Updated: Sep 3
I remember it was like when I first started coaching Tennis. Everyone else made it look so easy. Many tennis coaches at the club and even some of my friends had produced players without problems.
But not me.
I was always tripped up by being stuck with the less experienced players; I could not get my message across; the players were only there because mum and dad wanted some time to do the weekly shop. And once I started to pay attention to what others were doing, I soon learned that they, too, were making the same coaching mistakes.
Now, if you’re a new coach, I can almost guarantee you’re already making these mistakes – or if not, you will be making them soon. And once you start making these mistakes, you’re going to find out that Tennis Coaching is time-consuming, expensive (CPD and qualifications) even, at times, painful.
Unless, of course, you learn how to avoid these mistakes.
So forget about trial and error. Forget about learning this stuff through the school of hard knocks. Instead, learn from my mistakes and save yourself a lot of time, grief and money.
Mistake #1: You Talk Too Much!
Almost everyone I know who tries to improve a player's performance makes this mistake.
That’s because it’s a bit counter-intuitive. If you look at this logically, you may feel like you should be talking more; how else can you get all your wisdom and knowledge across to your players? Well, it turns out that’s wrong.
You see, most players will be visual or kinesthetic learners; very few children learn by listening. I, for one, never listen! I need to feel and see what I need to do.
Coaches love to talk; the issue is that we are just overcomplicating the situation. The more we talk, the more we add stress and anxiety to the player.
I ask you how well you would perform if someone shouted a barrage of information at you.
Not very well, talk less, show more and help guide the player with their natural feel for the activity.
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Mistake #2: Unrealistic expectations
I made this mistake not once but a lot when I was starting.
So let me save you from doing the same thing. Instead of getting your players to play like professional players, try getting them to play at their level. I see it a lot now on social media, copy Nadal's forehand; no one can hit Nadal's forehand apart from Nadal.
You have to remember that the top players have years of experience, are unbelievable athletes and train at the highest level day in and day out.
Joan, on your ladies' coffee morning, plays once a week. Getting Joan to hit an open stance with a full western grip will not improve Joan's game.
Coach Joan what she needs, not what she would love to have.
I would love a 140mph first serve, but it will never happen.
Teach the player in Infront of you, not some unrealistic dream; leave the advanced biomechanics to the advanced players. You, stick to brilliant basics.
You’ll see much better results.
Mistake #3: Spinning too many plates
Most people don’t even realise they’re making this mistake until you see your player seize up with information overload. “I'm overthinking; there are so many things to remember etc.”, they tell you.
You can avoid this by giving the player one thing to work on during the lesson.
Coaches, as mentioned, love to talk. We tell the players how to position their feet, grip, racket head, swing path, follow through …the list goes on.
Give your players one clear teaching point for each lesson, repeat it verbally and visually and develop their game one small step at a time.
If you want to take it to the next level, try and choose an external teaching point, i.e. outside of the player's body, something they can focus on. Research shows that players who focus externally relax more and develop skills quicker.
If players are focused internally, i.e. how they are moving, they overthink, which causes stress and anxiety.
Rather than swing low to high (internal focus), can you get the ball higher than your head (external)? Again, this ties into a kinesthetic learner's see and feels learning elements.
My YouTube video on the worst tennis lesson reminds me of how technically some coaches are.
Mistake #4: Not setting the right environment
If you ever had coached a lesson where the players were disengaged, naughty, bored, with no effort, or lacking focus when trying to teach them Tennis, then you were probably at fault. When players find an activity too easy or difficult, they give up.
Next time, try changing the Space, Rules, and Equipment or Rotating the players and see if you don’t get better results.
Watch your players; it's your fault if they are not focused and engaged. Your job is to provide the stimulus by setting the correct environment and tasks and getting the most out of your players.
Mistake #5: Invest in yourself
I’ve saved the best for last. That’s because it happens to many coaches. Don’t rest on your five drills and two lesson plans. Keep looking to learn, get a mentor, invest in CPD, and take the next level of qualification.
However, you can avoid becoming obsolete simply by reading blogs like this, podcasts, YouTube etc.
It’s easier than you think!
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Pat yourself on the back for paying attention to this article. Because now that you know the top five mistakes and how to avoid them, you’ll be miles ahead of all the other coaches trying to improve player performance.
So take this newfound knowledge and confidence and become a more effective coach today!
PS - I'm offering a limited number of mentoring spaces designed to take your tennis to the next level. Whether you are a new coach or a seasoned pro, or just trying to improve your attraction or retention to your tennis programme, I can help you. During your private virtual chat, we can focus on ✅ Me answering your specific questions from player development, programme management, coach education or social media. Anything you want to discuss, we will. ✅Go through your development plan (or help write one). Help set your unique goals, and I can present some opportunities and help you develop a way forward ✅ Brainstorm ideas to help you develop any essential areas of your coaching life. 🏆You will also receive a free recording
Written by Steve Whelan