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Direct Coaching v Constraint-Based Coaching - Which is better?

Updated: Sep 3

I posted a poll recently on our YouTube Community. (

Which is the more effective coaching approach?

A direct coach-led or a player constraint-based approach.

It was surprising that 75% of people on my channel felt a more coach-led approach was best.

So let's look at the two in more detail.

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Direct Approach

This often traditional coaching method is how many of us have learned the sport.

The coach sets up the practice, and the player is told what to do, when, and how. The method is very closed, and players are asked to repeat specific movements (technique) to get the desired outcome.

The coach gives the bulk of the feedback. The player is often a passenger in the decision-making. The coach provides all the ‘cues’ of what to do and when. It’s often what the player is doing wrong, and as the player progresses, the coach will make the movements more complex and advanced.

The player does not play the game in this coaching style and is focused on repeating a movement (technique or skill).


Coach led keeps players on task

Facilitates early-stage learning

Quick improvements

Player provided with Rules


Players will find it hard in a game situation with more variables in play

Players will find it more challenging to adapt to different situations or scenarios

Poor tactical understanding

Improvements will plateau

Constraint-Based Coaching

Playing games encourages players to discover effective movements and develop tactical awareness.

Rather than focusing on mastering technique and attempting to use it in a game. CBA places the players in games where they must discover how to play them.

Players will need initial skill development but are playing modified versions of the entire game. This encourages both technical and tactical skills development. Players will better understand when to play certain shots and how.

The player leads most of the learning, and the coach is the facilitator. Using effective questioning and manipulating elements such as the task, environment or the players themselves, the coach helps guide the player to the solution.


Players play the game (or modified versions) - Players will develop better problem-solving skills

Practice will be varied, and players will develop more versatile skills

Implicit learning encourages better decision making

CBA play better under stress - Less competition anxiety

It can take time for players to develop the skills

It can look messy and disorganised - Less structured and regimented

If the constraints are too easy or too difficult, the player can become disengaged

So there we have the two sides - Which do you think is better when coaching Tennis?

In conclusion, the constraint-led and traditional approaches to tennis coaching have unique benefits and drawbacks. The traditional approach focuses on developing fundamental skills through repetition and structured drills.

In contrast, the constraint-led approach emphasizes creativity and problem-solving by placing players in challenging and unpredictable situations. Both approaches have their place in tennis coaching, and coaches may choose to combine them to create a well-rounded training program. Ultimately, the key is tailoring coaching methods to individual player needs and goals and remaining open to new ideas and techniques to help players reach their full potential.

Written by Steve Whelan

Steve has developed thousands of tennis players and tennis coaches over the past twenty years as a coach and educator.

Steve had over 20 million social media views in 2022 alone.

Read About Steve's amazing career here

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