As a tennis coach, what do you look out for and when can you confidently say that the tennis coaching session was a successful one for your client?
I am very fortunate that in my years of tennis coaching, my clients have been very satisfied. They are happy with the training that they have received. To achieve this, I have combined both my learning experiences and some trial-and-error experiences. This resulted in helping my clients achieve their tennis goals.
In this article, I'm going to share with you nine keys to provide successful tennis coaching.
Nine Keys to Successful Tennis Coaching
Pre Lesson Planning
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Therefore, it is extremely important to plan your lessons according to your clients’ ability. After every tennis coaching session, I tend to look at my coaching log to check what the client has done in the past few sessions. I also video every lesson so that I can review their techniques and jot down what to do for the next session.
I think we owe it to the clients to give them a great tennis coaching session because they are paying the coaching fees. Since, clients are paying for that one or two hours, we should spend time outside those hours. This helps to plan further to increase our clients’ satisfaction.
Take time to plan your lessons. It is crucial to the success of your training sessions
What about new clients whom I've not met before?
It is always exciting to get new clients because I see it as a new project to help people to improve their tennis game. Whenever I get a new client I send them a survey link to answer some questions. These questions help me to have a better understanding of the client before meeting them. Also this let me gauge what level of coaching is required.
Personal interaction with the clients
This may sound like a no-brainer, but when a coach gets too busy with the schedule, is it easy to lose focus and miss out on connecting with people.
I'm not suggesting that we should engage in long gossip sessions with the students. I think, at the very least, we should check how their day has been. Find out how their health is, in case they just recovered from illness, etc. Make some personal connection with them to set them at ease during training.
Sometimes, adult learners love to talk before the start of the session and during the break. Frankly, I can see that they are using tennis as a form of exercise. They are playing recreationally, so these clients tend to be more chatty. I think it's okay to let them talk and provide a listening ear. For me, I'll wait for a good opportunity to let them continue with the session.
Convey the objectives of the training session
If you have planned for the session, you would definitely have some objectives that you want to achieve for the day's session. Usually, after reviewing the coaching log, I will have an idea of what to work on. I'll let them know at the start of the session that today, we are going to focus on the running forehand, for example. I think it is important to communicate to your students what the focus of the session is and not let them go through endless feeding drills without telling them what the drills are for.
Proper warm up
Without fail, I always start the session with mini tennis or, as some people call it, short court tennis. I do not want my clients to suffer injury because they haven’t warmed up properly. The whole idea is to get them to increase their muscle temperature. A warm muscle both contracts more forcefully and relaxes more quickly. In this way, both speed and strength can be enhanced. Also, the probability of overstretching a muscle and causing injury is far less. So with mini tennis, they get to warm up their muscles, strokes, and footwork. I will tell them to go easy and develop a feel for the ball.
When I see them perspiring after about ten minutes, I'll start my first drill or go to the baseline to hit with them. This whole process becomes a routine.
Design drills relevant to the client’s level
This is another no-brainer, but I find that inexperienced coaches tend to underestimate or overestimate what the students can do.
I think I'm fortunate that with my teaching background, I understand the idea of progression.
When it comes to drills, I like to make it easy for the students so that they can have a higher success rate and build up their confidence level. For beginners, I think drop feeding, i.e., dropping the balls in front of them to hit, is a good way to work on their technique. After drop feeding, I'll move to toss feed, where I toss the ball to them to simulate an incoming ball, and they have to judge the bounce and hit. Sometimes, I may have to use different equipment, like green dot tennis balls, to slow things down or use other equipment to illustrate and explain concepts to them.
Green dot balls travel slower and are great for players who just started playing tennis
As for the advanced players, there are still progressions for them. The drills can be basket feeding or rally drills, where the difficulty level is set from easy to more challenging activities.
My advice is to really look at the tennis coaching log and design the activities based on their ability. Be sure to update programmes based on the client's current readiness and ability. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Correct them at the right time. Be patient.
“John, you are not turning the shoulders. Check your backswing; make sure it is pointing to the back fence. Move your feet. Make sure the ball is in front of your strike zone!
If you were John, how would you feel? Confused? Overwhelmed by the information?
Too many instructions will lead to confusion and frustrations
For one shot, there were four instructions or coaching cues given to John. How much do you think he is able to absorb and implement of what you have just said?
Sometimes we may fall into the trap of thinking that the more we give, the better. In the example that I gave above, John may not be able to follow all the advice given to him at the same time. From experience, I know there are many things a beginner needs to correct, from the preparation to the end of the shot. It is very tempting to tell them all the mistakes that they are making.
Since we are the coach or teacher, I think it is our role to determine which is the most important one to correct and focus on that refinement first. Be patient, and work on one or two mistakes at a time.
Make it their day
There are many good coaches around, and I know people can choose not to work with me.
Therefore, I need to give them a reason to choose to work with me.
I think that as coaches, our job is to lift others up. Every day, we have an opportunity to make the world a better place, and we can do it through one interaction at a time. Making someone laugh, showing them that you care, or listening to a story that they really want to tell goes a long way toward improving someone’s day. The tennis coaching session is not about me, it's about the students. By providing a good listening ear, sometimes we can coach better because we understand their concerns and frustrations.
Every day, we have an opportunity to make the world a better place.
At the end of the session, I will summarise the whole session and share my thoughts about their overall progress. As far as adult clients are concerned, they seem interested to hear from me about their progress. If I am coaching kids, I will give some feedback to the parents. As a parent myself, I am always interested to find out how my son is doing during his tennis coaching. If the teacher is able to provide me with some feedback, I can work with him at home. Lastly, I will check with the clients whether they have any questions to ask, before closing the session.
The lesson might be over for the client, but it is not completed for me. I will update the tennis coaching log, record what was done, and leave some remarks about what went well and what I need to improve for the next session. I will also write down the effective tennis coaching cues that helped the students, so as to remind them during the next session. This tennis coaching log becomes a very valuable tool for me as a tennis coach
Remember, if we are going to get one percent better every day, it will require continual self-assessment and acknowledgement of our weak points.
Tennis coaching is an ongoing process for me. There is no perfect session as there are bound to be some times when things don’t go as well as we wanted. I think these nine ways can serve as a guideline to help us become better coaches and make tennis a great sport for everyone.