Teachers Talk Top Tennis Teaching Tools
6 Tools That Work
When it comes to teaching, everybody has a slightly different way of making their point. Some school teachers lecture while others teach from a book. Some teachers use a chalk board, others prefer a power point presentation. There are teachers that like to assign essays, and some that use tests. Similarly tennis instructors have a variety of techniques and aids that they employ, but which do they find the most effective?
At the Precision Tennis Academy in Greensboro, NC, Dave McCain is admittedly “old school.” In addition to heading the academy’s tennis program, he is the head coach of the tennis teams at Guilford College. For McCain, nothing is better than targets.
“I teach patterns,” said McCain. “I use targets for serving and ground strokes. I like people to visualize where they want to hit. Beginning players are aiming for the court. Obviously if you aim it for a smaller spot on the court you’re more likely to hit the court. Targets are great for beginners to teach the forehand and backhand. With better players we use targets to work on patterns. Cones work, so do flat rubber targets. If I don’t have those I set up tennis balls, cans, water bottles, whatever I have.”
While McCain used to lug around a video recorder, now he tapes his players using an iPhone or iPad as a way to build confidence.
“Instead of showing what they did wrong, I show them what they did right,” said McCain. “Then they feel good about themselves. I did it today with one of the ladies that I teach. I showed her how well she was serving. She goes ‘wow, I didn’t know I looked that good.’ If they do have a flaw in place that I can’t communicate what I want them to do, I can show them. I’m not a negative teacher. I try to do things positive and make them think that they thought of it.”
When it comes to fitness McCain recommends a jump rope for footwork, and bands to help promote long and flexible muscles. He is also a big fan plyometrics.
“My son was probably one of the slower human beings on the planet and we used plyometrics,” said McCain. “I did it with him for a year and when Danny went to college he was one of the top recruits in the country. All the coaches talked about how fast he was. He really wasn’t for 40 yards, it would take him about three days, but for 10 feet he was as fast as anybody around. On a tennis court that is all you need.”
McCain uses a radar gun every once in a while, usually to show a hot shot kid that in fact he isn’t hitting the ball 100 miles per hour. He uses a ball machine everyday with QuickStart tennis balls and courts. He particularly likes the balls for beginner classes so that players can learn to volley without getting hurt. He credits QuickStart with getting more kids to play the sport and considers it a critical aid along with targets, bands, jump ropes, and ball machines.
A Second, Supporting Opinion
At the Westwood Club in Richmond, VA, head tennis pro Miguel Castro agrees. He thinks that QuickStart balls, lines, and nets are the most valuable tools that he has.
“Our number one training tool is QuickStart balls,” said Castro. “They cover such a wide variety of needs. The orange ball goes across the largest spectrum. They can be marketed to a huge population of kids. Because it is the size of a real tennis ball and they want to use the adult size they don’t even realize that they’re softer and slower. We even use them with adults. A lot of beginners can get confident by rallying with orange or green QuickStart balls.”
Castro concurs with McCain that a ball machine is vital and adds that ball mowers and tubes that help you easily pick up tennis balls are great. Just like the Precision Academy, at the Westwood Club old video recorders have been replaced by iPhones.
“I use my phone,” said Castro. “The biggest thing that I use it for is serves. Now with new iPhones you can clip pictures within the movie. You can freeze, and pause, hit play, and pause, hit play, and pause to show them points. We use it a fair amount.”
Castro rarely uses a radar gun anymore because it isn’t reliable or accurate and getting a new one is simply not a priority. While he has used a variety of targets in the past, now he just usually sets up two or three inch plastic prop targets that make a cone and he places a tennis ball on top of it or creates tennis ball pyramids. He’s even been known to use tubes as targets.
Stepping Up Your Game
When it comes to fitness, the Westwood Club has a gym on site with fitness trainers. Other resources include medicine balls, boxes for jumps, and ellipticals. Castro is big fan of step ladders.
“We use step ladders galore,” he said. “We do cardio with all of our juniors. We have step ladder, step ladder, step ladder, step ladder. I think having step ladders is huge. It keeps people moving and using a fitness ladder is great for cardio.”
While there are many teaching aids to choose from and each instructor has their own preference and style, here are the ones that they can agree (or disagree) on:
- Targets: A staple to get the ball rolling with beginners, and pattern-practice for more experienced ones.
- Video: Great for showing players what they are doing right (and wrong).
- Physical Fitness: Even though their regimen differs, both instructors agree that you need be fast and flexible.
- Radar Gun: McCain only uses one occassionally, and Castro deems them unreliable.
- Ball Machine: A fast, efficient way to help players practice.
- QuickStart Tennis Balls: An excellent, safe tool for beginners.
It is clear that in addition to time tested techniques, technology has come to tennis. Whether it be the ability to record a player via phone or QuickStart engineered balls, old school and new school are meshing together throughout the sport.
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