Written by: Wayne Elderton
***Wayne Elderton is acknowledged as one of Canada’s leading coaches. He is Head of Tennis Canada Coaching Development and Certification in British Columbia. In this role, he has provided coaching training to over 1500 coaches. He is a main contributor to the Tennis Canada Coaching Certification program and has also written articles and coaching materials for the PTR, Tennis Corporation of America, Tennis Coaches Australia, and the International Tennis Federation. He is a popular speaker at coaching conferences world-wide. He is a Chartered Professional Coach (ChPC) as recognized by the Professional coaching association, Coaches of Canada. Wayne has enjoyed considerable success in his career using the Game-Based approach. As a High Performance coach, he has led provincial teams to gold medals in the Canada and Western Canada Games. His players have won numerous national titles and many have achieved full scholarships at US Universities. Some have gone on to achieve WTA and ATP rankings. He has also coached 3 wheelchair players to top 10 world rankings and has coached Canada’s World Team Cup squad (Davis Cup for Wheelchair players). He is a key builder of the Canadian National Wheelchair Team program and created Tennis Canada’s Wheelchair Instructor Course. In 2006 he was inducted into the City of Burnaby Sports Hall of Fame in the coaching category. He is currently Tennis Director at the Grant Connell Tennis Centre in North Vancouver which was awarded the 2005 Canadian Facility of the Year for program excellence by the Tennis Professionals Association. For more information, please go to www.acecoach.com***
We have identified 4 main ‘pillars’ that are the foundation of advanced coaching:
- Learning tennis as an Open Skill
- Coaching in a Learner-centred way
- Utilizing a Game-based Approach
- Integrating the 4 Performance Factors (Psychological, Physical, Tactical, Technical)
In this series, we are delving into the, “Integrated Performance Factors” pillar.
To keep the Performance Factors in view, ITF hall of fame coach, Louis Cayer (with expansion from top coach Larry Jurovich) have created a ‘vision/mission statement’ for players. Just like with a company, the ‘vision’ part gives us a picture of the preferred future. The ‘mission’ element makes sure we have this as our major purpose. We introduced the statement last month which reads:
“A Performer who is a Focused, Competitive Athlete that Plays Smart with Effective strokes.”
The statement is in 2 halves. In previous newsletters, we have looked at the first half which is about developing the ‘person’. In the last installment, we moved to the second half which deals with developing the ‘player’. This month, we will focus on the “Plays Smart” characteristic.
We will define it as:
“Able to make effective decisions based on strategy, gamestyle, and tactical variables.”
Who doesn’t want to coach a player to be smart? One of the first questions I ask when watching a match (especially with junior players) is, “Are these players actually playing tennis, or are they just hitting balls?” The game is rampant with ‘hitters’. Player who just slug the ball (usually trying to overpower their opponent). Don’t get me wrong, one can be quite successful in tennis just being a ‘hitter’. However, developing a hitter (as opposed to a player) may doom them to a limited world competitively. The problem with being a hitter is there is always a bigger hitter out there (just ask all of Serena Williams opponents). When you meet them, you have nothing to overcome the challenge. Interestingly enough, a player who had good success against Serena (even when Serena was in her prime) was Justine Henin. Justine was definitely a ‘player’. She was able to use the court, vary ball direction, trajectory and speed, to hit shots that nullified Serena’s big game.
Playing ‘smart’ is all about using effective tactics. Tactics are all about decision-making. It is always interesting to hear a TV commentator say, after a great decision by a player; “You can’t teach that!” However, the fact is, it can be taught if one knows how. Decision-making is critical, and for the most part, under-taught in tennis.
I will outline two key solutions. The first is for coaches to view the basic building block of tennis as ‘shots’ rather than ‘strokes’. Thinking and teaching tennis as ‘strokes’ tends to trap coaches (and their players) into prioritizing only the mechanics of the hit. This isn’t bad, just incomplete. When coaches think of tennis as ‘shots’, they tend to include the whole movement cycle (split-step, moving to the ball, setting up, executing the stroke, and recovery). They also include the situation the player is in (where they are located and what kind of ball they are receiving).
This leads right into the second solution, which is to use a Game-based Approach (GBA). This simply means, get players to play, and help them learn to play better (see the many other articles on GBA on the acecoach website). GBA is all about situation training. The goal isn’t to teach how to perform the perfect stroke, but rather to expand the library of situations their players can handle by giving them the skills to recognize what is happening, and respond to it effectively.
Do you teach strokes or shots? Do you outline the situation the player is in, or just feed them balls so they hit strokes (with no particular context)? There is a lot of research that talks about the power of ‘implicit’ learning. To understand the concept, let’s look at the opposite of implicit learning which is ‘explicit’ learning. This is when the coach tells the student what to do and how to do it. Seems like that would be a good thing, but it actually robs the student of improving their problem-solving and decision-making. Implicit learning happens when the player is placed in situations they encounter when they play and the coach helps them to problem-solve and execute well (which always included good mechanics).