Friday, 2 March 2012
Triumphs and Tribulations
As I'm sure most tennis coaches and teachers can identify with, everyone can have a bad day at the office so to speak.
I have been coaching for 20 years (yes, I started at the ripe old age of 16 and, darn it, that's my age out of the bag too) and I do consider myself to be fairly experienced. However, I can still lose control especially now that I'm the new coach on the block.
I had one such day yesterday when a group of four 11 year old girls arrived for their lesson full of nonsense. I cottoned onto this straight away and tried to run a fairly tight warm up which usually does the trick. Not this time. I had asked one of them to do laps of the court within the first three minutes which is usually not a good omen for coach or player for the rest of the session.
The next 45 minutes continued in this vein and nothing I tried to do really worked. Matters were made worse when I called them in for a 'chat' as they just proceeded to giggle together and I started to think they were laughing at my Scottish turn of phrase which of course then became more accentuated. A memory of my past life as an English teacher flashed through my mind. I was scarred for at least a week when a room full of 16 year olds reduced me to tears with mobile phone pranks during a lesson on Philip Larkin. At least, I consoled myself at the time, they had grasped the concept of irony.
Finally, I got them onto an exercise where they were spread out and using the full court to play points against each other and this exercise engaged them sufficiently that I could end the lesson with an iota of self-respect still intact.
Two out of the next group of four arrived on skateboards. My inward groan reverberated across Melbourne. This lesson, however, could not have possibly gone better.
I began by asking them if they were any good on their skateboards and could they show me some tricks? (Rule one: engage them on their level.) They showed me one or two things and I quickly realised that I could use these boards to start off the lesson. (Rule Two: never be afraid to improvise or deviate from the plan.) I asked the 'boarders' to assume their positions while the other two girls were to throw balls to them, challenging them to catch without losing balance. This was perceived as great fun and they all had a turn on the boards. We managed to build it up to a team throwing and catching exercise involving three balls and all four girls, an exercise that pushed them but more than anything, prepared them to listen and learn for the rest of the hour.(Rule Three: start with something that they can succeed at but quickly push them into a zone that challenges them without being impossible). I had earned enough brownie points in the first five minutes by incorporating those boards to be able ask them to do anything I wanted for the rest of the lesson.
I'll need to come up with some similar trick for that other group next week and "begin afresh, afresh, afresh"!