Teaching kids tennis can be super rewarding and at times equally as frustrating. Sometimes just keeping their concentration levels high enough can be a challenge and then in a group lesson you need to deal with a variety of kids with a broad spectrum of coordination starting points.
As a coach on court there are always times where one child just cant find even basic success. This may be something as simple as a drop feed to a forehand from you as the coach or a self feed from the student. This extreme failure is difficult and its your job to help them go from stage 0 to stage 1.
Don’t just brush it off and pretend its something its not.
It can be awkward. Parents are watching, you are being judged, the child is being judged and you place your feed in the worlds ultimate hitting spot……then….BANG…..a shank sends the ball off on an angle and then WHOOSH…the second one is a complete airball……
Unless you are working with a huge group, you should not just say “OK, nice try Jimmy, now run around the net post and get ready again”. Where this type of enthusiasm is nice, its just putting off the inevitable. You really need to address it and find a way to get that success. How?
Bring them in even closer
From a drop feed or self feed sometimes starting them too far back from the net means they try and create unneccessary power resulting in misguided perception and technique.
Bring them closer in and focus on control, not power. Even take out the net if you need to help them taste success. Still not working?
Often they are just so anxious, overwhelmed or hyperactive mentally, they barely have time to watch the ball and watch the racquet make contact with the ball.
As the great coach and author of Inner Game of Tennis, Timothy Gallwey talks about is to get the student to call out ‘Bounce’ exactly when the ball touches the ground and ‘Hit’ exactly when the ball hits the strings. This simplification of watching the ball makes a huge difference to most kids. But some kids may need to learn kinesthetically instead and in that case you need to help them ‘feel’ the shot.
Control their arm and racquet
Either by standing behind them or in front of them you want them to feel the correct feeling as the arm moves towards the ball. You want them to identify what the correct ball contact feels like so they can program that into their muscle memory. Riding a bike for example is all about feel and until you get that feeling it can be difficult to describe.
Don’t worry about too much backswing or even follow through, the focus should be on the forward swing, contacting the ball in front and going somewhat from low to high.
The importance of success
One of our values at Scarborough Tennis is to help each child be able to start a rally independently. If they can drop a ball to their forehand and start a rally then they can practice in the garage, in the park, on the wall and on the court.
The next challenge is receiving the ball back but at least being able to start gives them independence and confidence in their tennis game. Achieving success is different for different kids and its important we help them grow from whatever level they are starting on.
Good luck on the court.
The Art of Tennis