According to WIKIPEDIA, “Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users.” A review of research shows that most studies find positive effects from gamification. Now how does this affect us as tennis coaches and how do we use it to our benefit?
We know that children now are brought up playing computer games of one sort or the other, but even their parents who often despise this, have been conditioned by gamification without even realising it!
In lay terms, we need to teach children how they have been conditioned to “play” through their games. That is, to make tennis activities feel more like games and to provide choices and rewards for achievement of various tasks. We have had great success with gamifying our Red, Orange and Green programs, and even our younger High Performance Squads.
To play tennis, students should understand there needs to be 2 players, 2 racquets, a court and a ball. Often in computer games, the player must collect keys or tools to help them solve a level. By explaining to the students they are playing a game, you can ask them to complete a warm up task they need to perform in order to unlock the necessary equipment for the first drill. For example, the successful completion of a ladder activity by both players in a team may unlock a single ball required to perform their first task of throwing and catching in pairs. Successfully completing this tracking exercise 20 times, may unlock one of their racquets, enabling them to progress to the next “level” of activity. This might be: one throws the ball to the player with the racquet who must hit it back to the thrower. A successful attempt is a catch after one bounce. Once both players have 5 catches, they “unlock” their second racquet. Once this “safe” level is achieved, they are able to perform whatever tasks you wish.
The kids become so engrossed in the “game” they are playing, they don’t realise they are working co-operatively on basic hand-eye co-ordination, tracking and projection and reception activities vital at this stage of their development! Minimal equipment is required in the above example as players are required to use the one ball they unlocked. Balls are no longer being hit all over the place and if they do manage to lose their ball, they both must go back to the activity required to “unlock” another ball!
Children have been conditioned through the computer games they play to think like this, so they understand having to go back a level sometimes in order to move forward through the game! Even their parents, who may have grown up with the original SPACE INVADERS, PAC MAN or GALAGA understand this concept. The beauty for us is that returning them to the level of core skills mentioned above, we are encouraging mastery of these, which is great for their long term tennis development!
As someone passionate about 10 and Under tennis and also producing performance players, I think gamifying your program both engages the kids whilst promoting mastery of basic skills!
Jason Lindeman – Director of tenniscoaching.com.au
evolve9 Professional Development Team