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Maximising Engagement

Some thoughts on Gamifying Your Lessons

Kids can focus on iPad and video games endlessly (take my word for it!). If only we could get our kids to focus that hard, and learn this fast on the tennis court (or classroom or anywhere for that matter.)  Using some of the principles of Gamification we can achieve a higher level of focus and engagement from our tennis kids.

As a coach educator and mentor for a coaching team one of the challenges I see is keeping the kids enthralled in the tennis lesson.  Maximizing the learning and guiding the kids to becoming lifelong  tennis players, because kids reach an age where they will drop out of tennis (or any sport) if they are not enjoying the challenges, if they are not able to experiment and have stopped striving to improve their skills.

This tipping point can typically occur between ages 8 – 10, where kids decide that they are not passionate enough about the sport to continue making the effort.  Can you visualize a time when a group of players were becoming lethargic and disinterested in their lesson? – it a dreaded situation for any coach who may have to deal with behavioral problems as they struggle to keep the kids in the game.

Creating innovative and fun games within our lessons – “gamifying” them is a process we constantly explore as we seek to engage kids in their tennis.  By harnessing the secrets of the gaming industry to make our lessons more appealing we can achieve an extremely positive result where kids enjoy fun learning.  These are some ideas we have recently experienced some success with, the kids enjoy them and they become immersed in the activities and learning implicitly the skills of the game.


Two for Blue

Using colours, shapes and sounds is a core element for Tennis Whizz lessons for ages 3 – 5.  In this game the coach places a blue cone or marker spot on the backhand side of the player, Two for Blue Hands on the backhand.  When the coach or partner directs the ball to the blue spot, the player can immediately recall “Two for Blue” and execute a double handed strike that is most appropriate for the Tennis Whizz age group.

The game has helped us encourage young children who are fiercely one sided (to the dominant forehand) to confidently and happily hit their backhand and most importantly recall the motion in subsequent lessons (ie. Long term learning.)

Ladder Race

Using a footwork ladder and cones or even better soft animal toys (see image), you can create a fun and exciting environment for your tennis kids in which they are motivated to perform their skills.

When players successfully complete a skill ie. catching a return in an upturned cone or rallying 6 shots in a row they are rewarded by moving their cone or toy a rung in the ladder.  Games can be played as a team or individually depending on the competitive maturity of your players.  A real sense of delight and enjoyment accompanies this coaching tool.

Counting in a 2nd Language

Many of the students in your classes will be learning a second language or even speaking one at home.  By asking them to count their rallies, or each performance of a skill in the second language you can effectively:-

  • Show interest in the child outside their tennis world, which they will appreciate tremendously
  • Focus their ‘conscious’ on the challenge of recalling the numbers in a foreign language and free their ‘unconscious’ to perform the movements and skills without the interference of over

This coaching tool is otherwise known as ‘dual tasking’ which has shown some encouraging signs of improving performance in young tennis players.

Memory Games

The coach places 6 – 8 down turned cards by the net post and instructs the players to try and find a target card (the Ace for example). The players are allowed to turn over a card when they successfully perform a set skill (ie. A rally of 10 with both players at the net volleying; or 5 deep volleys in a row which land over the service line).  If they don’t select the Ace they must turn the card back over, memorizing its position so they don’t select it again, and continue to search for the Ace.

Like counting in a second language, memory games are designed to be a dual tasking activity.  Players conscious thought is engaged in memorizing the cards and they are free to perform the skills their body instinctively knows how to execute.

Like the Ladder Race a very keen sense delight and enjoyment was observed as the players searched for ‘Ace.’  A real sense of team work can also be engendered by playing this game with a partner who can help both perform the skill and memorize the cards.

These are all ideas that have worked in our academy, the importance is to understand that these are just coaching tools which create ‘The Fun Wrapper.’  The Fun Wrapper surrounds the quality coaching you are delivering.  These ideas to gamify your lessons are not activities by themselves, they are designed to compliment your activities so players are enjoying themselves so much that their improvement sneaks up on them to give them a rewarding surprise.


Coaches Challenge

Take your favourite activity, game or drill at each of Red, Orange and Green and add an element of gamification to it.  Use the ideas in this blog or brian storm your own ideas.  Check whether you have created an environment where the kids are more excited and engaged.  Ensure that learning is still happening (not just fun) and experiment with different ideas that suit the age and interests of your tennis kids.


Resources Section

More on Gamification from the e9 Team

Why girls are dropping out of sport…and why they need to stay in!conference


Rufus Keown is a member of the evolve9 Professional Development Team

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