“If tennis would be that simple, everyone would be a great tennis player.”
This quote is one of my favorites. I am not sure that Brian can claim the rights for this pearl of wisdom, but, since I have heard it from Brian first time, it’s his in my books. Brian McNamara is the coach that has been working in Northern Suburbs of Chicago for the last twenty some years. He is a true player developer and can be proud of a lot of his students. He was never my official mentor, but working alongside with him gave me a chance to learn a lot about tennis.
“There are no short cuts,” goes one of the clichés that Brian used, too. Most of the parents, teachers, coaches, and even players would agree with that. Surely, I’ll be the first one to agree with that, as well. Yet, learning to play tennis has to be presented as simple as possible, especially for beginners and little kids.
Here is the example that is very helpful for all of us to keep in mind, when we introduce tennis to little kids or beginners in general. When little 6-9 year old kids have learned how to ride a 2 wheeler bike, can they verbalize and explain clearly what they do to ride it? All they know is that they can. And, yes, they CAN. And usually, there is a lot of thrill accompanying it. In other words they have learned to do something, not exactly knowing how they do it.
To get beginners excited about the game of tennis we need to get them “off the ground” ASAP, so they can start “functioning”. That means they get able to PLAY the game by exchanging shots across the net (How about even without net?). Especially nowadays, when activities competition is so high and learning to PLAY games on the tablet or smart phone is so much easier, faster, and often more addictive.
Therefore, what we chose to be “simple introduction” has to be picked and chosen very carefully. Especially, from the psychological standpoint: “Learning” and “Memory” are the big chapters in every Psychology Textbook. There is a very strong chance players are going to remember the first day of tennis for the rest of their lives, as well as permanently learn to do a few very first things they have been introduced to. At least, there is a strong chance those actions may become the instincts or the habits that would be very hard to change down the road. It is our responsibility, as coaches, to make have kids get healthy habits. The next step would be to master those habits and add many more new ones. And there are no short cuts in mastering; that is where repetition is the king, as long as the habits are healthy. Otherwise “getting good at no good” takes place. This will be the topic of another contrast that will be discussed soon.