In this article we look at what to teach as part of your adult programme. As part of that we answer two important questions; “What should we teach?” and “How can we teach it?”. Along the way we dispel a few myths about teaching adults!
Bear in mind that different people want different things from tennis:
- Game development – tactical and technical instruction to help them playe better
- Social – to be with friends and to have some fun
- Fitness – touse tennis as a way of keeping fit(or perhaps through Cardio Tennis, getting fit)
Not all adults want coaching, but for those who do, I want to dispel a few myths about teaching adults:
- Adults have more experience so they should find tennis easier! Not necessarily. It depends on the experience they have. Only tennis experience really helps although experience from other sports can be beneficial too.
- Adults are bigger and stronger, so they can playe better! True to a point, but it may mean that they lack mobiltiy, flexibility and coordination.
- Adults are too stuck in their ways to learn new technique! Be careful! The phrase “ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” depends on just how old the dog is and what it has being doing during its life. Insulation of neural pathways (by a substance called myelin) continues until the age of about 50, so they can still learn new things, but it’ll take longer. After the age of about 50, the process reverses (its why we start to slow down our movements as we get older), so its more about using what we’ve got. So it’s still possible to expect technical improvement if that’s what they want.
So what should we teach?
Tennis is a game, so what you teach should have purpose and should add value to what they already do. It should be functional and not cosmetic, and should always help players to play more effectively or more efficiently. Style and perfect form comes way down the list.
I like to use ball characteristics with adults because:
- they then understand how effectiveness helps them play better
- they can learn tools to use as they wish, to play the game they want to play
- it gives the teaching a purpose
- its about playing the game, and learning technique which can help them play better
It should also be mentioned that teaching ball characteristics requires the ability to receive the ball first (if reactions, anticipation, movement and positioning are poor, this will affect balance and control of the body and the racket, and therefore the ball). Adults can equally learn to play with an orange or green ball on smaller courts. Indeed they should use them if they can’t rally with a yellow ball.
The table below shows some, though by no means all, examples of how teaching ball characteristics helps to improve the game. They are presented in the way in which they can be explained to adults
|Serve and return||Baseline game||Approach and net game/pass and lob|
|Height||Height on a beginner serve increases consistency
Higher returns keep the opponent at the back of the court
|Low to high path with an open or vertical racket face depending on ability increases consistency over the net
More likely to give greater depth, to push or keep the opponent deep
|Low to high path with an open or vertical racket face gives the height required for the lob|
|Direction||Can be used to push the opponent wide
or to the opponents weakness. Useful both the deuce and ad sides to target wide serves or those to the weaker return
|Turning the body a little in the intended direction of the stroke brings the path of the racket down the line of the intended shot can move the opponent.
Allows for players to hit the ball into spaces
|Path of racket down the line of the shot. Approaches would traditionally be played down the line, but winner can result from balls directed into spaces|
|Depth||Depth on the serve prevents the opponent from attacking
Depth on returns keeps the opponent nearer the baseline
Controlling depth also includes the ability to play a drop shot
|Longer/faster or move vertical swing can add depth on groundstrokes, keeps or forces the opponent back and is more likely to result in an error or shorter ball||Try using height for a different type of approach, forcing the opponent back, espcially if done to the weaker side|
|Speed||Vary speed of serves for the element of surprise
Attacking returns can be played hard and flat down the line
|A longer swing gives more scope for acceleration and speed. Using combinations of height and speed adds variety to groundstrokes||Try attacking by hitting harder and flatter approach shots
Hitting harder volleys to angles on high balls will result in more winners, but try soft touch volleys for winners too
|Spin||Slice serves out wide are very effective||Using topspin to create higher trajectories and shorter angles makes the opponent move more||Learning slice on the backhand and the forehand keeps the ball lower, especially on carpet courts|
And how can it be taught?
Regardless of whether adults come to your individual or group lessons, adults who want to learn to play want to learn for themselves. This means that the task of teaching adults is a little different to the more standardised approach which can be used when teaching young children for example. Adults are all different, play differently, learn differently and can do different things. All this means that its smart to take a bit more of an individual approach, so don’t be frightened to discuss what each player wants from their game, how they want to learn and why. As an example, its perfectly OK to teach a player a sliced forehand (even though it wouldn’t be first on your list of shots to teach) rather than a topspin forehand if he finds it easier and if that’s what he wants to do. If it works for him and he can use it in a game, go ahead and teach it!
So think about how you teach adults to play the game by asking yourself the following questions:
- do I teach the game or do I just teach technique?
- do I help them learn a game which suits them, their ability, mentality, age and physique?
- do I change the playing environment to help them learn more and more quickly? This means using slower balls and smaller courts if appropriate
- do I see my adults using what I teach them when they play without me? Remember that learning is a permanent change in behaviour.