I was going to create a fancy flowchart (and may still do that when I hone my graphics skills a little more) to illustrate the different paths available. Instead, I’m going to pose a few questions for you to ponder . . .
- What type of tennis experience do you and your child want? Do you want your child to learn the basics so he can have another social skill? Do you want your child to be proficient enough to be able to play on a neighborhood team? Is high school, college, or even professional tennis on your child’s mind?
- What is your own level of tennis expertise? Are you a former player who can supplement your child’s formal instruction? Are you completely new to tennis and relying on the coach to educate you along with your child?
- What is your tennis budget? Is a private academy coach a financial option or do you need to consider public park programs instead? Can you afford private lessons in addition to group drills? How many per week? If your child wants to play tournaments, have you considered the axillary costs of travel, food, childcare for other children, etc.?
- What type of coaching personality best suits your family’s needs? Does your child need someone to praise him constantly or can he handle constructive criticism? Can your child handle being pushed by the coach? What type of learner is your child – auditory, visual, other? Do you need a coach who communicates well with you or are you content to stay in the background?
Once you’ve done a little personal soul searching and answered the questions above, then it’s time to start the legwork. Depending on where you live, you may have tons of options for coaches or maybe just one or two. Either way, I’ve heard from several top-level coaches that it’s crucial for parents to do due diligence – ask the questions I listed in Part 1 of this series, ask if your child can sample the program before you commit long-term, talk to the other parents and ask for their honest assessment of the coach and program.
From tennis historian and teacher Phil Secada: “Teaching tennis has nothing to do with playing tennis. Teaching tennis has to do with a person’s ability to communicate the game in a way that the student will understand. This can be done via verbal, visual, or by example. Teaching tennis has to do with a person’s ability to communicate to and assess his/her student’s skills, ability to learn, ability to translate from one’s brain the motor skills needed to hit a tennis ball. Teaching tennis requires the flexibility needed to demonstrate the varieties of strokes, strategies, conditioning, court and weather conditions. A tennis player who is unable to communicate in the above way will never be a good tennis teacher. A good tennis teacher should have an already-made plan to take a student from the basic beginners level, all the way to the professional level. He/she should spend a few moments each and every day developing his/her plan for the students he/she is teaching/coaching!”
And just because someone is a former college or professional player doesn’t necessarily mean he or she can TEACH tennis to someone else. As USTA/Florida Section 2004 Junior Competitive Coach of the Year and tournament director Don Petrine says, “Playing tennis and teaching tennis require mutually exclusive mindsets. A player (emphasis added) must be self centered and absorbed. A teacher (emphasis added) must be the opposite, able to project and identify with what their student is experiencing. A great player must go from being completely selfish to unselfish if they want to teach effectively. Not always an easy transition.”
Part 3 of this series is coming tomorrow with more great information from top tennis professionals. Be sure to check it out!