Maxim Filippov is a Professional Tennis player turned Coach with over 20 years of international tennis experience. He was a former coach for the Russian Tennis Federation and has won more than ten professional events as a player and coach.
His wife was also a top-ranked tennis professional, and both of them now live and coach in the United States.
The team at SuperGreen Tonik took some time out to catch up with Max to find out how he first got started in tennis and the challenges of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle while traveling 32 as a professional tour coach.
When Did You First Start Playing Tennis?
I started playing tennis at the age of 11 in Kazakhstan, which is actually quite late for most tennis players. When I was 14 years old, I left the country and moved to Uzbekistan, where the facilities and coaches were much better. It was very tough being away from friends and family, but the opportunities just didn’t exist back at home.
There were times when I was able to go back home for a week or so, which helped a lot. The main reason for moving to Fergana was the access to better facilities, especially indoor tennis courts; back at home, we had a couple of indoor courts, but they were just way too expensive and really only the rich people could play there.
Back home, as a kid, we would shovel the snow off the courts and play outside in the freezing weather; most of the time, the ball didn’t even bounce; it was so cold. My coach was great too, so it was hard leaving but looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing, and it made me into the coach and person I am today.
When Did You Start To Think About Playing Professional Tennis?
When I was 16 years old, I came back home to Kazakhstan to be ranked number three in the nation within a very short time. I won the Under 18 National Singles and Doubles Titles and was a semi-finalist in the All-National Professional Open Event.
Both of these tournaments were in the same year, so looking back, it’s probably when I really started to play some good tennis and seriously started to think about turning Professional.
After that, I moved to Valencia in Spain to prepare for my first season on the professional tour. Unfortunately, I twisted my knee badly and ultimately tore my meniscus. It was really quite devastating at the time, and even when I look back, it stirs up memories.
I went back home for surgery and ended rehabilitating for about 3-4 months if I remember correctly; 6-8 months later, I injured the same knee again and had to undergo another surgery, which was much more severe and complicated. I think it took me close to a year to recover from that second surgery.
My parents were my biggest supporters, and they really helped me through those tough times. If it wasn’t for them, I would have given up, but they believed in me and pushed me to keep going. So I owe all of my ranking points and tournament wins to my parents.
How Would Players That You Coached In The Past Describe You?
Wow, a tough question straight out of the gate; I think it’s a question you should probably ask them, LOL. I tend to be very demanding of myself, which has its pros and cons, probably more cons.
I think most of the players I’ve coached in the past would more than likely say I’m quite a demanding coach; however, that being said, I’ve also had many players I’ve coached tell me that I’m one of the most caring coaches they’ve had. I think this is because I believe in the philosophy of “the player comes first, and results are secondary to that.”
I think they would also say I’m very knowledgeable when it comes to technique, and my ability to scout opponents is also another strength they might mention.
After A Loss, How Do You Keep Your Players Motivated And Positive?
Too many coaches talk and talk. I let the player talk first and let them say whatever they want; sometimes, depending on the player, it may take anywhere from minutes and hours to even a day or two before they open up about the loss.
The main thing is to make them feel comfortable after a loss; this is a time where they need someone to listen to them; once they’ve let go of the negative energy and emotion, I start to ask questions that can lead to the right answer.
By doing this, you let the players analyze the match without them really thinking of it that way; they come up with the answers themselves, which leads to them becoming more confident and self-reliant.
But every player is different, and sometimes they need a push in the right direction.
Describe The Qualities You Believe A Great Coach Must Have
To be a good coach, you need to be a great manager. Especially working as a professional tour coach, it’s just not enough to have technical knowledge about tennis; you need more.
You need to know what is right and wrong for the players, and most importantly, you need to “feel” what is best.
A good coach also listens and understands that the players come first; you have to be selfless and always put the player’s objectives and goals first.
Being A Professional Tour Coach, Can You Let The Readers Know The Challenges For A Coach/Athlete Of Eating Healthy, Especially Traveling To Different Countries Week In Week Out Where Food Can Vary A Lot?
It’s a great question and one of the most critical aspects of success as a professional athlete. Many of the challenges arise from playing in different countries; the type of food available and the quality can vary a lot, making it very challenging.
When I first started touring as a coach, I didn’t realize how much the food varied from country to country, which made it difficult to get the right balance of protein, carbs, and fats, but we made sure we always supplemented with vitamins and various nutritional supplements.
