Tennis Lesson Planning: 7 Tips for Maximum Learning
Studies of the brain indicate that within 3 weeks, we forget roughly 79% of what we learn. At $40 – $60 an hour, you’re probably interested in retaining more from your tennis lessons.
Andrew Friedman of Tennis Magazine wrote this insightful article in the July/August 2012 (are magazines on a path to become bi-yearly?) titled “The Learning Curve” in which he offered some clear advice for maximizing the returns on the time and money you invest with your local tennis professionals:
“Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned tennis player, a regular leson has probably been a part of your life at some point, and it likely will be again. Given the time and expense lessons entail, not to mention the long-term effect our relationships with teaching pros have on our tennis happiness, it pays to examine ways of maximizing those lessons.
1. Play the field before choosing “the one” instructor for you.
Some careful decision-making can yield big dividends in how productive your lessons are, beginning with the choice of pro. If you don’t have a relationship with a pro, don’t dutifully enlist the first one a friend, or the local club, points to you.
‘It’s very important to commit to trying a few pros to find one that speaks your language, relates to you in a way you understand,’ says Joe Perez, director of tennis at CityView Racquet Club in New York City. Perez urges players to become aware of how they best receive information–some students respond to the physical, others to the intellectual. ‘Some pros talk a lot; some hit a lot. Do you learn more from hitting or from talking about hitting?”
2. Some teachers are demanding. Others, touchy-feely. Which are you?
It’s also important to find a coach who’s a good temperamental match for you and will create a teaching environment in which you’ll flourish. Some teaching pros are intensely demanding where others can be downright touchy-feely. “Not everybody wants to play for Bobby Knight,” says Jonathan Buchman, assistant men’s and women’s tennis coach at New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University. “Some want to play for Mike Krzyzewski.”
3. Show up ready to work.
“Because time and money are always of the essence,” Buchman says, it’s better if the student shows up already warmed up and hydrated. I like to get to work, to establish a sense of intensity.” Some simple math proves his point: If you spend the first 10 minutes of a one-hour lesson filling your water bottle, stretching and kibitzing with your pro, that’s about 15 percent of your time–if you take a lesson weekly or more often, those wasted minutes quickly add up to squandered hours.”
4. Talk it out.
As in most long-term relationships, communication with your pro is paramount to your shared success. But communication is a two-way street: You’re there to take in information, but you need to let the pro know essential data about yourself as well. Al Pilate, a former head teaching pro at the Old Chatham Tennis Center in Old Chatham, NY, urges players to “communicate with the instructor. If I ask somebody to do something and it doesn’t feel correct, we talk about it, get to an understanding.” Those discussions can range from old habits that are simply too ingrained to change, to medical facts, like a bum shoulder that prevents a proper service motion. They learn from me, but I have learned from them, too,” Pilate says.
Also consider sharing your competitive experiences outside the lesson. Just becauseyour pro isn’t with you for the matches the way professional coaches are, doesn’t mean he can’t help you surmount competitive humps. “I have found with longstanding relationships that a lot of what we delve into over time is the mental–how you approach a shot, a person, cope with being behind or ahead,” Perez says. He’ll often play what he calls “situational tennis” with his students, crafting scenarios–such as being down 1-4, 0-40–to help them navigate mental and tactical minefields.
5. Take notes.
If you don’t already, keep a notebook or computer file in which you record what you want to retain, or work on, from each lesson. “I’m a big proponent of the journal or the log–it’s not different from being in business and taking meeting notes,” says Buchanan, who believes that notebooks help keep things moving forward in lessons by reducing the need to repeat. It also helps to keep things on track during extended breaks, such as when the student is on vacation or takes a hiatus from the teaching relationship.
6. Video tape your lessons for 100% recall.
Another form of recording, video recording, can be even more helpful if your pro has access to such technology. Ask your pro to start rolling tape and reviewing it with you. “Most people benefit from it,” says Pilate, who points out that many players have an inaccurate view of themselves. “We all think we look like Andre Agassi,” he says, “but that’s not the case.”
Buchman makes the comparisons between student and world-class player even more direct. “I videotape the student,” he says, “then after I’ve had time to digest it and edit it, I put it up against, say, [video of] Federer, because he’s the ideal.”
For visually orientated students, Buchman says that video analysis “can really fast-forward you quickly. It’s huge for people to see their own swings and have a recognition of where they are and what htey look like. It should become much more widespread as a teaching tool than it has in tennis.”
7. Real improvement happens outside your lessons.
Believe it or not, the most important thing you can do to get the most out of your lesson takes place outswide the lesson: If you’re seeking to improve, at any level, practice and/or match play between lessons is critical. Perez finds that, becaue they’re paying good money for his time, students “almost expect me to be a doctor and inoculate them and they’re cured of their bad swing.”
“It depends what the student’s goals and expectations are,” says Buchman, who points out that those seeking exercise and play time in a weekly clinic may not have aspirations of improvement. But more competitive players “can’t just do it with me every week and expect results. They have to spend time between weeks working on it.”
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