Most people from the Czech Republic know Canadian coach Rob Steckley thanks to the cooperation with Lucie Šafářová. But who did he work with before? How did he get to work as a coach? What are his plans for the future and what is his second job? Find out all in a new interview.
Hi Rob, thanks for doing this interview with us. First of all, would you introduce yourself a bit?
Thanks for having me. Most people call me Rob Steckley, but my friends call me Stecks.
I’m a former pro tennis player, I turned coach about 12 years ago. I have a love for people and helping everyone on their journey... and still working on myself lol.
Did you want to carry on playing tennis or did you want to be a tennis coach from the beginning?
I was a former Top 20 ITF junior and ranked #1 in Canada. Moved on to be a top collegiate player while I tried grinding on the ATP for a few years after that and played Davis Cup for Canada. So yes, when I was interested in showing up and committing my time while on court one could say I was pretty decent.
So when did you realize that you want to become a tennis coach?
I had an interesting road in my competitive journey. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s where I truly understood the mental side of tennis and was able to fully commit myself. But by that time I started to feel my motivation slip. From about age 25-27 I was finally very mentally mature and truly enjoyed helping others. I shed my ego and I realized that tennis was much more then just myself. Unfortunately around 27 I was playing a semis of a challenger and tore my rotator cuff. I had very little money left at the time and quickly realized at that moment that my cash flow was about par with my motivation to continue and compete as a player.
Luckily for me the transition was easy as I had many many hobbies and interests. One of the reasons why I really wasn’t able to fully reach my playing ability is I couldn’t commit myself on a full time schedule year after year.
What did you have to go through to become a coach?
The transition of a player to coach is interesting as you have to first understand which style of coaching you want to get yourself invested into.
That could be high performance, it can be a club pro, country club, or like myself... back on the pro tour. I myself was confused for about the first year but what helped me was my constant need to try all the styles out. I literally take any and every opportunity that came my way and challenged myself to understanding what it is that best suited my personality. Along with taking as many opportunities that came my way I was able to really be around the right people that always have great advice and the most important value is always trusting your inner voice. I’ve been good at that. Doing things that I personally only feel I’m highly motivated at. I like to always tell myself I create my own luck so it seems to be working lol.
Who was the first player you collaborated with?
On that note, I remember getting invited to do a coaching mentorship with Tennis Canada during my first year of coaching. I had been coaching on the men’s side. Doing ITF and ATP tours until one day I had been asked by a good friend of mine who is head of the women’s divisions for Tennis Canada Sylvain Bruno. He had asked me if I was interested in potentially going on the road for a trial with Aleksandra Wozniak. She was about 50 WTA at the time and our top female Canadian on tour.
It was something. I paused and thought about it for a moment as I didn’t feel comfortable. He had told me he thought I would do a great job and if anything else... I could get a tan on tour and come home if it wasn’t for me. I took half a day just to think about the idea. The more I thought about it the more nervous I felt but those nerves were the same nerves that seem to never let me fail. So later that day I said “let’s git er done”.
I was on a plane later that week headed to Florida. With a little bit of steckley-good-fortune we ended up winning that tourney and quickly doing great things reaching her career high of Top 20 WTA.
Were you surprised you were collaborating with WTA player?
Well it was truthfully a natural fit. My good friend Sylvain could see my personality was great for working with WTA players as well and I quickly learned myself that I truly enjoyed the relationships I started on the WTA. If I think back at it I wasn’t really surprised. I had so many close girls that were friends and enjoyed those friendships very much.
How long have you collaborated?
Aleks and I worked for a little over a year. We enjoyed working together but it was time to move on as views change.
How did you meet Lucie Šafářová?
I met Lucie through Aleks. While I was coaching Wozniak, I started looking for doubles partners for her. I found this amazingly talented little lefty that went by the name of Lucie Safarova. I told Aleks... we gotta play with her lol.
The rest is history...
You guys have had a great relationship. And you were the part of her biggest successes. How do you feel about it?
I was very lucky to come at the right times in Lucie’s career and life. As I said before, I like to think I create my own luck 😉
It was much more then just a working relationship. We became family if you will. That was the key to a strong bond and trust we had. We both valued what each other felt and listened to each other. If it wasn’t for her, I would not be the coach I am today or even the father and husband to my family back home.
Of course we can talk about achievements but I was just a piece of the equation that lead her to being one of the top players in the world. I do not like to take credit for the highlights of her career. Sooooo many people go into a player ultimately making it. I’m just happy I was the last chapter in that book.
Is it possible to name the success with Lucie you are proudest of?
Proudest moment... of course who can argue if we start to list of all the results and rankings and that was a huge moment for us but truthfully I’m SOOO connected to the small things. Her giving me her trust even though I had to earn it at the beginning. Her ability to let go and regroup and constantly come back for more and ultimately just being able to call her my friend and not have to worry about one another being selfish. I’m really proud of that. It’s the ultimate feeling as a coach and person to have been able to have that experience as it’s what everyone is searching for in the tennis world.
You were making great videos with her and now you are making videoclips with some musicians. How this hobby turned into your second job?
Wow, those videos when I started... horrible lol. But it was the begging of me finding myself in the creative world. When I met Lucie she was very very shy. Hard to believe she is the same person now but back then I saw an opportunity to pursue what I was also passionate about, as well having this thought that by making videos I could potentially bring her out of her shell to make her feel more comfortable and confident with herself. It was also a tool for myself as well as her to unwind and take the focus off such a stressful environment. We created our own world in which we could make fun of ourselves and pass the time.
