Hall Of Fame
Join Date: Feb 2007
Originally Posted by CoachingMastery
Great post and I agree 100%. In my experience, great teaching pros make the un-natural become natural, the un-familiar become familiar, the difficult become easy.
There are some players who find elements of skilled tennis more natural than others. But for people to clump all students into this mold is ignorant and, if they are pros, irresponsible. To simply "let" students do what ever feels "natural" almost NEVER produces a student who reaches their potential...in ANYTHING!
Do we let piano players play with just their two index fingers because using all the fingers feels 'unnatural'? Do we let kids granny shoot basketballs because it is more 'natural' than learning to set-shoot with the right hand and arm positions? Do golf instructors let students swing anyway that feels "natural"?
NO...unless you want the student to stagnate at levels far below their potential.
Why people today believe that teaching any sport or activity, (but tennis is most guilty of this), by avoiding techniques that are difficult, unfamiliar, or initially frustrating, is totally beyond me. While there is a VERY SMALL segment of population that can somehow manipulate unconventional technique into becoming somewhat successful, (I didn't say 'skilled'), all you need to do is go to the public or club courts and look at the gazillion players who dink, push, hack, bunt, and basically flail at the ball with no idea of stroke patterns, repeatable or reliable swing paths, spin, (too much or none at all!), footwork calamities, etc., who have not improved in probably twenty years!
Of course, the mark of a great instructor is one who can implement the drills, exercises, analogies, personality, and creativity, to make those difficult, frustrating, and unfamiliar patterns become mastered strokes, (thus becoming easy, familiar and confident), in as short of time with the least amount of uneasiness, and within an environment that is rewarding.
Notice I didn't say "FUN"...fun is a perception. You can have fun while working very hard. Fun for my students was when they smiled broadly when they executed a shot the way they knew was skilled. The joy of reaching goals, becoming skilled at something, and reaching ones potential is not only a higher degree of "fun" but the kind of fun that will last a lifetime...not just a moment of 'hit and giggle' that is fun for a few seconds.
Looking back at my coaching career, I remember other teams who were not anywhere near as good as my kids, at the beginning of the match were laughing and giggling, until they got killed and recognized they had not been taught tennis well at all. I have heard more than once, opponents going up to their coach and asking, "How come we can't be that good, coach?" And, within playing skilled tennis, my kids not only came away knowing they played very well, they ENJOYED the game because they were CAPABLE of executing shots that made the game more fun for themselves. Big kick serves, angle volleys, big topsping passing shots, overheads that ended points with an exclamation point, etc. These are skills that I feel I gave them to enjoy the sport for a LIFETIME...not just a mediocre lucky shot giggle and then run the ball down off the court next to them.
But, don't get me wrong; even within the idea of skilled instruction, we also had a ton of fun based on each team's personality, spirit, and individual leaders. To say you can't teach highly skilled tennis and have fun at the same time is basically saying you don't know how to teach tennis well.
Unfortunately, we still have hundreds of teaching pros and coaches who don't believe you can have both. And, unfortunately, we have instructors who believe that teaching inferior methods for the sake of "fun" is a good way to teach.
...why people avoid doing The Right Stuff, which is that everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Or, to put it another way, we're currently in the middle of the Instant America period, where you can get anything you want via an infomercial, including a 5.0 tennis game.
Re "difficult, frustrating, and unfamiliar patterns become mastered strokes", they're only frustrating or difficult if you don't understand the tool (the racket) and the biomechanics behind it. I coach both tennis and alpine ski racing, and I always make it a point if I want an athlete to do something different to explain why it's going to do one of two things, or better yet, both. The two things being use the tool to its optimum purpose and/or do so in a more biomechanically efficient way. An example is Conti grip on the serve. Have the athlete go through a serve motion (no ball) and stop at the contact point. Take the off racket hand and rotate the grip around to different grips...Eastern FH, Conti...what the hell, go for a SW forehand grip, which is what most players I've seen actually use. It will quickly become apparent that with anything but a Conti, there's no way you can ever get any consistency, pace, spin, or placement on the serve. In fact, you'll have to commit an unnatural act just to get the ball in the service box.
Yep, unlearning the Wrong Stuff is hard...but if you understand why it's the Wrong Stuff, and what the Right Stuff will buy you, the process is a whole lot easier and more straightforward...
Watch the ball, hit it hard, and don't think...