I have read quite a bit over the years about Eastern philosophies on martial arts instruction and training. I learned that “Karate is a martial art in which the ultimate purpose is not to seek to win, but to work toward perfection of character and strong body. As with any martial art, karate requires solid discipline. The body must go through long and strenuous exercises for many years. Total control is required over not only one’s techniques, but also emotions such as fear, pain and hate.” There are many similarities here to the sport of tennis.
While teaching a junior class recently with several high school kids, the idea came to me about what I can share in this article. I had heard that there were some good players in this group, and I was looking forward to instructing them. Ten min. into the class, one student presented himself as a behavioral problem. He challenged me on every piece of instruction, if I said white, he said black. The drills were not good for him and this student was a disruptive influence on the others. It became clear to me that this student was smarter than the teacher so he thought. I tried to help him in a professional manner, but one lesson was not going to change his mind. I persevered through the lesson as he rebuffed my critiques of poor shot selections, unadvisable slicing and inconsistent play. Unfortunately, he refused to want to improve even though he was a good athlete and had a high level of potential. It’s sad when a student comes to a class to learn and then refuses.
Sure enough, the parent called to complain that their son did not enjoy the lesson and felt that he got nothing out of it. I was not surprised by the call from the parent as I have received several similar calls over the years … a poorly-behaved child, compounded by a parent who thinks the child is right and the teacher is not.
Tennis and school teachers everywhere I am sure have experienced similar stories. I am not a psychologist, but I am a darn good tennis instructor with a lot to offer any student who is willing to open their mind.
“Wax on, wax off” to quote a line from the movie “The Karate Kid.” The student challenged the teacher, but it was wax on, wax off and that’s it. The teacher was instructing the student on correct movements and helping develop muscle memory needed to be successful in the sport of karate. So what if the student did it his way? I think he would have gotten his butt kicked in the karate tournament that took place at the end of the film. Tennis instruction is given so that a student develops muscle memory in order to hit a ball consistently over the net. You cannot argue about the philosophy of “wax on, wax off” to the mechanics and repetition of hitting a tennis ball.
My purpose in writing this article is that I hope parents who read this take it to heart. The student attends lessons to learn. Every teacher has different teaching techniques and students have different learning styles. In some cases though, the chemistry may not be right and a change can be made. In life, you will not always have a boss that you like or a job you love, but you have to cope. Teach your children that different teachers have different styles and methods. Opening their mind on the court will pay dividends not only in tennis, but in life.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.