Fast forward to now. I LOVE film and have now been able to focus more and more full time on it and now have created a separate career from it. I guess I have Lucie and the rest of my players to thank for allowing me to always practice on them.
Back to Lucy. Have you ever visited her after retirement in Czech Republic?
Lucie and I talk all the times. My family and hers are very close. I was to see her a couple times last year but due to covid I was not able to make the trip. Once all this craziness with the virus stops we plan on getting the families together. Who knows, maybe me and my film team will film her wedding. 😉
How do you like Czech Republic? What is your favourite thing about our country?
What’s not to love about Czech. Half my family is from Poland so I grew up very eastern European. The two countries are SO similar so I feel very at home. I can’t say enough good things about the Czechs. I really do feel a part of me is Czech and I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.
Do you know some Czech words? Did Lucy teach you something?
Of course I know Czech words but the funniest one I can’t get out of my head is “lehni” “lie down” not sure how to spell but after Lucie got her dog, Rocky, I became the baby sitter and that’s a word I was constantly saying during her matches so he would chill out lol.
You were coaching Denis Shapovalov in 2018. Was there a difference between ATP and WTA?
Working with Denis was great. Another talented explosive lefty. Very similar to Lucie in many ways. Being able to transition to WTA and ATP comes down to the coaches ability to be able to change their ability to communicate to their athletes. There are differences I could speak about but the best advice I could give to anyone interested is being able to change their communication skills and what I mean by that is most of the time while coaching WTA there is more time discussing things. Whether it’s tactics, patterns, day to day habits etc.
ATP players want to be left alone. Picking when to toss out advice is key and making sure it‘s short and sweet.
I enjoy both styles. There’s something to enjoy about the two styles and how they challenge your coaching skills.
But for me... I can hang with best of females and males so I just adapt and find out whichever hat is needed and get to work.
What was the funniest thing you two experienced?
Funniest thing Denis and I experienced? There were too many of them. He’s a very funny kid and I enjoyed the time spent together learning from each other.
Now you collaborate with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. How hard was it to keep her active while being at home during the covid-19 break?
Anastasia is a highly motivated competitive spirit in nature. So by the time covid hit as most other tennis players... could have used a break. So I truthfully told her to take time off. Relax. Stay little bit active with fitness and I’d put a plan together while she got away from tennis.
By the time she got back from vacation she was super motivated. We started with fitness and honestly the biggest thing for us was laughter. We all have had our moments feeling frustrated during covid but the way I try to view it is a very unique point in the worlds history. So enjoying it rather then fighting it helped us. We spoke daily, almost all day sending funny voice notes while doing work. Once she was able to travel from Russia to France we changed the routine and was able to keep her motivated before she fully went crazy lol.
Did the long break changed your plans somehow?
This long break during covid for me has been a big moment in my life. It’s given me a clearer vision as to what my goals are and what’s important. I love traveling and being on tour working with the best but I’ve always loved home especially now that I have a wife and two beautiful daughters along with my wonderful families on both sides.
Were you surprised that 2020 season was restarted? Or do you think they should have waited a little bit longer?
I don’t think we were surprised as behind the scenes they were working very hard to get it going. If not, the tennis world would have taken a huge financial hit. On one side it could have been better mentally for everyone to just understand that there would be NO season rather then keep everyone in limbo but on the other hand having a bit of a season towards the end allowed tennis to stay active.
It’s definitely NOT easy right now to travel and be touring. Not as fun as it was for now unfortunately.
She played the exhibition in Moratoglou Tennis academy. What do you think about the rules?
I like what Patrick has done with the format. I think it’s great for tennis. I truly feel that tennis needs to change. Keep the roots but everything always has to evolve and I myself have always thought this for many years so it was good to see something new.
Would you like watching tennis with these rules?
As I said, maybe not change tennis completely, however adding this format to the season or changing some of the original tennis format as years continue. I think we will continue to find ways to make tennis engaging for everyone.
You travelled with her to tournaments in France. How different was it when we compare it to the normal season?
Paris was fun. Cold... but fun. The bubble was interesting. If we had to travel like this for ever I’d say we probably are all in trouble lol. But for now, it definitely throws most people off… but we have to do what we have to do in order to keep things in motion so that we can eventually get back to normal and make things even better then they were.
How was the situation in Paris?
We were not aloud to enjoy the city which was disappointing. That’s definitely the biggest upsetting part about covid, not being able to enjoy each city while you travel. Unless you‘re writing hotel reviews... not as much fun lol.
2021 is here. Have you heard about the rules? In my opinion they are very strict. What do you think about them?
They will have very strict rules until we all can get rid of the restrictions and covid. I think the tournaments and organizers are learning to be able to handle running events during the crazy times.
And are you coming to Australia with Nastya?
I decided last minute after missing my flight to meet Nastia in Dubai that I will stop traveling at the moment. It’s very difficult for my to be away from my family for months at a time nor is it something I am committed to do. Once covid is gone and the traveling goes back to normal I’m sure I can see myself getting back out there.
Which advice would you give to young players?
My advice to any young player is to really want and be obsessed with what you do. Don’t be afraid to be humble and always be great full for whatever situation you‘re in. It’s in your hands to make it even better and never forget to say thank you. I sound like a dad right now so I’m going to stop it.
Thanks for the interview! It was great to chat with you. Wish you good luck in the future.
Enjoyed our chat and keep doing what you guys are doing.