| By Edward Wolfarth
Copyright:Getty Images/Credit:Polka Dot Images

Hello, it’s been a while since we “spoke.” So, I’m giving a lesson the other day and on the adjacent court is another pro (unnamed to protect the guilty) going through the motions … you know what I mean. His charge was a 10-year-old with little hand-eye skills, but even less enthusiasm! This exercise in “babysitting” was painful to witness. The complaint that I have is that neither party was having any fun. I mean looking “meter” was running, so to speak, and I’m sure this half-hour seemed infinitely longer. So who’s to blame?

I’ve had the great fortune and opportunity to train prospective physical education teachers at both Hofstra University and Queens College, over the past nine years. As the racket sports specialist at both institutions, we have a mantra that I’ve passed on to all my students: FASA—keep it FUN, keep it ACTIVE, make sure you have a SAFE environment and insure your lesson is APPROPRIATE skill-wise and age-wise.

Keep it Fun!
If your tennis lesson isn’t fun, or if your charge is not experiencing a moderate degree of success, you have failed as teacher. A dictionary definition of fun is, “A source of enjoyment or pleasure. Excited, noisy activity.” This was not evident on the adjacent court. In order to make your lessons fun, a certain amount of planning is inherently necessary. Games, drills, challenges and targets can be used to illicit the objective, whatever that objective might be. The teacher or tennis pro simply needs to think it out. Walt Disney once said, ”I prefer to entertain people in the hope that they learn, rather than teach people in the hope that are entertained.” Think about that for a second. Fun, first and perhaps learning follows. In the very least, they’ll come back for more.

Keep it Active!
This should not be a problem for private or semi-private lessons, but could be problematic for larger groups. Physical education teachers, almost always, have to teach large groups. Too often, I see pros or teachers putting groups in lines. I detest lines! While I’m sure this is done to provide a safer environment, it in fact often does just the opposite. While safety is always a concern, it must be balanced with enough activity to keep everyone interested and “entertained.” This is not impossible. Again, a well-thought-out lesson, drill or game can accomplish this. Younger children, standing in lines waiting to hit one or two balls at a time is not the prescribed teaching methodology. Surely, we as pros and teachers can think of a better way. If kids are actively involved in the learning process, in a safe environment, something good will result.

Keep it Safe!
Four children, standing in a line, wielding rackets, waiting for their chance to hit a few balls, is a disaster waiting to happen! Even the command to “hug your rackets” can fall on deaf ears. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve observed student teachers giving a lesson where students were throwing tennis balls at each other. They were not actively engaged, except for their horse play. While I sometimes have a problem with parents getting too involved in their children’s lessons, they can certainly be on the alert for some of these unfortunate practices. The advent of appropriate equipment, for younger children, has certainly helped in this regard.

Keep it Appropriate!
While it stands to reason that it might not be a good idea to teach certain skills, such as spin serves and swinging volleys to five-year-olds, it becomes less obvious when teaching more skilled players. Tennis is a classic “open skill.” By that I mean the player is constantly adjusting to the environment in order to hit a ball. The game is more reactive than pro-active. Except for the serve, little can be gained by repetitive learning. If you recall a previous article, there are two types of learning, conceptual and habitual. The latter being the more inferior. While a serve may benefit from habitual drills, hitting forehands and backhands, with perfectly fed balls by the pro, may not. How many times have you heard, “I always play well with you but I cannot seem to do as well in my regular game.” Duh! Figure it out. We want you, the learner, to be successful so we (tennis pros) hit with little spin, at the perfect speed and height so you can feel successful. While this may satisfy some criteria, it’s also doing the learner a disservice. They’re not getting better, with their peers.

So what do have here? Remember FASA, and most of all, remember what Walt Disney said … until next time!

Edward Wolfarth

<p><span class="Apple-style-span" style="line-height: normal; ">Edward Wolfarth is the tennis director at the Tam O' Shanter Club in Brookville, N.Y. He is also a professor of physical education and sports sciences at Hofstra University. In addition to his class load, Edward finds time to coach high school tennis at Jericho High School. He&rsquo;s an active member of the United States Professional Tennis Association and currently serves on the executive board of the United States Tennis Association-Long Island Region. He still plays competitively and is a highly ranked senior player. He may be reached at (516) 626-9005 or e-mail wolfarthe@msn.com.</span></p>