When you’re just starting out learning tennis (or any new sport), you should keep your mind like a sponge. Take in all that you possibly can. Read, listen, watch. Absorb everything. Over time you will recognize patterns among those that are successful, and develop your own beliefs about what are important points.
There is no one way to learn or teach tennis. There’s no particular style that is clearly superior to another. In a way, you have to follow the Bruce Lee motto – to ‘absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is uniquely your own.’ By following this mental path, your game will always be growing and improving, and be a fun exercise for you to express yourself.
What you absolutely do not want to do is argue with or antagonize your coach. You should recognize that this is a worthless endeavour. You are there to hear all they have to say, the good and the bad. If you disagree with them on certain points, that’s totally fine but keep it to yourself. It serves no purpose to argue or talk back. If your disagreements are so fundamental that you feel your health or game may suffer as a result of working with them, then you should find another coach.
When you communicate with your coach, it’s very important to be absolutely clear with your communication. If they ask you to make an adjustment, and you find it difficult to do it, explain to them what it feels like – that you’re trying, but for some reason it’s really difficult to do. Be as descriptive as possible : “I’m trying to keep the racquet on the right side of my body, but I can’t feel whether or not it’s there.”
As a coach, their job should be to explain something once, then if you have trouble implementing the change, they have to figure out why. A good coach will explain the same concept in many different ways, since not everyone thinks and learns the same way: “The racquet is getting behind you too much because you have your elbows tucked in too tight in your ready position”.
Often a coach will say something to their student “lock your wrist, Johnny!” and then when the student fails to do so, the coach gets angry and repeats themself in the same manner, only to again and again see Johnny fail. They tell Johnny that he’s not listening, or he’s lazy, and this discourages the student and gets them rattled. It’s a game – it should be fun! Practice should be hard work but still fun. In reality, little Johnny may not know what lock your wrist means. Maybe he can’t lock his wrist because his grip is wrong. Maybe he’s using his wrist to compensate for hitting the ball too far behind him? There could be many different reasons for a particular technique problem. The problem that is glaring the coach in the face may simply be a symptom rather than the main technical flaw. Losing your temper is the worst thing you can do as a coach. Unfortunately many parent coaches can’t help it because they lose their temper as a parent sometimes, so they’re okay with that translating to the court. If you are a parent coach, remember that if you ever lost your temper with a student who was not your child, you’d be in deep trouble. So if you are a parent/coach for your child, I would recommend that when you are on court, you must have a coach/student relationship. When off-court, go back to being parent/child.
If as a coach you see a problem but can’t seem to fix it, reduce your drills to their most basic form. Bring your student to the net, do shadows without a ball until the technique is rock solid, drop a ball and do it slowly, then progressively move back bit by bit.
Well done, grasshopper. You’ve finished these lessons and are onto learning Drills!