Online Tennis Instruction: Understanding The Easy Info Curse

Some tennis coaches hate online tennis instruction. Many tennis players love it. USATennisCoach is launching into online training and instruction, and we plan to do it in the best possible way. We want your feedback, your punch list, your likes and dislikes in the field. Our aim is to make an entry that will be excellent in every way.  We want to interact and engage with you, the learner collaborator, in a way that develops everyone’s understanding for the better. Our efforts in online instruction come from a collaborative approach, that we hope positions us to be very influential, by making coach’s jobs easier, not harder. Bill Patton, in writing his books, almost always includes something about players getting coaching from a qualified coach. We are convinced that translating what you have seen, or read into action is best done in working with a collaborative coach. Bill welcomes it when his students, tell him about a video that is provocative in their learning, because it functions as a conversation starter. Some coaches feel immediately threatened when other instructors are mentioned, because their inner demons tell them, ‘Why would they go to anyone else?’

Clarity v. Confusion, Material v. Argument, Easier v. Harder

There are times that other sources of information have made Bill’s job easier, more often they make it harder. When the skill, strategy, or concept fits well in the logical progression of a player’s game that is ideal. If, the player lacks the underlying fundamentals, physicality, or maturity to use what they learned via video, then it can be much more difficult to teach. Sometimes players are fascinated by professional level play, but they really need to learn that which will actually help them get to the next level. Even though it may make a lesson more difficult, the work of creating understanding is so much stronger if, the coach has a chance to give rebuttal to false or inappropriate notions about how to play. This safe guards the player against false ideas. Ultimately, difficult or not, our attitude should be to embrace student’s who proactively seek information.

Attitude is Everything

There are a lot of different attitudes that coaches have toward online instruction, and it has a bearing on whether then, a player will benefit from working with their current coach. If the coach approves of the player bringing in outside information, that can be very helpful to the student. Stifling that curiosity serves to diminish the natural curiosity of the player who ultimately is responsible for their own game, not the coach.

The most cutting edge coaches realize that people consume information in a whole new way in the video revolution age. They either produce video themselves, or at the very least they support the student’s endeavors to bring more information to the lesson. Video instruction can help students to ask better questions.  Some coaches don’t welcome these extra questions.  Some coaches feel threatened, and maybe even jealous of online tennis instructors. Others, only believe in their own version of ‘tried and true’ methods of traditional instruction, and simply don’t encourage their students to view video.

Evaluating Good Sources

When evaluating a certain website, there are a few recommendations we can make. It’s important to understand the source of the instruction. Mostly though, maintain an open mind. There is almost always something to be learned. Here are some categories of usefulness:

* The A to Z teaching system – The Entire Sport according to…

* The A to Z on a stroke – everything you need to know about topspin forehands

* Extreme Technical Analysis of a stroke

* Slow motion presentation – Really see.

* One Tip Wonders – Simple Short, Thought Provoking.

* Drills (Challenges) presented to players that demand a certain performance.

* Step by step progressions to build a skill.

Our Instruction In Development (updated 7/18: Out Now!)

At USATennisCoach, we are putting pieces in place that can become an A to Z approach, but with enough wiggle room to allow you to make it your own. Any coach who produces an A to Z system better have at least 25 years of teaching the game, and/or some incredible education. A to Z on a stroke can be quite helpful, but how do you pick the one thing to work on? Our brains work best when we focus on one thing at a time, and changing an entire system in one lesson is not realistic. Take a look at The APAS analyses of strokes done by Andy Fitzell and Vic Braden.  There is no language, just a very simple 3D presentation in slow motion of many aspects of the motions behind one of the greatest shots of all time. Training your eye to see all the nuances of the stroke, can help you when you want to build a forehand that looks like Roger Federer, but you would want to pick on the earliest, or most glaring problem in a persons stroke, before moving on. On the other hand, we find that people obsess about technique, when really there are other objectives that should not be ignored, and technique should have it’s appropriate time.  Read: The Importance of Technique.  One tip wonders are pretty cool because many coaches can produce a short video under 2 minutes that can really enhance your game. Even so, any of the above is best done through the filter of an experienced coach. Tomaz Mencinger made an incredible video showing a tremendous progression of skill to teach the topspin or ‘kick’ serve, which changed the way Bill teaches that stroke. If you are a fairly new coach reading this, be sure to take a really good look at any video, and ask a excellent veteran coach their opinion.

