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Are You Ready to Each Your Veggies?

Are You Ready to Each Your Veggies?

If you have ever scratched your head and wondered “why this kid is just not getting it” then this post may shed a little light, but more than that you may refine and improve your coaching just by adding one key element, understanding why motivation is so important!

We all know kids of today are smart! They are way more intellectually agile, have better reasoning  and frankly learn faster than we did when we were young. Especially if you are of my generation when high tech meant the tv was color, and we were in awe of the pencil sharpener at the end of the desk where the handle turned and you would sharpen ever pencil you owned in one sitting!

So if kids are ahead of us, why then do we end up as coaches with the head scratch from time to time and kids just not learning as fast as we want them to?


You may be familiar with this phrase “When the student is ready the master will appear!” To me it always posed more questions that answers and that is because the key word in this sentence is READY. How do I know when a kid is ready? To help with this we should understand that the road blocks to learning happen in three areas and if you are not considering them then learning may not happen in the way you expected!

  • Motivation – More than anything the child has to be motivated to learn  (this is the one I want to explore today)
  • Capacity – Does the child have the physical and mental capacity to learn, including some of the pre-requisite skills
  • Opportunity – Does the environment provide the opportunity and this includes courts, equipment and you the coach.

They are obvious when you think about them and you can see straight away that if one of these things is missing is creates a big problem.  As we launch into 2021 with a hope that tennis will become the #1 sport in the world for kids we have to be careful that we consider these and to a large extent “get it right!” You get one chance to hook the child and make tennis their thing and if you blow it they are not coming back to the game, probably ever again! We are one of a growing number of offerings that compete for a child’s time. Don’t let tennis become my tomato ( I tried one when I was six and hated it and haven’t touch one in the next 46 years).

You can’t afford to screw up, and let’s face it we all screw up a fair bit everyday so focus people, focus!

WHY and WHO, always over WHAT!

In this post we are looking at Motivation, it is the mother of all learning. Of all the three above you have to have to see a task to the eyes of a child and make sure that the “WHY” is clear!  This is not your WHY it’s their WHY!  Finding the why means making learning something important to them, it needs purpose, and while we can make the process of learning fun, don’t lose sight that kids want to be taken seriously in a world where they are infinitely judged and measured. But before you charge into “all seven years olds must learn …” understand, it’s not if something is good for them it’s whether they want it that counts!

Step One

So where do we start? Many will say start with fundamental skills or general sports skills that will build into tennis skills and from a coach and developmental perspective this is pretty much universally agreed! The problem with this is that is our perspective, not a child’s! Through the eyes of a child there is only one place to start! Teach the game of tennis! The concept of long term athlete development is understood across most sports, developing fundamental motor and sports skills but here is the thing! As much as we would all love kids to engage in these skills, the development process and destination is too long a timeline for a young player who is just starting! It’s how they see them that counts and they look at these skills as boiled vegetables, yes they are healthy but they need a ton of ketchup to make them taste good and quite honestly I am just looking forward to dessert! A child’s attention span improves with age and commitment but as a kid I just don’t see them getting me to what I came for, playing tennis.  The concept of Tennis10s which has now been out there for some time is still as relevant today as ever! Serve, Rally and Score first off! Play the game of tennis because that is what we need the kid to fall in love with and commit to playing, it was born out of doing what was motivating for kids and not what was necessarily developmentally best for them. You can’t explain to a kid, or a parent for that matter, that all these “general skills” are part of a developmental pathway, because it’s their motivation and expectations that put up or take down the roadblock to learning. Long Term Athlete Development will only work if the player stays long term and if you don’t get to the game quickly they are already looking over their shoulder or wishing they were back on the sofa thumbs at the ready!

A Quick Sideline – A place for Technique

Before we talk about about chocolate covered broccoli a little more let me touch on one thing. Creating a game based purpose (a why) means explaining with brevity, passion and clarity why the kids needs to learn what you want them to learn. For example “would you like to serve and make your opponent step outside the court so you have a whole court to hit your next shot to? Yes? Ok then this grip is what you need!” Some have suggested that technical teaching is not needed with kids, some that its bores them but it’s not technique but technique without a WHY that fails to engage them. For those that believe technique is important, hell yes and if you just add a quick explanation of the purpose and engage the child in the journey I would venture than many kids actually crave it!  NB. We don’t have time to delve into constraints based coaching the real “jedi skills” of working with kids so let’s just stick to the thread and say the above.

Step Two

So is there a place for the development of the athletic skills? Yes of course and although what I am suggesting might feel like putting the cart before the horse the reality is that kids will learn faster and better when they see the value, see the picture, and understand why other skills will help them. You have to get past the ignition phase to create a change in the child’s motivation and let them start dreaming! Now they want to be the next Ash Barty or Rafael Nadal and crucially, their timeline gets longer. My thoughts as a child move from instant success, and I start to understand process! When I am here I understand why I have to do the athletic skills, why the vegetables will make my body stronger, faster and more skilled and I will buy in to the myriad of what seem like unrelated multi skill based activities. It’s not that vegetables were ever bad, it’s just that because I didn’t see their purpose as a child my brain was not motivated to learn because the “WHY” was just too obscure. And let’s not forget, not every child wants to navigate the pathway to being a player. We always assume that everything is about moving from one level to the next gaining more skills, getting better results but there is value and joy in reaching a base level of competence and playing the game you love, if you don’t believe me just ask my backhand which much to the dismay of the other shots in the family just loves to mess around. You have to think like a child! You have have to put the things in the order that best motivates them!  Don’t be so busy making decisions about the right way to do things that you don’t have time to listen and consider why they would too!!

Why Tennis Must be Tennis

Yes motivation can come from many different places of course. I want to win a prize, please the coach, win the game we are playing in that moment, please my parents, be respected and fit into the peer group, it’s not restricted to wanting to get better at playing the game of tennis, but tennis is what we are selling, it’s what we love and we need not apologize or dress it up, the best Whys come from the missions in the game of tennis. While we are here, stop the silly game names (no soccer kid ever put a ball down and said let’s pretend it’s a space ship), talk about players, grab your ipad and show clips of players, great points and increase the wow. Be purposeful and communicate! If they push back then you didn’t make the “WHY” valuable to them.

Yes, there is time to do everything needed in the development process for a little player if that is where they want to go but if the roadblocks are not down be ready for a frustrating drive!

Photo by Cyrus Crossan on Unsplash

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