Should you teach footwork at the beginners level?
I was asked if footwork should be taught at the beginner level. This is a very good question. I’m going to answer from my point of view and from over 15 years of doing my own research as a coach both on court and by studying other ball sports. At the beginner level Tennis is all about the ball – even past beginner level you can argue about this.
Lets face it…you can’t PLAY tennis if you can’t hit the ball!
People may argue this and say you can’t hit the ball if you can’t get to the ball! True! But when you’re a beginner your attention needs to focus on what will give you the best outcome in the shortest amount of time or you will lose interest quickly. It really doesn’t matter how fast you are or how strong you are, or how you look. If you do not make contact with the ball it’s finished. Then you don’t like playing the game and give up and then that’s another person who leaves the sport unhappy.
I don’t want that to happen. Everyone should learn how to make contact with the tennis ball first. So when you’re learning tennis I focus all my students’ attention on the ball. Whether I’m coaching adults or children the same principles apply.
Sometimes it takes adults longer as they may have some bad habits to over come or have already made a consideration that they can’t play tennis/sport so…. Like in all ball sports you have to focus on what the most important purpose of the sport is….the ball!! If you want to get really scientific about it you can try this…see if you can put your attention on your feet and at the same time focus on the ball!! See what happens! I know the answer so I hope you find it out for your self too.
I explained that where ever you put your attention is where you can apply your intelligence. Therefore kids will think about their feet and forget about the ball and miss it!! Another area they learn to overcome is understanding the space between their body and the ball…first you will see all sorts of different situations where the student will run into the ball, not get close enough so ends up reaching so far they fall off balance or they air swing or don’t move at all.
For me I can not stand seeing a student miss too many times. I feel like I have let them down if I can not help them. Because I know that EVERYONE can connect with the ball. There is no such thing as I can’t! So what I do is break the process down to the point the student makes contact with the ball. If it means we are throwing and catching for the whole lesson and believe me this has happened with some students of mine and now they are playing a great game of tennis. or mixing it with playing with the bare hand then that’s fine. The student understands because I explain it so there are no disappointments from either side.
Again in this instance I don’t concentrate on the feet. I talk to them about following the ball. you might do a few Exercises with them to catch the ball in their hands, then ask them to hold the racket up at the throat so the extension from the hand to the racket is not too large or big a change. Then I repeat the exercise by asking them to walk over And let the ball touch the racket. I progress from here or keep going until they make that connection with the ball. But over a very short period of time the student makes contact with the ball and completes the stroke.
At no time do I talk about feet as a separate area. I also only talk about walking or running which everyone does naturally and needs no attention. So the focus is still on the ball. I have great results with this concept. By now the beginner student whether its a child or adult is really excited and happy to play tennis, they want to continue and come back to learn more. The key as a coach, teacher or mentor is to go through all your own confusion until you get to a point of simplicity. Then to be able to communicate that simplicity in a way your student can receive it. (How do you do that?….That is another discussion for another blog!) That’s a win! I’m happy they’re happy and tennis has another participant. So remember what the most important aspect of playing tennis is at the beginner level and especially for girls to keep them in the game. THE BALL and making it go over the net!
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