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!”
Usually, Sunday is when we (me and my two daughters) play practice matches. No more drills or technique instructions… just games and fun.
So I told my two daughters (Cezara and Bianca) that I would require them to play against their mother in a game to 10 point tie-break and the winner will play against me for the “final” (playing against mother would be the semi-final 🙂
Bianca (my little one, who is 8 and a half) beat her mother easily. She played aggressively and gave my wife no chance.
But it came down to my older daughter, Cezara (who is now 10 years old)… she is very competitive but the nerves and her desire to over-achieve can be her greatest enemies.
Seeing that her younger sister beat the mother easily she wanted to prove she can do it too. But those thoughts tighten her up and nerves took over. Therefore she played slowly (I’d say less than 50% of her power capabilities) and made most of the mistakes.
I could not believe when my wife beat her 10-2… easily. Most of the points were actually lost by Cezara.
When they shook hands at the end of the game, I went to her and first thing I said: “Cezara, you played too slowly!” She looked at me like I just hit her with a stick. I could see that that was the last thing she needed to hear: a negative comment when she was already feeling miserable about her loss…
Even though I knew I should not had said it, considering it was a friendly family match, I thought that a realistic feed-back would help Cezara know why she lost.
But her reaction made me understand, again, that the last thing a player (student) needs to hear when they are upset is a negative comment.
It re-enforced my knowledge in the following regard:
– we should never say negative comments when teaching tennis or any kind of lessons to our children;
– feedback should be given only if it is asked or permission is granted (especially if it is about a negative action).
As a person who grew up being criticised a lot, I find it hard to keep things always positive. But I know that it can be learned with practice.
We just have to remind ourselves that positive words make a much better difference in someone’s performance and they bring us closer to those who need them. After all, we want our children to feel understood and loved. That can be done with words of love and honest attitude.
What should I had said to my daughter after she lost a match that she should had easily won? Maybe nothing… just a hug to show her that she is loved. And a smile.
Should she had asked me why she lost… I could had told her. But usually players do not want to talk about the loses. If they do, we should postpone the discussion until they cool off and some time passed (maybe next day).
Be careful when teaching children… What we say and how we react in front of them is always a lesson that can shape our relationship with them. Even their future…