Depending on the tournament and the hotel where you’re staying, food varies greatly from week to week and as I said some cultures have food based around carbs while other cultures have food-based around protein so getting the right balance is really challenging.
So that’s why I think players and coaches need to have what I call a “nutritional travel kit.”
15 years ago, when I was a player, the food choice and supplementation were not as good as it is today;
I’d also like to say it’s important to have a “cheat day.”
A day you can eat all of the foods you usually can’t; it makes it much easier to stay on track, and it’s really good for your mental health to give yourself a break and reward your effort.
Do You Have Any Advice For Players Or Coaches Struggling With Nutrition
Basically, both players and coaches have to treat nutrition as part of the job.
Mental toughness actually plays a big role here because, as most people know, it’s not easy to eat healthy day in day out.
Building a new habit takes about 21 days, so that’s something to keep in mind, especially if you’re working with a new player.
I would recommend that players have their blood tested to find areas of nutrients they may be deficient in; this makes it much easier for the coach or nutritionist to develop an eating plan that’s specific to the player.
Also, seeking advice from a nutritionist or dietician is important because they can develop a meal plan aimed specifically at the player and their needs.
For me personally, I tried the keto diet for a while but found it didn’t work; I’ve also tried paleo, which was much better but again was not ideal, so I guess for me, it’s still a matter of trial and error.
I don’t have an Olympian body, LOL, but I do work out every morning, and traveling 32 weeks of the year is very taxing on the body physically and mentally.
I know several players who have had to deal with Chronic Fatigue, and I believe a lot of it is down to poor nutrition. Players are expending huge amounts of energy each day, so making sure they are topping back up is critical.
Since changing and taking more care of my nutrition, I’ve been injury-free and really haven’t been sick for nearly two years now, so I do believe that nutrition is a massive part of that.
What Are Some Nutritional Lessons That You’ve Learned From Your Time As A Professional Coach?
You need to eat a nice piece of meat before every match. LOL, I think that’s the Russian coming out in me. To answer your question, though, it’s definitely that coaches need to educate themselves on nutrition. It’s not only the player’s responsibility but the coaches too.
Nutrition and nutrition timing wasn’t something I had ever given much thought to because I was always very fit and athletic, but once I started to coach on the professional tour, I began to understand much more about it.
I learned as much as I could from watching and listening to what the other top coaches and players were doing, which sparked my interest in nutrition. Ever since then, I’ve been educating myself and researching so I can provide the best advice and information for the players I coach.
The first biggest shock I remember was the stomach issues I was having because I’d never eaten food from such different cultures before; they used different oil to cook with, the ingredients were different, and in some countries, cleanliness is not the number one priority. It took quite a while for my body to adapt.
People also don’t understand that when you’re first starting out as a professional, you don’t have a lot of money, so buying quality food and trying to save money can be very tricky, especially in countries that are very expensive like Australia and Japan.
Another thing we started to notice was we were sleeping much, much better. The healthier nutrition led to better sleep and recovery, which led to increased energy, better performances, and ultimately less injury.
Your Wife Was A Top Professional Tennis Player Too, What Were Some Of The Challenges You Faced Together?
I retired from tennis quite early due to some problems my family was facing back home in Kazakhstan, and, of course, the two knee injuries didn’t help either.
I started coaching two years after that and first met my wife at the World University Games, where I was representing Kazakhstan, and she was representing Russia.
After about a year and a half, we decided to get married, and my coaching career officially began. I never had any intentions of becoming a tour coach and certainly never any intentions to coach my wife, but we worked well together, and our early results were promising.
It was very stressful at the start and it took me a while to get used to coaching women because all of the players I had coached before were men, so there was a pretty steep learning curve at the start.
In 2013 we won our first Professional Singles Title together in Australia; although we had won a few double titles before that, the singles title was really a big win for us as a team.
My wife struggled with wrist injuries since she was a junior, and all through 2013-14, she had recurring problems that required surgery and an extended period away from tennis.
But she came back successfully in 2015 and went on to win a number of big professional tournaments.
All through that time, we were still trying to figure out the best way to keep our coaching separate from our private lives, but in the end, we made it work because we both realized tennis is only a sport, and family is what was most important to us.
Thanks Max. A superb insight into your journey into professional Tennis coaching. The Green Tonik team wishes you all the best in your professional and personal life.