Bill has a male student who is rapidly becoming a 4.5 from having started playing tennis in 2013. Occasionally, Alex will send Bill a clip of what he is watching, and there is some interaction via email. He charges a premium in his area for tennis lessons, so naturally he feels a strong sense of responsibility to deliver a strong value. Supporting, encouraging, and affirming Alex’s video homework fits perfectly with that mission. Bill and Alex work in collaboration to develop Alex’s best understanding of how he will play the game. Also, Bill doesn’t really let on how much value he gained from watching certain videos, but some were outstanding and he learned better how to teach certain strokes.

In contrast, last summer Bill taught a woman who seemed to be a purveyor of every well known tennis instruction website. Like a tangled ball of string, he had to find the knots in Karen’s understanding, as she had tried to meld together bits and pieces from numerous sources, including taking a lesson from one of the video producers when he was visiting this area. Bringing Karen back to a simple, logical, effective approach for her, was quite difficult.  To complicate matters, she had been in a car accident and had a lingering neck injury, which affected her ability on some shots. In this way, online instruction was a detriment to Karen’s game, it wasn’t tailored to her needs.

Facilitate Improvement Through Player Ownership

At USATennisCoach we believe players discover their own game with the help of coaches. Sure, he will show players elements of top players strokes to build in, but Roel was different.  One summer in a high school varsity level clinic, most all the players learned to develop their own distinctive game style, but not Roel.  He wanted to hit Federer’s forehand, Nadal’s backhand, Andy Roddick’s serve, Djokovic’s return of serve, etc. Except when he wanted to hit Federer’s backhand, Nadal’s forehand… it was a mess.  Bill explained to Roel over ten times in the summer, that he would be best served learning how to play like himself instead of someone else. Sadly, this preoccupation with mimicking pro strokes worked to slow Roel’s development and he was passed on he ladder by less talented, better trained players. Why does Roger hit it differently than Rafa, than Djokovic, than Murray?   It’s because they learned how to hit their own forehand.

 

The producer of the video, has no idea who you or your student is, they can’t design interventions. They can’t suggest that someone see a doctor, because they are not present.

 

Online instruction hits a hot button on the growth mentality, and the abundance mentality.  Those with fixed mindsets, and/or scarcity mindsets, tend to be threatened by information that comes from sources outside themselves. In some cases this leads to selfish behavior of trying very hard to convince a student that they are the only best source of information available to them. Sub-conciously coaches may also be thinking about the finite amount of expendable income a student might have, if they spend it on online instruction, they will have less money for lessons. Sadly, there is a fairly significant minority of tennis coaches who think this way. As though every thing is a contest, and they are striving to win them all.

 

When choosing an online outlet, here are some criteria to consider:

 

* Educational Background of the Coach

* The ability of the coach to clearly convey the idea.

* How quickly can the player understand and implement a new idea

* Is a progression of practice offered to build the shot into your game?

* Are common misconceptions, player issues, and other possible problems discussed in a way that makes it clear that the player needs a coach?

* How long has the coach been at it?  We believe it takes many years of experience to learn to teach masterfully.

* Do they bait you with a low cost, then offer other services with a dramatically increased price to learn all the material?

* Do they use celebrity players, who may have never really coached anyone at your level, as endorsers/or instructors? We are wary of this approach, although some of these are quite good.

* To whom is the video aimed?  Some people criticize videos that were never meant for the top 1% of players. They are aimed at the 3.0/3.5 level.

 

In conclusion, be open minded, be systematic, and evaluate each piece on its relative merits. Does the video provide value?  Even by being confusing, it provides value, because then the student comes to the coach for explanation. It’s all good!
Bill Patton, Executive Director is the Author of The Art of Coaching High School Tennis and Visual Training for Tennis.

Styrling Strother’s  Book   7 On Court Strategies to Enter Your Play State was released July, 2017

 

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