The following list is a personal favorite list of tennis coaching and
teaching concepts I endorse. Some have been mentioned earlier. There
are many other fine ideas by others, but these are the main approaches I
use most often.
The Balance Approach. This is Welby Van Horn’s concise method for
teaching beginners. His film, Tennis Fundamentals, is particularly good for
coaches of young teams.
The Rebound Approach. Dennis Van Der Meer has become one of the
all-time great teachers of groups. His work exists in every form – written to
film and tape. One of his most important contributions has been to help
players understand the bounce of the ball and how to move properly to
cope with the movement frustrations of the game.
Graduated-Length Method. Any number of teachers have
shortened the court, the racquet, or in some way modified the game itself.
Be it mini-tennis or “pickle ball,” making the game easier at the beginning
is a working method. We use mini-tennis annually at the collegiate level to
help develop touch, “hit spot,” and movement.
The Biomechanics Approach. I don’t know what word was used prior to
the popularization of “biomechanics,” but it is the closest thing to what
I conceive coaching to be. It is a scientific mastery of the trade, the
dissecting of the physical skills of the game. The reader can read about
my admiration for these people who have lent so much to the game.
Certainly, Jim Leighton and Chet Murphy are two whom I have drawn on
The School or Academy Approach. Nick Bolletieri and Harry Hopman are
the two men well known for a growing method of combining school,
tennis, and competition into a sound method for developing serious
young players. Quite honestly, this is similar to what college tennis has
been doing for years only it happens earlier and with serious intentions
toward tennis improvement.
The Checkpoint Approach. This method is the most common way of
teaching tennis and can be good or bad, depending on the ability of the
coach or teacher. Here, the coach stands before his pupils and shows them
how to take the racquet back, grip the racquet, or whatever point he is
attempting to impart. Books teach in this fashion with pictures or
diagrams. A sound understanding of biomechanics enhances the
The Use of Psychology and Motivation. One of the things good coaches
do best is get their players to a “proper level of arousal.” You can pump
them up too high or let the whole deal drag. How to handle players is a
major part of the profession. There seems to be more written on tennis
psychology than ever before, and these are excellent statements that vary
”far out” to “no nonsense” approaches.
The “Shadowing” Approach. I once saw a college tennis coach
encourage his college team to mimic patterns of shots without using a
ball. Dean Smith, North Carolina basketball coach, used this method as
early as 1964 to teach defensive fundamentals in basketball. This seems to
be a way to teach footwork and to slow down the actions to a level that it
can be better assimilated. My experience also has been that it is restricting
to simply tell someone how to execute a task. Demonstration is better, but
even better is to move the person through the stroke pattern yourself, a
“hands-on” approach, if you will, where you blend and shape and talk and
mold a player while having him pass through the stroke pattern. Once
again, you have to know these patterns to move people through them
correctly. The more you teach the more adept you become at this
approach, and talking is needed less and less.
The Target Approach. “Targets for Tennis” was one of the articles I wrote
that appeared in the January 1972 Scholastic Coach. Since that article,
many teachers have written similar, more detailed, and more thorough
statements. All are centered on the understanding that you have to know
where to hit the ball, and a mind’s eye picture of the proper target is
essential to getting the ball where it belongs.
The Axiom Approach. The use of time-honored statements, whether
they be motivators, instructions, or “drill-sergeant” type commands, have
their place in coaching. Practice sessions are filled with statements like:
“The harder he hits it, the easier you swing,” or “the farther in you come,
the shorter the shot, the more open the shot, and the more apt you are to
hit under spin,” or “the function of the stroke determines the length of the
stroke.” (These are all examples of axioms related to shot selections.) Some
more familiar ones are “get the lead out of your pants,” or “move around,
you’re killing the grass.” The players themselves develop the use of axioms
such as “go for it,” or “this is our time,” or (heaven forbid) “awesome.” What-
ever turns you on will get a lot of esprit de corps out of some people, little out of others. It does add to the fun of it all.
There are too many concepts to list them all, and some are blended in throughout the book. Some work well one time and not so well the next.
Coaches tend to think constantly about what will help. I remember once
watching a number one player of mine as his reflection was cast off a
clubhouse window. This right-handed player I’d watched for three years
now appeared to be left-handed. Almost immediately, I said to myself, “
That’s it! He doesn’t pronate his wrist on the serve.” Oddly enough, after
viewing others the same way (or hitting left-handed in the mirror), I could
pick out minute details that I’d never noticed before. Try it; you’ll be
There is almost no limitation to tennis knowledge and the ways you can
learn about the game. Surely, you’ll develop your own favorite concepts
that work for you and your players.
The real joy in coaching is the constant learning and transferring of
knowledge: to see something you have gathered and given to a player,
and to see the pleasure and success they derive from implementing the
improvement. This is what coaching is all about.