Is There Conflict Between Player Transition and Retention?
On the face of it, keeping young players in our clubs’ programmes by providing a structured pathway of progression through the ball colours should be both uncomplicated and organic. Yet often it is neither of those. Whilst coaches generally agree on the principle, we often interpret what is best for our own programmes in different ways.
Many coaches would agree that there is an issue with applying consistently our own transition process due to variables and factors which are often beyond our control. At the heart of the problem is the fact that we want to retain and grow our player numbers through providing a learning pathway that is both fun and challenging, whilst acknowledging that not all players will be ready to move up to the next ball colour at the time we would like them to. Equally, often there is parental pressure to move up for reasons which don’t align with our analysis of their ability and therefore some tricky choices have to be made. Do we move them up to keep parents happy even if they’re not ready, or keep them where they are and risk losing them to a rival programme?
I’m probably addressing this more at the ‘development’ or non-performance level in clubs, and I am mindful that many people may not like labelling or highlighting this distinction. Either way, the central issue is how can we get kids playing on different-sized courts with faster balls in a way that is appropriate and enjoyable for them. Ideally proper transition should be based on good tec/tac fundamentals rather than impatience or factors outside tennis ability. However the reality is parents may want this to happen sooner due to other considerations such as maintaining friendship groups or simply juggling busy lives to accommodate a variety of needs. Further potential challenges can also arise when new players join a programme, often with little or no tennis experience but at a stage where they need to play with others of a similar age who are more advanced ability-wise.
We can manage this possible conflict principally through good communication with parents, helping them understand the clear pathway for their kids that we try to use consistently in our club programme. Most parents respond positively to open, two-way contact and where exceptions might have to be made, coaches could suggest an appropriate package of individual lessons to focus on the key areas needed for improvement. This reduces the risk of the player losing enjoyment and dropping out of the game if the challenge of moving up is too great. Other considerations could involve modifying the orange court area, for example, by rallying only in the service boxes initially. By the time children are 10 years old, there can be more significant differences in both physicality and emotional maturity as well as cognitively (i.e. ability to make simple, yet effective decisions), so why not start those green ball sessions using an orange ball to ease the challenge of covering the angles and depth of a bigger court area with a faster ball?
As coaches we come across situations everyday where we need to apply some discretion and common-sense. There doesn’t need to be a conflict between retention and transition if we remember to communicate openly and regularly with parents, consider creative solutions and remember that our players will keep coming back to us if they are happy and motivated on court.
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