Character development on the tennis court
Parents sign their kids for tennis lessons for many reasons. Mostly, the most important reason of a new activity for a kid is to make him/her interested in this sport and to help developing different physical abilities like coordination, speed and agility. As parents have different expectations according to the participation in tennis lessons, coaches also vary with their methodologies of what they should teach. Some coaches focus solely on tennis skills while others believe in a broad approach while trying to also improve life skills and develop good character traits. Which approach should we take? Can we say that one is better than the other? Do we have to make our job harder by focusing on more things? In my opinion, the hierarchy on the court looks like this: human being-athlete-tennis player.
I am a strong believer of developing character and life skills at first place. Why is that? To understand my point of view, let’s face the real situation of most tennis coaches. We work with variety of kids, from highly motivated and dreaming about the professional tour to typical amateurs who are happy to be on the court and play tennis once a week. Focusing solely on developing tennis skills and making champions is a tough process and only small percentage of players will ever have a chance to come close to make their dreams. What about the others? Are we going to teach them only tennis skills knowing that they will never achieve level of performance that guarantees big amount of money from winning tournaments? When career is done, skills acquired on the court can be used in a life to achieve successes in other fields of business. Making proper decisions or respecting others is a trait that can bring you more friends and benefits for your job. On the other hand, knowing perfectly how to play forehand will not give you an edge over your business’ rivals e.g. while opening a restaurant. These examples simply show that coaches should focus not only on tennis-related skills but their approach to teaching should be much broader.
Many coaches deny teaching life-skills because „they are not parents, psychologists and they don’t get additional pay for that”. Unfortunately, it is quite hard to change the mentality of this kind of „coaches” but there is always a hope. We have to understand that we don’t need to get a trophy for every small good thing we are doing for someone else. It should come from within us that we want to make our players improve as much as they can and our personal satisfaction for achieving these goals is the only reward that we should expect. Some players and parents are grateful for teaching their kids more than just to hit the ball and they buy gifts for the coach on special occasions e.g Christmas time. In my opinion, it should never be a priority for coaches while thinking about what pathway to go. During the tournaments, there are many examples of actions when we can observe if players spend more time on tennis-skills or maybe their priority is put on life skills and character development. Let’s see these situations below:
Winning at all costs
It doesn’t matter how but you have to win! To develop successful human beings, winning is important but not at all costs. There are rules that we can’t break to get what we want. During the tournament, we can see some players who are able to cheat on crucial points to get the point and finally win the match. Is this behavior really the action that we want to teach? Are we (coaches) proud of our players if they win this way? Can we honestly tell parents that they kids are good at cheating and that is why they are so successful? Serious coaches know that players have to focus on giving 100% of their effort in order to achieve best results; if it is not enough to win – you have to deal with it and work even harder!
No respect from the star
This problem is visible when the first big achievements come. Players feel like stars and they don’t respect other people. Players with low ranking positions? LOSERS! Referee who gives a call against this player? CHEATER! These actions are common for players who are not taught to respect other people and their practice time is solely direct towards improving tennis-specific skills. Coaches have to make sure that proper emphasis is put on teaching right behaviors to make better human beings and develop skills far more important than forehand or backhand.
Are you kidding me?
„I am not going to practice with this boy! He is too weak for me. I am not going to improve…” Another situation that shows lack of strong character and weak life-skills by the player. Coach has to prepare the player for the post-career life and make him/her understand the reality. If you don’t work hard in each situation, you have a really small chance to achieve anything great on any field. You can’t focus on external factors because there is always something to complain about. Narrow your concentration and get the most of each work and you will see astonishing results. This skill will help players not only improve tennis skills in a faster way but it will also pay off in the future.
These 3 examples are just few of many that coaches and parents can see on almost every tournament. If your coach is not focused on equipping your kid with life and tennis skills, probably he/she is not the right person to spend so much time with your youngster. Professional coaches understand their power to build and change kids’ lives so character development and teaching life skills come in package with great forehands and winning serves. Next time you are on the court as a coach and see your player acting improperly, don’t look for excuses. Intervene, teach right actions, be satisfied and observe the benefits!
About the Author
Marcin Bieniek is a tennis coach from Poland and a former professional player (Polish National Juniors Team). He is a certificated tennis coach by the Polish Tennis Coaching Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. Marcin has worked with many of the top 20 Polish Juniors and the top 150 players in the world.