Written by: Jay Barlow
Jay is a certified Coach 3 and a member of the Ace Family for the past 5 years. He has worked with players of all ages during his 19 year teaching career and has a passion for helping players of any skill level reach their goals. The journey from getting racquets into the hands of youngsters to training players on the WTA, ATP, ITF tours has provided a full perspective on developing great tennis players and most importantly – great people. You will find him currently working with the International, National, U12 and U16 Provincial programs at ACE in Burlington.
Some Perspective on Group Training
The group training environment is extremely important for tennis players in order to learn and progress their skills. Often times, however, there can be a lot of confusion surrounding how a player should experience this training. One common misconception is that students benefit most by training with players above their level. In many cases this can be counterproductive. In order to develop the right balance of attacking, neutralizing and defensive skills; players must train with players below, at, and sometimes above their level. Technical or tactical issues can arise as a result of playing too much with players above your level – especially at a young age.
There can also be issues in terms of players and parents accurately determining the level they are at. Looking at the player in a more specific context provides some variance from what he/she may be ranked or their perceived level overall. For example, players with advanced defensive skills need to play more with players below their level in order to have increased opportunity to be in offensive situations. Players who tend to rally consistently may need to play more with players above and below them. Good coaches are cognizant of these details and strive to put players in situations that will help them develop the skills they need in order to progress as a complete player.
Be aware of the physical, psychological, and emotional differences in children of similar ages. When comparing young tennis players (something that is detrimental in most cases) it is often over looked that the rates at which humans develop in these areas greatly differ from person to person. The reasons as to why one player may be perceptually “better” than another can often be a matter of advanced maturation in one or more of these areas. Their skills as a tennis player cannot be viewed under the same lens as a result. A 12 year old can be well above or below his chronological age in terms of this development. With this understanding, we can now realize it may take well beyond the teenage years for different players to reach the same level of physical and mental maturation. This is well illustrated by the wide age gap between players making their breakthrough on the professional tennis tour. It is one of the primary reasons for seeing an 18 year old playing in his first grand slam event at the same time as a 25 year old.
Hopefully these thoughts help provide some perspective on the development of tennis players and make the journey that much more enjoyable.