It’s fair to say that there are many ways to teach and to develop a competitive player. By looking at the pro rankings, we will see players with a wide variety of backgrounds and stories. While there were probably some commonalities between their developmental journeys, the actual methods and values used by their coaches have likely differed in many aspects. Despite the fact that some systems, like the Spanish, tend to develop more players and that many key factors are “requirements” to become a world-class player, one topic that often gets overlooked is the methodology used by the developmental coaches.
My goal in this article is not to convince you to use my methodology, but to challenge you to formalize your own. First, let’s define what a teaching methodology is. In my view, it means a defined system with principles and procedures that shape our deliveries with the goal of enhancing the learning experience for the student.
With that out of the way, we can now focus on creating or defining your method. If you have been teaching for a while, you very likely have a process to create your lesson plans and deliver your lessons. From my observations, a small percentage of coaches have their method highly defined: that is written down with a step-by-step process and values clearly recognized. Just pause reading this article for a few seconds and ask yourself: “How would you define your teaching methodology in 30 seconds or less ?” Go ahead, I will wait for you…
Not so easy, huh? You may be thinking “but I’ve been teaching for a while and I know what I am doing, it’s all in my brain!” That’s a fair point, but from my experience one of the key skills needed to be an effective teacher is to be clear with your message. It does not have to be fancy but you need to be able to connect with the player and find ways for him/her to do what you find is important at that moment. If you can’t clearly explain your method to yourself, you will likely miss the mark with your players more often than you’d like, or are even aware of. Once your message is crystal clear to yourself, you will then be better able to re-shape it into whatever form you need to in order to effectively deliver to others. Think about all the times we repeat the same information relentlessly, with limited to no results. While part of someone else’s progress is outside our control, honing down your process can not only improve the player’s experience, but also create a competitive advantage for you.
You will be the coach with the clear method!
So, where should you start? The step-by-step list below should help spark your thoughts.1. Create your Mission Statement. This should be simple but meaningful to you.
Mine is: “To utilize the simplest way to progressively move a player through the developmental journey while developing his/her fundamentals, character and
love for the game.”
This touches on all areas that are key to my methodology
2. Pick your components. This is the time to be a chef and choose the ingredients that you find important. Such as:Simple language
- Love for the game
“If you can’t explain simply, you don’t understand well enough.”
What is the range of acceptability that you’ll have for all strokes? Document it (that is write it down, use pictures/videos) so it is “tattooed” in your mind.Tactical concepts. Initially, I emphasize two key concepts at the baseline: “Directionals”
Simple definition is: Hit cross-court from wide, and look to change direction from the center: Favor the inside stroke when changing directions.
Identify the strongest pattern
Which direction do I have an advantage against this opponent? Is it FH to FH, BH to BH, FH to BH or something else?Drill creation. My drills must:
- Be simple
- Have competitive element built into it
- Be fed with a realistic ball path and tempo
- Be easily adjustable to become easier or tougher
- Portray a specific scenario that players can relate to
- I try to use a 3:1 ratio of positive reinforcement to correction. In other words, I attempt to teach by making the player aware of the good things s/he does instead of “fixing” all the not so good things.
- Make a “big deal” when they do exactly what you are looking for!
3. Create a structure for your delivery
- I believe in creating an environment conducive to learning: fun but controlled.
- What are the actions you will not tolerate? Write them down and give them to players and parents at the first class.
4. Define the process for technical adjustments. In my view, using progressions is the best way to approach most technical changes. Having a clear way to address these can boost the player’s learning curve. My method includes:
- Develop a consistent flow of activities that is engaging and has good content
- While our sport requires lots of repetition, there’s still plenty of room for variety and small changes that can totally change the feel of a common drill. So, be creative while keeping it simple and focused on a fundamental skill.
- Identify the root cause of a potential issue
- Break it down into progressions
- Isolate the area of focus and minimize the chance of the player doing the old habit by setting the player on the new position. For example: A player has a large loop on the forehand that is outside the range of acceptability and it does not work. In this case, I’d set the player on the position s/he would be after the unit turn is complete so the player has less chances of doing the previous mistake, as s/he is already on the adjusted position.
- Stay on task, focusing on the above area, until the player is showing signs of progress.
- Gradually make it more challenging.
- Continue to progress and regress as needed while focusing into his/her main priority.
While teaching cannot be put into a cookie-cutter approach and no method works every time, it’s crucial that a coach has a clear understanding of his/her own methodology. Even if it’s to know when your system is not working and a different option is necessary. By taking the time to define your process and by documenting it, you’ll notice that it can be an enlightening process in which will make you a better teacher.
In a society that wants fast results, having a system that is more process based can increase the player’s likelihood to “stick around” as they’ll better understand where they are in their journey. However, that’s only possible if you know how to move them forward within your own method first.
I hope that you have found this helpful. If you have any questions/comments, I’d be happy to hear them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Joao Pinho
Joao Pinho is the Head Professional of 10U and High-Performance at the USTA BJK National Tennis Center in NY. As a former NCAA DI Coach and player, he has specialized in developing competitive junior players and is currently the private Coach of three National Champions and a WTA Touring Pro. Since 2014, he has presented in fourteen different conferences and workshops across the country including the 2015 USPTA World Conference.