I was recently asked about my preferred teaching style: do I strive for the “perfect” technique or I let my students learn tennis through games (lately there are more and more tennis coaches who embrace the games based approach by the way).
The answer is simple: tennis should be fun regardless of the level of performance.
I do like to stress the proper technique in the beginning of the lesson just to start with the right fundamentals but I want to make sure that at least 60% of my lessons are actually exciting for my students by introducing games and drills that have them work on placement, friendly competition and strategies.
In my teaching career I’ve often paid attention to the faces of my students: when they are put through the repetitive drills of learning the “perfect” technique and when they are presented with the opportunity of playing tennis games.
The difference between the two is enormous; and here is why:
1. When a coach stresses the technique most of the time they (the kids) might end up “looking great” on the court but deep down in the back of their minds they will consider tennis as boring and repetitive.
2. The games based approach gets players thrilled to be on the court and, even though their technique will not be as good in the beginning, the fact that they enjoy playing tennis will make them do this longer and not only that… they’ll encourage their friends to get involved into it because people want to share things they love.
I’m not advocating that technique should be eliminated from the tennis practice – just not over-emphasised.
My suggestion would be that a player/student should practice his/her technical elements in the beginning of the lesson (let’s say for about 15 – 20 minutes) but then she/he should be exposed to applying the learned fundamentals into a fun related tennis activity.
I was recently asked: “How can I get my students to stick with the technique I teach them and not poke at the ball once they begin playing games?”
This is a very good question because I remember when I was a kid I used to do that only for the sake of winning a match. In my attempt not to miss I was just “pushing” the balls over the net.
The upside was that I was winning matches playing this way… in the beginning.
The downside? Well, this kind of play does not lead to real progress in the long term.
Poking the ball will annoy your opponents first but they will soon figure you out and make you work hard for the points.
The players should understand that developing relaxed and full swings will benefit their tennis in the long run.
A player who cares for his proper development knows that in the beginning, it’s not about winning. They are patient to develop a comfortable technique that allows them to swing at the ball with power and less effort.
Many people want to sacrifice the process of properly developing a solid technique for the sake of winning a few matches.
As a coach, you must not allow players to become “sloppy” when playing; especially after a lesson where you put so much effort into teaching them the proper technique.
With my students, every time I see them not following the technique we studied, I stop and ask them to do shadow strokes (swing with correct technique, without a ball). And I do this with them until they know that not sticking with the proper strokes will interrupt their fun games. 🙂
When executing a slice (under-spin) ground-stroke remind yourself to begin the downward motion with the racquet high above the point of contact. Otherwise you’ll end up floating the ball too high over the net and/or land beyond the baseline.
Practice the under-spin strokes as often as possible. There will be times in the match when you will need them.