One thing that is very important as a coach or teacher, is to understand how your pupils, students or players learn best. If I was to go back to my early days as a coach, I would never teach anyone the same way as I did then. When you are inexperienced and have just passed your first qualification, you very much rely on what you have been shown to teach others. But what a qualification or course doesn’t teach you is the range of adaptability and the understanding as to when you should change coaching techniques based on the individuals or groups you are working with.
I think the first thing we have to understand about a player is how they learn best and this can be determined via many forms. I like to ask questions. I will ask lots of them, trying to find out what the player knows, how tactically advanced they are, how observant they are and whether they are prepared to challenge something that they are not sure about or think is wrong. I also believe it takes about 2 years to really understand your player as that time allows you to predict their actions and thought patterns better through observing previous experiences. Knowing the player is more important than knowing how to hit a forehand, as the levels of trust and belief needed between the player and coach are pinnacle.
There are many different learning styles and techniques and each person has different preferences. Some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles while others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances. There is no right mix nor are your styles fixed. You can develop ability in less dominant styles, as well as further develop styles that you already use well.
Using multiple learning styles and multiple intelligence for learning is a relatively new approach. This approach is one that educators have only recently started to recognize as traditional schooling used (and continues to use) mainly linguistic and logical teaching methods. It also uses a limited range of learning and teaching techniques.
Many schools still rely on classroom and book-based teaching, much repetition, and pressured exams for reinforcement and review. The results are that we often label those who use these learning styles and techniques as bright and those who use less favored learning styles often find themselves in lower classes, with various not-so-complimentary labels and sometimes lower quality teaching. This can create positive and negative spirals that reinforce the belief that one is “smart” or “dumb”.
I have met some very smart tennis players over the years but their academic levels and general use of language would suggest otherwise. This is why it is important as a coach to look beyond the covers and be inquisitive about finding out how someone works. One of the children I taught who had massive temper tantrums on court, was always a the last to understand a joke and scrapped by in the bottom sets in school. He stumbled into playing chess and went on to travel Europe competing in Chess competitions in his age group! How his brain processed the information was amazing and I’m sure he was much smarter than all of us in this capacity.
By recognizing and understanding your players learning styles, you can use techniques better suited to them. This improves the speed and quality of your learning. There are Seven Learning Styles:
Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinaesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.
Coaches should be able to apply the various learning styles above into their coaching, but it is important to note what reactions you get from this. The other thing to note is that sometimes a certain way may take a lot longer for the player to comprehend and understand but once they have absorbed the information then it’s there for the long term.
An example of this was when I was working on changing the technique of an 11-year-old boy’s forehand as I felt he was too far round the grip (western grip) which was not allowing him to hit flatter shots and effectively deal with low balls. He could have jumped off a cliff when we started making the changes, as his physical learning isn’t advanced and he was so frustrated with not being able to just learn the technique immediately.
By showing him examples of the benefits of the change through video or observing others at tournaments, he was more engaged and also understood that if he is to compete with the best in the county he needed to take his game to another level. Through visual and verbal learning, the boy was able to make progress, but like with many things in tennis…you have to be patient as it all takes time.
I hope this article provokes thought around some of your players and maybe if you feel you are not progressing with a player then try a different approach.