More than a Game - August 31
Spiritual Truth #7—Players must be trained how to think not what to think.
Today many tennis students are indoctrinated instead of taught. What I mean is the “pro” tells the student what they want them to think and then reinforces it over and over again. The assumption is because the pro is doing the lessons they must be good teachers. This is not always true.
There is a big difference between tennis pros and tennis teachers. A pro is one who makes his living by being a good player. A teacher is one who makes his money by being a good instructor. There is a vast difference between the two. Many people take lessons from good pros … the problem is they are bad teachers. Good pros are not always good teachers. The other problem is pros often teach how they play and what works for them, not what is best for the student. Therefore they “force feed” concepts that worked in their career, but are often unable to explain why it should be done in this way.
The job of a tennis teacher on the other hand must be training his/her students in the art of thinking and thinking well. The teacher knows that it is critical for players to be able to use their minds as their greatest weapons on the court. Therefore the only worse thing than not thinking is wrong thinking.
The teacher aims at enabling the students learn and to retain the information so it is accessible to them in matches. In my thirty seven years as a tennis teacher I have found that much of what students have learned in lessons is not used. I have also found that when this information is needed most, it is often inaccessible.
This is not the way it should be. Students must first seek to understand what is being taught. If they don’t understand what is being taught then how can they apply it. Computers are a great example. If you have lots of software but don’t know how any of it works, it won’t do you much good.
Second the student needs to agree with what is being taught, or at least concur with why it is being taught. If they disagree with what the teacher is teaching them they are less likely to use it. For instance if my tennis teacher wants me to hit more underspin forehands, and we spend several lessons on it; I am unlikely to use it in matches if I see little or no use for it. Just because I did it in the lesson does not mean that I will use it in matches.
Contrast this “because I told you so” attitude with creating a “hunger” in the students mind to develop the new shot or concept. If the student believes they must have this new technique in order to grow they are much more likely to use it and even practice it. This means the new information is valuable and useful to them. This is the goal of marketing today; to create a need in people and show them that your product will satisfy this newly created need. This should also be the goal in teaching.
Thirdly students must use the new information on a regular basis. This gives them hands on knowledge of it and confidence that it works. This will also help them ask good questions in the next lesson. It will help them seek more detail about specifics on the concept. It will even help them ask good questions to develop further learning. The more players use these new concepts, the better they will understand them and the more proficient they will be in using them.
Good teachers will regularly ask questions. This invites thinking and reveals how well the students really understand what is being taught. Just because they say they understand a tactic, or the mechanics of a stroke, does not mean they always do. The interrogation process will also open up dialogue between the student and the teacher. Only by asking questions will dialogue open up and only in dialogue can the greatest learning be acquired.
When students are indoctrinated they are not as good at problem solving. When problems come up in lessons the pro thinks for them. However the pro is not on the court in tournament matches and cannot help their student solve problems that come up. When this occurs indoctrinated students will have more difficulty fixing the problem because they are not used to critical thinking when troubles occur. They are used to the pro telling them what to do.
On the other hand when players are taught how to think they are better problems solvers. When they run into a problem and the teacher is absent they think about what they need to do, just like the instructor taught them. They find and fix the problem as best as they can. They are able to adapt and use their mind as a tool to help create a solution. Thinking is natural for them, especially in times of trouble.
Thus tennis players must seek to be tennis coaches in times of adversity. In this way the student will fix the problem not complain about it.