| By Steven Kaplan

Like many developing tennis players, you are limited by poor court movement and struggle with elbows that fly across your body. Since you'd like to correct your running mechanics, you seek professional help.

You first visit a poorly-trained coach who recognizes your mistake and tells you "just stop doing that with your elbows," followed by an inexperienced coach who gives you a series of disorganized and impossibly complex instructions. Finally, you find a truly proficient coach who instructs an effective and simple corrective cue such as, "Reach your hands in your pockets and then give a thumps up" which pulls your arms to a functionally sound position.

The most effective instruction is often the simplest, and last month, Richard Thater who writes insightful and intelligent articles for New York Tennis Magazine, wrote a piece questioning if instructors should teach "Technique or People." While this is not a mutually exclusive choice, Richard poses provocative questions about how technical tennis professionals should teach technique and it's a worthwhile topic to explore.

The need for sound information to be effective
In his piece, Richard recognizes that "a solid technical knowledge is essential to a teaching professional, but may not be useful to the people they teach.” Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget that a solid technical knowledge is essential to a teaching professional in order to be useful to the people we teach. The most skillful teachers are trained to convey clear and appropriate advice. Complex topics of course, should be discussed off the court in the classroom or other educational forum. Last April at the New York Tennis Expo, thousands of astute tennis enthusiasts came together to learn more about every aspect of the sport. Gatherings like these have given me, as well as many other coaches, the desire to deepen our technical ability to simplify our on-court instruction.

Some teachers with a technical background are too rigid in imposing techniques that might be fundamentally sound, but not suitable for every student, Richard points out very astutely. I've seen this disconnect in instructors with limited experience. However, teachers with solid educational backgrounds are information filters with the ability to adapt a message to the specific learning style of each student.

The need for ongoing education to be relevant
Richard reported that, at The New York Tennis Expo, famed coach Nick Bollettieri, after witnessing the technical focus of the previous presenters, said, "The best teachers tell their students to just hit the damn ball." I guess even the most experienced coaches can be skeptical of educational explanations that are misunderstood as models for coaching on the tennis court. Indeed, while simplified directions given at just the right time to the right student might inspire them to great performance heights, we should recognize the diversity of learning styles. For example, visual learners like to see the stroke, while kinesthetic learners like to feel the stroke. Clearly, simplicity in instruction is not quite as simple as "just hit the damn ball."

The need for education to gain wisdom
Education promotes the effective and appropriate understanding of complex ideas, and ultimately, knowledge and wisdom are complimentary values. The goal is to gain wisdom through education so that we can reduce complex ideas to simpler ones. We shouldn't confuse "simple" with "brief" and compromise the integrity of what we teach just because dumbing it down is easier or more convenient.

Now, getting back to the question asked at the beginning of this discussion … just how technical should tennis professionals' teach technique?

I think Albert Einstein said it best when he said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

Steven Kaplan

Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.