Since tennis is playing (not just stroking), it is good to keep the purpose and objectives of the game constantly in front of a student. All to often in traditional tennis, a coach says that players, “should not play until they learn properly”. They then spend the entire lesson time conforming students to an idealized model of the strokes (forehand groundstroke, volley, etc). Imagine how the fun of playing tag would be killed if a coach put players into a series of agility and footwork lessons before they were allowed to play. This is what is being done to the fun of tennis!
For beginners, the game can still be kept in view by scaling it down to a size where the student can play with success (e.g. Red Ball, Orange Ball, Green Dot Ball). They then can have the whole game progress and expand as they develop.
The change in method from the traditional teaching procedure is in the positioning and relationship of tactics to technique. Traditional tennis taught a “technique first, then tactics later’ order. The key is to reverse that and teach a player what to do (tactics), then teach how to stroke (technique) as a means to perform the tactic. In traditional coaching the technique became an end in itself. Once a player could mimic the ‘proper’ form, the lesson was done.
Players can learn the game by being placed in level appropriate situations. They should be common situations that they encounter when the play. This “Situation Training” helps players develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills. It requires the coach programming their lessons based on situations (e.g. Maintaining a rally from the centre of the court). Traditionally, lessons were programmed based on strokes (lesson #1, ‘The Forehand’, Lesson #2: ‘The Backhand”, etc.). This type of stroke lesson programming stuck coaches in a model approach rather than a Game-based one.
A Game based lesson would follow this structure:
1. Start with a playing situation where the coach analyzes the skills needed for the players(s) to be more successful.
2. Drill the specific skills uncovered in the analysis (could be psychological, physical, tactical, technical)
3. Integrate the skills back into the original situation