brianI have being coaching tennis full time for just over 20 years, with most of my coaching being with children from 6-16 years. A key thing is to keep the players playing tennis – it keeps me in a job! One of the difficulties associated with retention in tennis is that they cannot all win the club/school tournament. So there are going to be a lot of kids feeling they are not winners, and young players tend to associate ‘not winning’ with ‘not progressing’. My challenge is to give the players clear goals so that they can gauge their progress,

Goals must obviously be realistic for the level of the player you are working with. Goals that are either too easy or too difficult to achieve leaves players lacking in motivation.

Here are some examples of training tasks I use to motivate players to improve and stay in the game.

Task 1. Set a clear task e.g. forehand to forehand ground strokes cross court with a score count 5/10 etc depending on the skill level of the player. Targets for depth, height and direction must be set and understood. Tempo and spin should be included as soon as the player can perform to the required standard. Players enjoy the process of learning in this way, and they can identify progress clearly.

Task 2. Technical training must be a part of your lesson once the player has grasped the ‘what to do’.

Now it’s time for the ‘how to do’  – path of racquet, shape of swing, grip, impact point, type of spin etc.

I recommend constant reinforcement of all the ball controls.

Task 3. As soon as possible get your players playing tennis – that’s why they came to the lesson in the first place. Phases of play can be introduced – rally, defend, attack and counter attack.

The technical skills can be taught once the player can identify the shot required for each phase. For me, the true fun of learning to play all court tennis is what keeps the children attending tennis lessons. Playing tie- breaks or mini games show a player’s weaknesses and strengths, and this is when you will find out where to focus your teaching.

Task 4. Respecting each other, being fair with calls, having a good attitude on the court. Learning to take responsibility for their mistakes, rather than making silly excuses.

Task 5. The mental side of the game, learning to focus and concentrate. Most players need to work hard on this area of the game, since nerves and tension can destroy a player’s performance. With practice and effort, staying calm while performing can be mastered. Players need to learn to control their breathing, slowing things down.

I find these five training tasks very useful for me as a coach. They are a simple reminder to keep things in perspective and not to ‘over coach’ and make it boring. My aim is to instill passion in my students, so that they enjoy playing the game as much as I do.