Go Team…or Go Nowhere
Ever notice that the main competition to your kids tennis coaching business is not the other tennis club down the street, but other sporting codes like football, cricket, baseball or basketball? What have these sports got in common…they are team sports, and they support the basic human need to belong. Kids naturally gravitate to team sports, they get to be with their friends and everyone shares the highs and the lows.
Traditionally one of the problems in tennis development is that too often players are taken out of this supportive team environment and idolised as talented and gifted. Once this happens they are thrown into opposition with other kids and when they lose they get to share their disappointment with…their parents!
The question is why is there a need to get young kids to compete as individuals at under 10? What would be different about the matches if they were team based? Would the players compete with less intensity or less drive? Or perhaps when the going gets tough they would knuckle down and try their best not just for themselves but also for their team mates?
Running a program that behaves like a team, trains like a team and competes like a team doesn’t mean the talented players are not given the chance to shine. Just as Wayne Rooney is the star of Manchester United and Kobe Bryant a giant at the LA Lakers, some children will excel in a team oriented tennis program and have the best opportunities to develop their skills.
Your job as a teaching pro / coach is to create a team of players that all push along together, one player on their own will not succeed in most cases, they will fall away or seek another team. You see when we develop young players it is so easy to get excited about the superstar but even the #1 in the world needs the #2. If you want your player to be successful don’t grow them in a ‘pot!’
We don’t need to look far to see how the team approach works. In days gone by the nations that we truly consider to be successful are not those that produce just one player but have a crop of players all coming through together. Think of the famous Australian Davis Cup era under Harry Hopman and most recently the Spanish juggernaut where highly respected past players like Emilio Sanchez keep cultivating players who are highly talented, work tremendously hard and show ultimate respect for their opponents and the sport.
How can we put this team philosophy into action? Tennis has some in-built team focused events. Ensure all your players compete in doubles. It will increase their activity at tournaments, it will force them to work at their net game and they will need to work as a team.
Davis Cup [boys], Fed Cup [girls] and Hopman Cup [mixed] are all wonderful team formats which the professionals seem to enjoy immensely when they get the chance to compete. Plan your competitions to run in these same team formats. Schedule singles, doubles and reverse singles; with the team winning three [or more] or the five rubbers winning the tie.
Get organized with another local club with similar resources and select your most dedicated players at red, orange
and green to form a team to compete in a challenge match against your rivals. Work together with your fellow coach to match players of similar age and standard and form a draw where each player will play a mixture of doubles and singles. The size of your team will depend on how many courts you have available and the size of your program. Make the event a real focal point of the program with a team t-shirt, an impressive perpetual trophy and finish with a BBQ dinner for all players, parents and siblings.
For more ideas on how to implement team events check the great e9 resource ‘When can I play again?’ Events like Tag Team Tennis, Team Cup, Mum, Dad and Me, Tri Team Challenge and Team Round Robin are described in full and are more great ways to promote a team atmosphere in your program.
Focus your energies on growing the environment where children can all flourish. Don’t idolize the one superstar in your program, parents will do this anyway, instead build a team or players who all push each other.