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What do our Adult Students Expect From us?

By Feisal Hassan, USPTA Master Professional

JUNE 2017 -- As tennis pros, we need to be very understanding and empathetic of the adult players we teach and coach.

Our adult students expect the following from us:

1.  Commitment to lifelong learning – Lifelong learning is a hallmark of a profession as a whole and a professional. What if your auto mechanic didn’t continue to learn? Chances are your newer high-tech automobile couldn’t be serviced. What if your doctor or surgeon didn’t continue to learn? Chances are you wouldn’t get the newer laparoscopic or robotic procedure. We should hold ourselves to a standard of lifelong learning as our game of tennis continues to evolve, and we need to continue to evolve with it and continue to learn.

2. A great learning environment – Dr. Dorothy Billington conducted a four-year study to see which factors in adult learning environments best facilitate adult growth and development. Her results concluded to seven factors found in learning programs that stimulate adult development*.

The environment needs to be one that:
• Is safe and supported, where individual needs and uniqueness are honored.
• Fosters intellectual freedom and encourages experimentation and creativity.
• The coach accepts and respects adult students as intelligent, experienced adults whose opinions are listened to and appreciated.
• Creates self-directed learning, where students take responsibility of their own learning.
• Challenges players just beyond their present level of ability.
• Has students and coach interact and dialogue.
• Has regular feedback where students tell coach what works best for them and what they need to learn.

3. Treated and trained in a positive manner – Working with P.J. Simmons, founder of the Tennis Congress, and based on our experience and feedback received from adult players, here are some recommendations:
• Students like to be called “athletes.” Players invest a huge amount of time, money, and emotional and physical effort into trying to achieve their personal best. When you call them “athletes” and “tennis players” (as opposed to labels like “average recreational players”), it makes them feel great and inspires them to work even harder.
• They love it when you reinforce what they’re doing well. Some adult players are among the most self-critical people you’ll ever meet, often acutely aware of what they’re doing wrong—the issue usually being they don’t know how to fix it. In the process of trying to make changes, sometimes they lose sight of (or may not realize) important things they’re actually doing right. You can help them retain “the good stuff” and keep their confidence up by reminding them of those things while also coaching them on how they can improve.
• Yes, they can learn new tricks! The majority of adult players are open to trying new things and making new discoveries that will help them unlock their potential over the long term. If necessary, most of them are willing to take one step back today in order to take two steps forward tomorrow.
• Assume you can train them like high-performance juniors and aspiring pros in intensity and methods. Many of them aspire to experience the feeling of hitting and moving in ways that resemble the pros. They may occasionally need a reality check in terms of what they’re physically capable of (although sometimes they might surprise you when given the chance!). In cases where you think they need a reality check, it’s helpful for them to hear it phrased positively, such as: “For just about every tennis player other than those at the very highest professional levels, I recommend...”
• Help them build their capacity to keep learning by emphasizing the “WHY” and “HOW,” not just the “what.”?As you plan your classes, consider how you can help the adult player “learn how to learn” and practice better once they leave the court. For instance, when you introduce a drill, tell them why they’re doing it, then tell them why the adjustment will help them unlock their potential, and how they can practice to achieve the desired result.
• Review the most important takeaways – and give them “on their own” work!?Take at least five minutes at the end of your class to invite them to grab their smartphones so they can capture you summarizing key things you want them to remember. Remind them which drills or exercises they could do at home “on their own” or with their teammates.
Focus on these expectations and the athlete will have fun learning and improvement will drastically occur.

* (Reference:  Billington, Dorothy D. (1998) Ego Development and Adult Education. ­Doctoral Dissertation, The Fielding Institute)
Feisal Hassan is vice president on the USPTA National Board and holds USPTA specialist degrees in Competitive Player Development, Facility Management, Sports Science and 10  and Under Tennis. 
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