Be a Great Coach….Don’t Just Look Like One
One of the best gifts I can give my young students is the time and space to solve their own problems. My job is to carefully design the task I ask them to perform and then allow it to do most of the teaching. With my youngest students the goal is often to complete their assigned task four times….after all you have to win four points to win a game, so four is an important number in tennis. Young children tend to remember, and celebrate, their successes, while older kids and adults remember their failures and are often paralyzed by fear of more failure.
Kids on the other hand generally seem undaunted if they fail to complete their mission quickly or easily as long as they can do it occasionally and eventually flip the four half cones stationed at the net to help them with score keeping. Along the road I may ask a question or two to move them in the right direction, and occasionally tweak things to help them find the “right” answer if they’re struggling, but as long as they’re engaged I try to mostly observe, be cheerleader, and when needed stay out of the way…..And there’s the rub.
When I’m posing the question that becomes the game, often something like “Can you hit 4 balls back and forth over the net in the micro-court” I like to do it quietly with them weighing in on how best they might do it. “Do you think you’ll do better if your shots look like arrows or rainbows? Will your partner have an easier time of it if your ball bounces in front of them or beyond them? But from a distance this doesn’t look like much to the parents watching on…I don’t have the kids lined up returning perfectly delivered hand feeds that can make even young kids look like champs….that is if tennis champs were always those who displayed the best form in a completely controlled environment!
When I’m coaching well it may not look like I’m doing much…but the kids are doing a lot. Ideally, I’ve educated the parents up front so they understand that I’m not just standing around waiting for the class to end. They get that whatever the goal is the kids can’t make it happen without, generally unconsciously, using technique that I want them to be mastering. They see that when the kids are absorbed I am too….observing whether the task I’ve set for them is challenging enough or maybe a bit too hard, and adjusting accordingly.
A great coach, working with young kids in a group setting, is often much like the director of a play, in the background guiding each young pair of “performers” to do their very best, whatever that is for their age and level. The coach should not be the star, but rather the creator of kids who love what they’re doing and learn a bit more about how to do it each time they’re on the court.
Evolve9 Professional Development Team