Learning tennis (not teaching tennis)

Coaching has evolved over the last decade. In the past the dominant type of coaching was to focus on technical aspects. Nowadays coaching is a complex process that focuses on all areas needed to succeed on the tennis court.

There were many introductions to the world of coaching during recent years.Quick start tennis and development of specific philosophy to teach tennis to kids was one of them. Using video technology on a daily basis to analyze strokes and full matches is another step to take coaching to a different level. Now we have an opportunity to witness „smart” tennis courts which do analysis for us ball by ball. All these aids are great to take quality of our job to the highest possible level but we can’t forget about the basics that will never change. It is player’s ability to learn.

More and more coaches have switched from using coach-centered practice session to athlete-centered training approach. We have to keep in mind that it is all about the player and each player is different. This information reminds us to constantly look for different adaptations to make one improve at the highest possible rate. If we design program, training session, and even a drill to meet specific person’s psychological and physical demands we can be sure that our approach will bring improvement sooner or later. Taking into consideration player’s personality, favorite learning method, body type, and age we have to still be aware of the process that will let athlete take the most of each exercise.

Recently I was reading a great stuff about social learning theory and I strongly believe that these rules can be successfully applied to tennis. It was said that to properly acquire a new skill you have to go through 4 stages. These are: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Let’s see what these 4 words mean:


Attention – It is all about having a player to pay attention to your words/actions. If player is focused on you, you can be sure that your information has a big chance to be delivered. On the other hand if player is focused on a different activity even the best coach in the world will be useless because it is not how much you know but how much your player gets from it.

Retention – Another part of this process is retention. Your information has to be processed by player so make sure that you deliver it in a form that he/she accepts immediately. Only knowing your player’s favorite way of learning will allow you to achieve this task. For example if he is a visual learner you should prepare graphics about proper kinetic chain instead of talking about it. Again it is how much your player gets from your message so asks for confirmation to be sure that your knowledge is not wasted (or even worse misinterpreted).

Reproduction – Here we talk about repetitions. After theory there has to be always time for practice. Allow your players to work physically on a given skill so they can create habits of new abilities. It is also important to provide proper environment while repeating correct actions because too difficult hitting partner or too intensive exercise can ruin all the previous effort.

Motivation – Your players have to see the reason to work hard. Be positive, provide encouraging feedback, and don’t forget about being patient. Emphasize progress while acquiring new skills, and take care of proper goal setting to keep players motivated all the time.

So this is the recipe. If you want to make your players learn use this simple process based on attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Remember it is not about us – it is about players!

Only by focusing on the right person we can deliver right coaching.

Please make sure you share your opinion about this process below.



Marcin Bieniek is a professional tennis coach and founder of instructional website http://tennisisland.us. Marcin has been working with USTA, top 100 ITF and WTA/ATP players. He is a frequent contributor to TennisPro and TenisKlub magazines and he was a speaker at International Coaching Tennis Symposium 2016 at Hilton Head Island, USA. 



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