I will never forget when a parent once told me that she took her children from a tennis coaching program due to the lack of thought that went into the lessons. Now I cannot tell you where this was, in fact I am not sure myself, it was a while ago.
What I do remember however was the frustration in their description of it all, but it got me thinking about how a tennis lesson should be delivered. In fact she had two frustrations, as follows;
"I asked the coach why THEY weren't doing the lesson, they had their name on the flyer, all we got was a young kid who looked like they were following a piece of paper with instructions on it. The coach said "Well that's how the program is done, would you like your money back " ?
This is the situation that got me thinking, is this the way the game is supposedly taught ? Is it meant to be done all the same way without so much as an 'ad- lib' by either a qualified coach or an inexperienced assistant ? Is tennis a game that should be played and taught one way ?
Wayne Bryan's article which I shared on this site is brilliant as it spells it out in simple terms, the game needs originality.
Bjorn Borg's backhand would never have been as effective and unique as it was if he had listened to people who said it wasn't the 'right' way to hit it. It was a freakish type of shot and one that I have not seen replicated in the last 35 years. John McEnroe's serve was the same, it was simply unbelievably brilliant, and unique, all in one.
So why don't these freakish and unique type of shots exist now and why do most kids play the same ? Because THEY ARE TAUGHT THE SAME, with no originality. I remember once sending away for a video, yes a video, not a DVD, it was a while ago, on tennis drills. I figured that perhaps my own drills were not enough to keep an advanced squad in particular happy for a complete season. I watched the video, 250 drills, I used parts, yes PARTS of just five of them, the rest were complete garbage with no replication of actual match simulation.
I will not say where the video originated from but it was one that was done with many recommendations from it's governing body. So is this what the above mentioned coach meant when they said "Well that's how the program is done" ? Do coaches actually rely on a certain way to teach the game because they have no idea on how to think for themselves ?
When I first started to teach the game I was 18, I had been to Queensland and learned many, many drills so I 'tweaked' them from beginners to advanced. Many of my drills were the same drills for all ages but I simply changed the intensity and toughness of them to suit each group.
Some drills were a flop and with these I was brutally honest "Ok sorry guys, that was garbage, it's not working, let's just try something a little different ", words to that effect anyhow. I didn't play out the term with it, I flagged it after three minutes.
I did not do much by the book, I did it from memory, my days playing as a kid, what worked and what didn't ? What did I like about training as a kid and what did I hate ? Some days I would get a kid to feed a drill, "Come on Champ you have seen me hit a thousand balls to you, now it's your turn". So I would be a student, I would do my best to set the example, walk the walk, as they say.
One day I played a game with my advanced students called 'Beat the Coach', first to 100 points, it took maybe 20 minutes to complete, I was sweating like a pig by the end of it. I won by three points against some pretty handy kids, I never forget a score.
Now I know every coach has a game like that but I never saw it anywhere else, I improvised, experimented and 'tweaked' it until I made a game that simulated point play. All for just a can of soft drink, but the game wasn't about the drink. Some days I swear we saw some shots that if we had a Go Pro on them we may just have won 'shot of the year'.
The walk to the fridge by the 100 point winner at the end of the session was a walk of pride, a walk of fame, a walk of a kid who had won a game that commanded some ability to prevail. The day I won , well I gave the can of soft drink to the kid on 97 points, naturally, but I was chuffed, not just because I won but for my thinking outside the square.
I have seen that parent since, the one who took her children out of the program, her kids do not play tennis now days, a shame, she wanted them to learn the game. Originality in tennis ceased when big organizations took over and instructed new coaches to teach a certain way and follow certain programs, the ones that sound good and look busy. Most of these aren't worth the paper they are printed on.
One day I would love to see another Borg backhand and a Jonny Mac serve hit by a kid with a sense of thought for the game that typifies this chapter's heading. If you found a kid like that then they would be worth offering cut price lessons to. Do the sums, all of the best players of any decade owned something unique.
Chances are they also were nursed along by a 'Zen Master' with some original ideas.........