Communicating with and giving our tennis kids feedback on their performance is our most powerful coaching tool. But not all communication and feedback has the effect we are hoping for.
On the positive side feedback can be motivating, reinforcing or informational. On the negative side it could create too much dependency on the coach; or confuse the learner.
What is certain is that learners benefit greatly from effective and accurate feedback coaches give them about their result or performance. This article is all about understanding the How, What and Why of giving feedback to kids so that it is always powerful and positive.
Make your feedback with your tennis kids powerful and positive.
- Leave out the Technical Jargon
Kelly’s coach has a real eye for detail “OK, prepare your racquet early, make a circular backswing, rotate your hips slightly before your shoulders, swing low to high, contact the ball 10 cm in front of your left foot and focus your eyes on the ball at contact. If you just do that you’ll be fine!”
A child at five years old will use between 2500 and 5000 words, not even half that of an adult. When we are attempting a technical explanation of a tennis stroke it is likely something is being lost in translation. This is especially true in the highly complex and challenging environment of learning tennis.
For example, learning to time the movement of a particular body part can be exceptionally difficult. Explaining to your tennis kids that the hips rotate slightly before the shoulders during a forehand will be difficult for them to understand.
There are, however, strategies we can use to ensure our attempts to give technical instruction are better understood.
The magic of – ER
The relative speed or length of a swing can be adjusted quite easily with feedback. Using words like faster, slower, longer, higher etc… can be very effective when coaching your tennis kids.
Developing Fundamental Movement Patterns
Teaching young learners the fundamental movement patterns can be very effective early in their development. For example teaching them to rotate their bodies to execute a forehand or backhand; before teaching them to swing their racquet in a low to high arc. The body drives the racquet. This can effectively be achieved by using small soccer balls with young players. Similarly developing a rhythmical overarm throwing motion may translate well to the serve.
Allowing players to get feedback on their strokes by using targets is invaluable. Research has shown that learners who received feedback on their stroke relative to a target. (ie. The ball landed in front of / behind the target) improved their performance more than those who were given verbal instruction (ie. “focus on turning the hips during your backswing.”)
Analogy and Metaphor
Develop a list of words and phrases which communicate concepts with maximum information with minimum words. These phrases are often called analogies or metaphors and are powerful learning tools. Some common example of analogy and metaphor might be “The windscreen wiper shape of a follow through on the forehand.”
The analogy allows the young player to develop an image in their mind to compliment your verbal instruction.
- A Picture is Worth 1000 Words
Jamie is working at executing his slice backhand. After each set of 6 strokes he and his coach review his technique on an iPad video which has been programmed to delay for 30 seconds.
Modern smart phone technology means that video or picture feedback is attainable in any program. There is substantial research to support the benefit of video playback as a method of feedback.
Some important features to remember when using video technology include:-
It is useful for the learner to have a model of an expert to build from. You may wish show them a video of an elite player in advance, or even use the technology to show a split screen of the learner compared with an elite player performing the skill.
When showing the learner their video it is very effective for the coach to guide them to the key areas of the stroke to attend to. A learner will most likely not understand which aspect of the stroke they need to refine so the coach becomes a critical resource.
A visual model and demonstration will always compliment verbal instruction
Beware Paralysis by Analysis
When using video or a visual feedback remember that the young learner can only attend to a limited amount of information and can easily become overwhelmed. Only 1 or 2 features of the stroke can be changed for the next attempt so prioritise only a small amount of variations at each replay. Video analysis can lead to over analysis
- Stop the Empty Feedback
Mid way through a frustrating lesson trying to master the topspin serve, Toby’s coach says “Don’t worry – you’re doing fine.”
Empty feedback also includes statements like “Good shot Tom” or “Bad Luck Jessie.” It gives the learner no information about what they did well or poorly. While Toby may feel better and more likely to keep trying, his coach has given him no direction towards better performance in this feedback.
There is definitely value in sincere and honest feedback. One of the coaches key roles is a motivator. To keep their students positive in the face of adversity and to teach them the value of effort no matter the circumstances.
But above all it is about learning, not just encouragement or praise.
“Praise is easy to give, but in most cases lacks the connection to learning and as a result the athlete misses out on information relevant to learning and effort and how the two are related.” Kristoffer Berg
These are some good strategies to fill your feedback with positive learning messages:-
Good shot because…
When you feel yourself say “Good shot…” (and lets face it we all do), catch yourself and add “because…” Because you moved the opponent; because you achieved good net clearance to create that depth. Equally you may say “bad luck…because you missed while you were attacking the weakness; or you approached off just the right ball, the passing shot was just too good.” Relate it to a learning outcome you are focussed on for the lesson.
Ignore the last shot of the rally
Empty feedback often occurs because we pay so much attention to the last shot of the rally. Often it has been “bad luck” or a “great shot” that decides the outcome of the rally. But if we focus on all that has happened before the last shot we may find valuable coaching information. The great shot may have been created by several lead up shots which opened up the court for the winner.
We explore 3 more feedback tips to make your message positive and powerful
4. Don’t Turn Off the Learners Brain
5. Question, Question, Question and
6. Fade Your Feedback