Interview with Luchín Guzman

luis-guzmanIn our series of tennis interviews with top international professionals we are proud to have renowned South American coach Mr. Luis “Luchín” Guzman, former Davis Cup Team captain of Chile, Head of the Chilean Tennis Federation, and creator of the High Performance Development System in Chile.  He has also been the coach of several top ATP professionals including many junior world champion players.

RM: Hello Luchín, thank you for this interview. You have been the head of the Chilean Tennis Player Development program in the Tennis Federation during a golden age for Chile with players like former world number one Marcelo Rios, top 10 players and Olympic champions Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu, and Davis Cup Juniors world champions including Jorge Aguilar and Guillermo Hormazabal to mention just a few.

RM: Can you tell us about the Chilean Tennis training system?

LG: The Chilean system of tennis development has been changing over time. It used to be that the clubs were the bedrock of the tennis development.  These schools had teachers who were academically prepared and were staffed with actual masters who loved teaching and passing on their expertise, their studies, and life experiences and projecting them upon their junior players.  They were very hard working and dedicated teachers who truly enjoyed what they did.  This has been changing over time as now many academies have not been able to keep this philosophy.  There are very few of us out there who are still dedicated to the integral development of players.

RM: What recommendations would you give as far as how to improve the development of juniors in tennis?

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Luchín with Marcelo Rios in 2003

LG: Back in the 90s, I created a high performance training system with the Chilean Tennis Federation.  The structure of training had a pyramidal system which included 12 junior players U10 training 3 times per week, 10 juniors U12 training 4 times per week, 8 juniors U14 training 5 times per week and 6 juniors U16. The U16 players had to be able to project themselves as future top U18. This pyramidal system allowed us to provide them a good foundation and prepare them for high performance at the international level. These were juniors with high competitive projections. In our staff, we included experienced coaches who could provide them with competitive experience, a sports psychologist, and a team of instructors to support them in their academic development. We had fitness facilities and experts to complement their tennis training with athletic development.

RM: Can you describe what the schedule of a high performance junior player looks like?

LG: On average, they trained 6 hours per day with differences in terms of work load and volumes of training for different age groups.

Once the calendar was set, the players would train 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon.  Once a month they would have a break and this break would depend on the evaluation for each player.

RM: How much mental training and sport psychology support do top players receive at your academy?

LG: During tournaments U12 players and older players had a coach who was also a sports psychologist.  This way we created a strong mental base as the junior player developed.

We had a strong focus on the integral development of the player and we believe that the tennis can be learned, the technique be learned, the fitness can be developed, but what you bring in your mind can not be bought. Therefore, the earlier you work the mental aspects, the more it benefits the junior player.

RM: What would you say are the advantages of training in Chile and also of training on clay?

LG: Santiago is not a city where it rains more than two days in a row, so if there were rainy days we would adapt the training plan for one with a more theoretical and fitness focus.

The advantages of developing a player on different surfaces depend on the style of play you want to develop.  In the case of Chile, we play on clay, but there are also differences depending on where you play on clay.  For instance, in Viña del Mar, which is at sea level, the conditions are different than training in Santiago, which is at a higher altitude.

In clay at sea level, you develop players with more potency as the ball travels slower and therefore they have to hit the ball harder.  Usually these players also have very good acceleration.

In Santiago, the ball is faster and you develop faster players in contrast to the more resilient players trained at sea level. To train on fast courts, you have to make fast decisions. The game has a faster dynamic with usually 4 or 5 shots and the serve gives you an advantage.  In addition, there can be differences in terms of the net play style as it is more common for hard court players to go to the net compared to clay court players.

RM: How much on average does it cost to develop a high performance junior player in Chile?

LG: The cost is about $1500/month for an integral training plan.

RM: What would be your recommendations for an ideal training center?

LG: It is ideal to have a mixture of slow and fast courts.  You would want a strong technical staff with people thinking of the projections, as well as coaches with strong technical focus and very good motivators.  It is also important to have former tennis professionals around that could support players with tips and “locker room advice”.  Audiovisual support, video analysis and post match analysis are fundamental.

It is important to have mental training in group settings twice per week and on an individual basis once per week.  Group mental training sessions have benefits in that the junior player can share their experiences and realize that what happens to them is very common among players and helps them to improve.

We also do visualization techniques with a psychologist and we work routines, serve rituals, rituals when you are ahead in score and when you are behind, biomechanical visualization, etc.  One of the areas that really benefits from visualization training is the serve.  We have done research studies where we saw improvements of over 30% in first serve percentage compared to controls.

RM: What is the best advice you could give to a promising junior player who would like to go pro?

LG: What you do, always do it with love. Start with doing what is needed, then do what is possible, and soon after you will end up doing the impossible.

Luchín Guzman is a renowned Chilean coach who has been instrumental in the development of many South American tennis players. He has coached top ATP and WTA tour professionals and is a former Davis Cup Captain and Head Coach of the Chilean Tennis Federation. Currently, Mr. Guzman is the director of the celebrated Chilean Tennis Academy Tennis1 located in Santiago, Chile.  If you would like to know more about his academy, we invite you to visit his official site www.tenis1.cl.