How do most parents select a tennis coach for their children?
The usual answer is out of convenience. Who can blame them? Adding an extra few hours of driving time each week to get to the “right” pro for your child is often not only unattractive but downright difficult.
Unfortunately, all tennis coaches are not the same and never will be. They are all different and not all of them will be a match for your child’s specific needs and nature. Consider selecting a teacher or coach for your child in two phases.
Phase One: Start – up
No matter what age your child starts playing tennis, the start-up phase or first year is arguably the most critical part of their career.
Why? If their experience is not positive they may never pick up a racquet again! Although this may sound extreme and the exception rather than the rule, consider that industry insiders say that at least 90% of those who start playing as children will stop playing by the time they finish high school. Case closed. Remember that although a tennis program is conveniently located, it doesn’t mean much if your child only plays for a month or two and then quits.
Here are five key components of tennis classes to look for before enrolling your beginning child:
Key #1 Peers – By the time children are in school, the influence of peers, both good and bad is tremendous. For tennis, look for a facility that has a group of children of similar age and ability to your child.
Key #2 Fun – If you are watching a group lesson to see if your child will fit in, be sure to look at the faces of the children at the beginning of the class and at the end. If they are smiling and look happy, you’re in good shape. You can also test the “fun” component by sitting near the court and closing your eyes. Try to listen for the laughter. If you can’t hear it, something’s wrong.
Key #3 Creativity – The 490 feet of lines on a tennis court just do not create a visually interesting environment. Since the interest in tennis is generated by a moving ball and beginners cannot hit a large variety of shots, it is up to the teachers to create visual interest. Make sure your child’s potential teachers use different types of visual training aids in each and every lesson.
Key #4 Cooperative Learning – Instead of a group tennis lesson with the pro feeding balls and giving long-distance instructions across the net to four students standing in a line, look for a cooperative learning environment with the students feeding balls to one another and the pro roving freely from student to student, encouraging them and making corrections. In this scenario, the students will hit more balls – one out of every two, instead of one out of every four if they stand in lines (if there are four children in the group). Some line drills are fine, but not as a consistent pattern.
Key #5 Self-esteem – The final large issue to keep in mind when selecting a teacher for your child is the issue of self-esteem. Simply put, we must understand that a child will only consider continuing to play tennis if his or her self-esteem increases by playing. Do they feel good about themselves? Do they see and feel a chance of becoming a success through playing. To quantify this for your consideration when observing a lesson, just look at a child’s success to failure ratio. In other words, is each child in the class succeeding more than failing in most tasks and activities?
Phase Two: Competitive
Once your child enters the competitive phase of junior tennis, you are among the elite number of parents with another set of considerations in selecting a coach. It is a much more complex world than when you were merely selecting a “start-up” teacher for your child.
First, you have to consider the same four points discussed above in the start-up phase. Then, add the fact that the coach will typically be working with your junior player through his or her teen years, a phase that creates a whole different set of unique demands for both girls and boys.
Here are some other considerations for you to keep in mind in your selection process:
- Success Breeds Success – As simple as it sounds, look for a coach with a track record of keeping students in his or her program for a long time. However, this can be more difficult than it appears, since many successful tennis coaches graduate into administrative positions, leaving less experienced coaches without track records to deal with the day-to-day needs of the players. Therefore, just because a particular club or facility has a lot of players and a good reputation does not necessarily mean it will continue. Try to catch a good coach who both has a track record and will continue their hands-on involvement for years to come.
- Mentor Program – I have seen the dynamic effect of mentor programs too many times not to mention it here. Successful junior programs have many levels of players and a mentor program means that the older and more skilled players will spend some supervised time each week working with the younger players. This creates an environment of high motivation and inspiration for the younger players and propagates a wonderful mood of cooperation and team spirit.
- Effort Over Results – The final point to remember is that only a small percentage of junior tennis players will go on to compete at the high school level, and an even smaller percentage will play collegiate tennis. Look at tennis as a healthy vehicle in which children can learn real life skills that will stay with them through the entire course of their developmental years and well beyond. The best coaches set performance goals for the child and let the results follow. The point is that if effort and attitude are rewarded, your child will have a solid foundation on which to succeed. But, if too much emphasis is placed on winning and losing, the chance of truly winning is practically nonexistent.
The tips in this article are designed to make your tennis teacher selection more scientific and less coincidental. The final question to ask yourself in observing your child’s potential teacher or coach is whether or not he or she is having fun themselves?
If they are, chances are the students will also. You’ll hear it in the pro’s voice, see it on his or her face, and know it by how quickly everyone picks up balls after a drill. They will also pass the “watch-your-watch” test. If they are having fun they will not be watching their watch to see if the class is almost over.
And, most importantly, if they’re excited and having fun, chances are your child will be excited as well.
Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the USPTA and PTR, has been recognized with numerous national awards including the 2019 City of Dallas Humanitarian Award for contributions to inner city tennis, and has conducted clinics and exhibitions in over 50 countries. Joe is the author and editor of 9 books and more than 20 DVDs, has more than 300 published articles in various tennis and pickleball magazines, and has aired many instructional tips on the Tennis Channel. Plus, Joe’s YouTube channel has more than 2 million views and growing! His latest book “Words, Wisdom, and Whimsy” is the second volume of an illustrated series called “Poems from the Heart.” In 1994, Joe founded OnCourt OffCourt, Ltd., a company dedicated to serving the tennis, pickleball, fitness, yoga, and physical education industries with innovative training aids and educational tools. Today, he has designed and manufactured more than 150 creative products being distributed and used in 100 countries worldwide.