ‘What’s going on with you? How are you doing today?’ Then right away they know that you – as a coach, a teacher, an authority figure – cares about them and are interested in them.”
That sets the tone for a productive practice session while constructing those all-important coach-player relationships that can change lives.
“Recently, I’ve been teaching a few more lessons to kids that I wouldn’t consider to be high level tennis players and it’s been so rewarding,” McEnroe says. “Just the other day I got feedback from a parent who told me her daughter came home in such a good mood and she felt like she learned a lot and was asking when she could have another lesson. These are not parents who are thinking their kids are going to be a U.S. Open player. They just want them to do something positive, to feel better about themselves, and to grow as a person. So this, I think in a lot of ways, is even more rewarding for me than working for 10 years as the Davis Cup captain, which was an amazing experience in and of itself.”
POPULAR PODCAST: HOLDING COURT
Last March, McEnroe came down with COVID and quarantined in the family’s basement to keep his wife – Broadway singer Melissa Errico – and their three kids safe.
Since little was known about the virus during the onset of the pandemic, he stayed down there a month and put the podcast machine he had purchased months earlier to good use.
“I already had the idea so I thought that now might be a good time to figure it out,” he said of starting his Holding Court podcast. “So I basically started going through my phone of people that I knew who were very successful in their own world but weren’t tennis people. My concept for the podcast had always been to interview successful people who have an interest in tennis.”
Holding Court debuted in April of 2020, and Season Two began last month.
“It’s been a joy,” McEnroe says. “I love the medium of talking to people and learning about their stories – and obviously the connection with tennis helps get the conversation going. But really it’s about that person and what they do in their life that makes them successful and how tennis is a part of their life.”
His guests this season include Seal, Kristin Chenoweth, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos); Gavin Rossdale (BUSH); Jaren Lewison (Netflix's Never Have I Ever); Pico Iyer, Dean Karnazes, John Feinstein and Delfeayo Marsalis. Plus, his brother John McEnroe joins him each month to dissect the tennis landscape.
“It’s just fun to hear stories from successful people about their careers,” he says. “And how tennis plays a part in their lives.”
His guest line-up also includes some of the biggest names in tennis, including Chris Evert, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova, James Blake, Andrea Jaeger, Mardy Fish, and many others.
A LOVE OF LEARNING
Throughout his years of coaching and working with youth, McEnroe has recognized how much they crave learning.
“When I first started out coaching and teaching, I would have said having fun is the most important, but now I have actually changed that a little bit to make sure you are teaching them something,” he says. “Kids want to learn something. It doesn’t matter what level they are at – they can learn something in that half an hour or hour that they have with you as a coach.”
Having fun during the process is still a vital piece of McEnroe’s teaching, too.
“Of course, you want to have fun and keep them engaged,” he says. “But I find that if you can give them something that they can take away that’s tangible their enjoyment level goes up and they want to come back. It’s in our nature as human beings, particularly as young kids, to want to learn something. I always ask them ‘What did you learn?’ and ‘Did you have fun?’ I think that the two go hand in hand and I think that the learning part – I’ve learned – is more important than the fun part initially.”
You can follow Patrick McEnroe on Instagram at @patrick.mcenroe and on Twitter at @PatrickMcEnroe. You can learn more about the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at jmta.com.
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