Way back in the 90’s I remember reading the terrifying Stephen King book called IT! It was about scary clown who could morph into anything and cause terror and destruction. In my role working with and mentoring young coaches I see the tennis equivalent of IT all the time. IT is something I was guilty of before I evolved my mentality to developing young players.
IT is delivering warm ups that are purposeless; don’t relate well to the physical skills needed in tennis; and essentially are an on court holiday for the coach. It could be argued that some of these warm ups are fun [like a clown]…but fun quickly becomes chilling when the kids discover the warm up is always the same, never becomes more challenging and they aren’t getting better at tennis specific skills.
The Line Game, running laps, clean your room, line tag etc… are some of the clichéd games that get delivered…masquerading as an effective warm up. At evolve 9 we challenge our coaches to embrace the warm up as a critical time in the lesson where you have a chance to build the crucial physical skills which underpin the performance of all great little players.
Why the warm up is the most important part of the lesson…
Aside from the critical reason of developing physical and athletic skills there another important motive for focusing on your warm ups. This is the time you can catch the attention and imagination of your tennis kids. They may be coming from school and are either a) over excited to see their friends or b) exhausted after a long day at school. It you don’t engage them straight away…you risk losing them for the entire session.
Take the line game, a very popular game with the young coaches I work with. The coach calls out a line on the court and the player’s race to the line with the last to reach the line eliminated. The kids do seem to genuinely enjoy it, but it is like chocolate and has no long term benefits beyond perhaps teaching the kids the geography of the court – which is very important.
So let’s not throw the Line Game out, it has its charm. Improve the line game….one step at a time.
- Don’t eliminate the last child to reach the line, they are often the ones that need the extra practice. Award a point for the winner instead of eliminating players.
- Teach the tennis scoring system. The tennis scoring system can be very frustrating to teach a young child (it doesn’t make sense). So teach it too them while they are having fun at the beginning of the lesson, while their minds are fresh award 15 points for reaching the line 1st, then 30, 40 etc…
- Ask the children to balance on the line once they reach it. This will challenge them to stop and balance, critical and specific tennis skills. Even better ask them to balance on 1 leg.
- Multi directional movement. Ask the players to move to the different lines while always facing the net. This will demand they move forwards, backwards, sideways and diagonally; quickly and with balance.
So take your favorite existing warm ups and add challenge and skill to make sure they are testing your players on a number of different levels. Don’t become the clown or take a vacation during the warm up – be the coach who engages and challenges your players from the very beginning.