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Lose the Cart and Gain Teaching Opportunities…

It’s Spring and as the flowers bloom and the sun shines, love is in the air.  As I reflect back on past loves, I can’t help but be reminded of my first true love.  Her name was Diane.  She was a true companion, she came with me everywhere, from the baseline to the net and back again.  She moved about the court with such ease, almost as if she was floating on air.  From doubles line to doubles line, she was always by my side.

Diane was my first teaching cart.

You see, earlier in my career I would always have Diane (my cart) by my side as I feverishly fed balls to my faithful students.  I justified my job as a coach by having my students hit as many balls in an hour as possible. After all, that’s how I was taught.  The best way I knew how to accomplish this was to burn through basket after basket of dead ball drills.  It seemed to work, my students would come back week after week to work on the same shots over and over.  For some reason though, what we had worked on at practice hadn’t transferred over to their matches.

And so it went, week after week, month after month, until one fateful Tuesday in December.  I came to the courts as I always did, ready for my 4pm lesson with little Jason.  However, this Tuesday was a little different.  As I went to grab Diane for our daily dance, I was shocked to find that she wasn’t in our normal spot.  I searched all around the courts but to no avail.  She was gone.

Not willing to cancel my lesson and admit defeat, I asked a fellow coach if I could borrow a few balls to hit with Jason.  He obliged and so Jason and I went to the court with a dozen or so balls in hand for our 60 minute lesson.

Diane’s departure that day was without a doubt the best thing that could have happened to me (and Jason).

That day, while rallying, I was able to see Jason for the player he was becoming and not just for the player I thought I was creating.  When balls got too high, he didn’t back up.  When the ball was too low, he didn’t change his grip.  All of his shots mimicked the swings we had worked on week after week, month after month, but the ball was rarely in the “right” place for those swings to occur.  I hadn’t been teaching Jason to become a tennis player at all.  I had been teaching him how to hit balls.

I had failed to help Jason work on things tactical and had focused only on the technical.  My attachment to my cart had removed one of the most important components of any tennis match…the player at the other end.  From that day forward I promised myself and my students that I would stop solely feeding balls from the cart and look to create more realistic situations to help them learn how to better play the game.  That’s not to say I don’t have to use the cart from time to time.  We just don’t spend as much time together.

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