Operation: Safe Kids Tennis
Little Amy had tears running down her cheeks and blood was spilling from her lip. She had been hit by her friends racquet during her lesson and was now being consoled in her Mum’s arms. As we scrambled to get the ice pack, Amy’s Mum was being very understanding, “Accidents happen darling,” she said trying to ease her daughters pain.
Rule #1 when coaching tennis…create a safe environment.
Rule #2…refer to Rule #1.
When we are coaching our tennis kids safety is our #1 priority. While tennis is usually a safe place, minor accidents like a player being hit by a racquet in the face are common; and serious accidents like a broken ankle or snapped Achilles are bound to happen. Some accidents seem unavoidable, but the coach, through their attention to detail and planning can decrease the likelihood of an accident on their court dramatically. Let’s explore one of the most common and familiar scenario’s which can be managed by the resourceful and clever coach.
Whenever young children ‘wield’ a weapon like a tennis racquet the potential for an accident is very real. It is the lack of awareness of the people around them; and the satisfaction of swishing a racquet around absentmindedly that increases the risk. This was the case in the ‘Amy Situation,’ a backswing hit Amy in the mouth while she ran to collect a tennis ball.
The secret to avoiding this accident is spacing. Using dots on the ground to give children an anchor point. Think you’ve got enough space between kids, think again and increase the distance; the younger and smaller the child, the more distance you need between them. Imagine the most reckless action, like a child walking straight into their partners backswing, and anticipate it will happen.
Reduce the risk even more by giving all players a bucket or personal collection of balls. That way they don’t need to put themselves in the ‘firing line’ when they run to collect tennis balls from a central basket.
Try to avoid lines at all times. When kids are in a line they are standing behind someone who is about to do a backswing, but they also have habit of becoming fed up waiting for their turn and swishing their racquet around absentmindedly to relieve the boredom. By using stations and rotations around the court we can effectively reduce the chances of our kids prematurely losing their teeth.
The younger the child the higher the coaches ‘duty of care.’ Accidents with children aged 5 – 10 are not unlikely, they are almost certain. Start with that in mind. In an increasingly litigious society even the smallest accident are cause for concern so we are better off managing and removing the risk, rather than deal with the consequences of the accident.
Remember to have a procedure which all your coaching team follows in the event of an accident. Treat the child with the injury; follow up with a phone call to the parents to show the care you have for all your students; and be sure to complete an incident report detailing the specifics of the accident. These steps are obvious for serious events, but should be performed for every incident from a cut lip to a broken bone. It is the least dramatic accident that can give you the most headaches.
What can you do to make your tennis program safer?
Think about your most recent accident; or most common accident and create an action plan to eradicate these incidents. Share it with your coaching team and measure how many of these specific accidents subsequently occur.
Have you cut down on the amount of accidents?
You can get on with the most satisfying parts of your mission to make tennis a really positive part of kids lives.