How to Teach Tennis to “Very” Young Children (3 – 4 Years Old)

This is another question I received from a young tennis coach and I wanted to share my response with you…

“I know that 3 or 4 is a very young age, but are you their first coach? Have they taken any tennis lessons before? If yes, were they private or groups?
– With this young age group, you want to do a lot of hand-eye coordination exercises and some basic technique (don’t go into details and do not expect them to do things perfectly from the beginning). 
– If they were new to tennis, I would introduce a lot of games like throw and catch, teaching the lines, ask them questions about tennis (who is their favourite tennis player; if they know the parts of the racquet, etc.), do drills and games such as Jail Breaker, Caterpillar (both are games that kids really enjoy), Potato Race (for speed and fun competition) etc. 
– Teach them basic forehand technique in the first lesson but don’t do it for more than 15 minutes (the rest should be all kinds of fun drills and games) and very importantly do not make them stay in line for more than 1 minute at a time; they get bored easily therefore you should keep them active all the time.
– If you have to work with them individually, give a task to the others (pick up balls, jump rope, bounce a ball etc.). Have them pick up balls doing fun competitions like asking them to see who can make the biggest pile of balls on the racquet etc. 
– Another important aspect: when I teach kids younger than 6 years my lessons are no longer than 45 minutes. I prefer to keep it short and intense than having them run around for 1 hour, which can be exhausting for them. With 3 – 4 years of age, I would keep the lessons shorter – 30 minutes.
– Make it fun!”

Cosmin Miholca
coach and founder,
WebTennis24.com

How to Teach (or Learn) the Proper Distance to the Ball

This appears to be an ardent subject that tennis coaches want to know when teaching beginning players.

It is true that some young players (beginners) have difficulties achieving an optimal contact with the ball – getting either too close or too far from it. Therefore coaches try to find solutions to help their players hit the ball more in balance and naturally.

Unfortunately there is no quick or easy solution to this and, if you ask me, I consider this will get fixed naturally, through repetition. The only way a beginning player realises to “feel” the optimal contact point and space to the ball is through lots of practice. Eventually, the player will develop the proper timing, hand-eye coordination and footwork to position the body and racquet in the most comfortable and natural way.

BUT if you really want to speed up the process, I dare to suggest a couple of drills that you and your student can do to get a clear understanding of where the contact with the ball should be and improve the timing to achieve that:

1. Have your student (or partner) position in a open stance (feet parallel to the net) or square stance (feet sideways to the net) and racquet held at “contact point” position: racquet face towards the net, proper grip, arm slightly bent (see picture below). By the way, this can be applied when practicing either forehand or backhand ground-strokes.

From the “contact point” position, hand-feed a few balls towards the player’s racquet. After the ball bounce, the player should push the ball and swing from that point on and follow-through.
Practice contact and follow-through without backswing.
This drill will teach the player where the contact with the ball should be (spacing and body position) and eventually he will register that and, with proper timing and footwork developed through repetition, this will become a habit.

2. Repeat the previous drill with a slight adjustment: instead of tossing balls for your student, this time you will rally with him. Your student will begin every stroke from the contact point position (no backswing) while pushing and following-through after each contact.
Again, this will teach the player proper spacing to the ball.
One important tip is to rally with your student from the service line or just behind it in order to avoid a bigger swing and take the racquet back.
You can even use foam or any light junior tennis balls to keep things simple in the beginning.

Try these two drills and let me know if your student develops and gets a better feel for spacing to the ball.

One more tip: do not over-emphasise other technical aspects such as footwork or body position. In order to get the contact and timing right allow the student to focus only on the ball; let the other elements happen naturally… for now.

Additional Note:
For players who want to learn the above technique by themselves I recommend either using a ball machine or asking a tennis partner to feed (by hand) some balls to them.

Related Content: Strokes Progressions Lessons (learn tennis without a partner or coach)

Cosmin Miholca
founder, WebTennis24.com

(Per readers’ request I am attaching more pictures showing the “point of contact”, below)



 

7 Steps for Making a Great Connection with Your (New) Students

The following pieces of advice address mostly to coaches but players can also find some applicable uses:

As a tennis coach at WebTennis24 I often get emails in which players or coaches ask for my opinion on certain subjects. One of them was how to make a good impression if you are a coach in front of your new students.


In this regard I made a video that will show you the first 10 – 15 minutes of what you can do with a new tennis student (beginner or even intermediate). In this video you’ll find my “magic” formula how to interact with new students and how to make them feel welcome and excited to learn tennis. It has worked great for me along my over 15 years of teaching tennis, and it will (guaranteed) help you too.


Besides that… in preparation for the upcoming lesson (or a match if you are a tennis players) it is good to develop some “rituals” that prepare you mentally for what comes. 
I used to get quite nervous especially when meeting new students and/or their parents.

So don’t worry: you are not the only one getting nervous; a lot of coaches are too… the students also. If it helps, you can only imagine that your students are more nervous to meet you than you are to meet them. Or if you are a player before a tennis match, your opponent might be more nervous to play against you than you are.

Here are some of my “rituals” that I do on the way to my lessons in order to ensure that I would be properly prepared and my students will find a true professional in me as their coach:


1. In the car, as I drive to the tennis court, I practice some breathing exercises: take a slow deep breath in – hold it for 4 seconds – release slowly; do this about 5 – 7 times.

2. Say positive things to yourself such as: “I can’t wait to meet my students”, “I love what I do”, “This is going to be fun!” etc.

3. Get on the tennis court at least 10 minutes before your students arrive; prepare all your teaching gear and be ready early.

4. As soon as you see your students coming towards the court, put a smile on your face and walk to them looking happy to see/meet them. Stretch your hand out and introduce yourself first, then ask for their name (memorise it).

5. As you can see in the video I mentioned above, it is important to ask your students questions, find out about them; that would make them feel welcome and important.

6. If you get nervous, smile; smiling is a great way to help you relax; also ask your student questions during the lesson: “what do you feel about what I just taught you? does it make sense? does if feel natural?” etc.

7. And last… actually this should have been first: make sure you have lesson plans ready (a general plan of drills and things you want to teach before you get on the court). I sometimes carry little pieces of paper with notes that I find important to say or do during the lessons. This helps me knowing that I do not leave things out and takes some of the pressure off considering that I don’t have to remember everything.

I hope all these tips are of help to you. Write in the comments box below and let me know your thoughts.

Cosmin Miholca
Certified Tennis Coach
WebTennis24.com