#1: Focus on Fun
We play sport for a lot of reasons. But no matter what level we’re at, what usually got us started in the game was simple – we had fun. To avoid turning players off or burning them out, keep things as varied as possible.
Come up with games and challenges. They are a fun way to train specific tennis competencies. At the basic level, think about how to improve hand-eye coordination because that will give your players a foundation.
Playing better opponents is good for development but try to match beginners with players of similar ability. When you’re just starting out, that’s a lot more fun.
And remember, too many rules can get boring for younger players. Keep things loose and focus on what matters most: core tennis skills. You can worry about getting them match ready later.
#2: Sequence their Learning
As a junior coach, a key role is to nurture the tennis ‘bug’. Confusing things with a mishmash of skills thrown in at once is discouraging. It’s better to sequence your teaching in a way that lets players become confident with something before moving on.
Also, instead of jumping from one type of skill to something unrelated and back again, structure lessons to build on complementary techniques. For instance, forehand and backhand variations follow similar movement and stages of progression. Develop related skills close together to make learning as easy as possible.
#3: Throw and Catch Before you Hit and Run
I know this sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but I find it a useful technique. Especially for very young players, throwing and catching is a great way to develop hand-eye coordination as well as those ball perception abilities that underpin so much else in the game.
It can also be valid for more advanced players as part of quick drills that get back to core skills.
#4: Break Each Movement Down
Great tennis players make it look easy. Especially at the professional level things happen so fast that it’s tricky for new players to see all the components that go into good play.
To help your students get the hang of new moves, break them down into digestible chunks in the way a dance teacher might. If you’re teaching forehand, say, you could look at hitting from the point of contact, the follow through, footwork and shot preparation as individual techniques.
By mastering each element individually, your players will find it easier to improve, especially because they’ll start being able to analyze the movements of other, better players.
#5: Play Mini-Tennis
Mini-tennis is a shortened court version of the game. This can be great for juniors and beginners because it helps focus on technique rather than power. And because it’s easier to get to the ball and return, there’s more time playing.
As I mentioned in the first tip, taking steps to strip the sport down to its essentials is a great way of getting a new player going.
#6: Aim for Instant Feedback
Talk to your players about what to look out for and how they should be feeling in a given situation. Think about how to introduce the concept of psychological triggers that lead to a poor grip, for example.
Don’t just tell them what, teach them why. By explaining the objective of an exercise or how a ball veering right can be a consequence of a tight grip, say, you’ll help them self-diagnose their own game. That will help them improve continuously, even outside your sessions.
#7: Practice, Practice, Practice
This always bears repeating. Get your students to practice outside of your coaching sessions. It will help them to improve continuously and develop focus and determination, too.
Give clear coaching points to take away, too. It shouldn’t feel like homework – but talk about aspects of their game to think about before they come back.
#8: Make Skill Learning Functional
This is all about getting creative. Can you come up with ways to incorporate movements into daily activities? This can be fun to do and helps players to reinforce their learning – partly by building muscle memory and partly by getting them think about tennis and recall what they’ve learned. This form of continuous learning also helps train the mind and will help to round out your players.
#9: Create, Steal or Recommend Reputable Resources
Back up your court teaching with high-quality materials that your players can study between sessions. It’s a good idea to choose resources yourself, for a couple of reasons. First, you can select material that complements and reinforces what you teach and the way you teach it. Second, if your players find poor quality instructions that are complex or unclear, even the simplest things become complicated. That will undermine their learning.
#10: Use the Two Bounce Rule
This is a simple way of making the game more forgiving for beginners at the same as increasing time in play, making the best use of your court time. It’s also a great way to make rallies more fun, which is great for players just getting started.