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Nick Jacques on the Importance of Play Outside Lessons
An interview with Nick Jacques who shares his thoughts on why it’s important for kids to play outside their lessons and how to achieve it.
Nick is the Tennis Manager and Participation Coordinator for Tennis Northern in New Zealand. In this 45 minute interview, Nick shares his thoughts on why it is so important for kids to play outside their lessons – solitary practise and unstructured play – and how this can be achieved.
The interview is aimed at coaches, tennis parents and programme managers.
We asked Nick:
- What exactly does he mean when he says play outside lessons?
- How is learning in the lesson different to what is achieved by playing outside of lessons?
- What do children gain by playing outside of lessons and why is it so important?
- How can clubs can encourage and provide more opportunities for children to play outside of lessons?
- What is the conflict faced by parents when booking more individual lessons vs playing outside of lessons?
Key Take-aways for Coaches
- In this context, play outside lessons refers to solitary practise and unstructured play. A good programme has lessons, competition, social play – but play outside lessons is exploring and experimenting – without judgement.
- Players who have an opportunity to make mistakes and have time to become more aware of the body will be able to take instruction (in lessons) better.
- You build off your emotional, mental, physical and tactical traits – so, if you don’t develop an awareness of yourself and what the game of tennis is (through play outside of lessons) then you don’t have a blueprint or foundation to build from. Coaches know what the blueprint is, but kids don’t.
- It’s not fun to be told what to do all the time, so if kids get to play they’ll be able to take instruction better (and enjoy their tennis more).
- The “MOP” (Moment of Perfection) is the great shot that happens as a result of hours and hours of mistakes made in an uncritical environment.
- Counting the number of mistakes is a totally different mindset to counting the moments of perfection. A focus on the number of mistakes can tip someone over from enjoying the game to not looking forward to it.
- We should be measuring all the good stuff; not hiding from the bad stuff – but we don’t need to measure it.
- The lesson court is structured. The practise court is unstructured.
- Many people think a “competitive” person is someone who just wants to win. An alternative view is that it’s a person who likes a challenge and loves to battle. Nick looks at what is being done in lessons to encourage this behaviour.
- If competition is done badly it can turn players off. For younger players that means ensuring that the battle is winnable for them. You can structure competition so that the level of challenge is right for anyone.
- Methods of coaching will depend upon who is standing in front of you.
- The intention isn’t to make it hard for coaches to earn a living. Lessons and play outside of lessons go hand in hand. You don’t need a lesson to learn how to play; you need a lesson to learn how to play better.
- Volunteers, “culture keepers”, parents and junior players are often happy to organise sessions for play outside of lessons. Its’ important to engage with those people because you can’t be everywhere at the same time.
- A good programme has more than lessons; it has lessons, competition, parent engagement, play and social engagement where players can just hang out at the courts.
Nick’s Thinking CAP is summarised in this interview but is available in more detail in this dedicated post: Nick Jacques’ Thinking C.A.P. (Interview)
- The first pillar of Nick’s “Thinking Cap” is COMPETENCE. The stages of competence are
- Unconscious Incompetence
- Conscious incompetence: I know what you’re saying but I can’t do it.
- Conscious competence: I know what you’re saying and I know how to do it but it’s not automatic and I need more time to practise.
- Unconscious competence: its automatic.
- The second stage of the Thinking Cap is AUTONOMY and it’s about owning their own tennis. It comes from the child’s own personal wants and they’ve got to understand that everyone has a role in their own personal development and they’re responsible for their own actions. For example if the child is on court and their opponent is cheating – kids will often ask me should they cheat back. My answer is to that is, “No – that’s not what I would do, but it’s your match. If you decide to cheat and then people label you as a cheat, well that’s on you. That was your decision and you bear the consequences. If you want my advice on what I would do, well I would stand there, stick my racket in the air stubborn as anything and refuse to play. You don’t have to do that though.” So, what I’m doing is giving advice and guidance all the time.
- The third stage of the Thinking Cap is PURPOSE; why is the player here? Am I coaching them because they need it or because they want it? If you’re coaching a child on something they don’t want to do then there’s a process that can happen; the child starts by hating the exercise, then they start to hate you – and then they hate the sport.
- At the end of each lesson reflect on which part of the Thinking CAP you were coaching and if you weren’t on track – address that at the next lesson.
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