An interesting thing happened to me a little while ago that I want to let you in on. I had bought an Apple iPad and I was excited exploring all its options. One of my friends suggested I should play the free video game that was automatically installed. Since I am not much of a gamer (as far as video games are concerned), I didn’t really want to, but she insisted, and I figured I’d give it a try. Since I had no idea how to play, I thought I would lose interest right away, but something interesting happened.
Usually I need a set of rules or at least a user manual to start something new. However, Angry Birds hooked me in. I started playing the game without much difficulty, and every time I screwed up, it allowed me to start the level over and try again. Since I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again, I screwed up on a different mistake and started over again. Soon enough, I had exhausted my mistakes and conquered the first field, and I had graduated to the next field! The next field I conquered faster than I did the first field, after which I conquered the next field, and the next field, and the next field … I had improved my play enormously without knowing any of the rules at first! This is how kids are learning nowadays. We need to incorporate this into our teaching as much as we can. Whether we are teaching beginning adults or juniors, we need to stimulate this type of intuitive learning. As teaching professionals, we should be the facilitators to forming productive unconscious habits and proper automatic reactions.
I am sure you agree that shot selection and strategy are the toughest aspects of the game to teach. So instead of explaining to our students that a cross-court shot has much more room to land in the court than a down the line shot (pure geometry), a student will learn the difference in this risk/reward choice of shots much quicker by playing a game of full speed singles points limited to the two service boxes only.
On this smaller playing field, the risk/reward factor is even more skewed in favor of a cross-court shot (have you ever hit a down the line shot in mini tennis while running?). As an added bonus, the players instantly learn the lesson of proper court positioning as they will be forced to guard against more crosscourt shots and will favor that side more by positioning themselves on the proper side of the T.
Tonny van de Pieterman
Tonny van de Pieterman is a tennis professional at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y.. He was recently named USTA Tennis Professional of the Year for the USTA/Eastern-Long Island Region and helped the Eastern Section win this year’s Talbert Cup. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail Tonny@PointSetTennis.com.