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The Tennis Tool Kit methodology

Super coaching
By: P.Dent K.Reynolds


In an effort to illustrate our methodology let’s work through a very
short story….


A coach is teaching a group of players on two courts, in which one of the players is becoming despondent because of not winning enough points in the practice. In particular he has lost his focus and willingness to run for the ball.

The player has a tendency to ‘get down’ and can become negative quickly and then struggles to ‘get out of it’. This particular player does not believe he moves very well and is not very agile. These attitudes contrast sharply with his behavior when he is off the court or at the beginning or end of season ‘get- togethers’ where he is the life and soul of the group.

When the coach directs his attention toward the player either through eye contact, verbally or by moving closer to him the players’ attitude becomes even more distracted and uncooperative.

The players’ unhealthy attitude is starting to have a harmful effect on other players in the group.


The purpose of this part of the process is for you to make the first attempt to analyze, identify and then provide possible solutions to the issues in the story.


We review the story highlighting the areas we find most relevant and indicate which of our three pillars of effective coaching (Create Environment, Effective Working Relationships, Steepening The Learning Curve) we think they relate to.


The players’ despondency and tendency to ‘get down’ (CE/EWR/SLC) appears to be linked to having an outcome based approach, with his inability to win points in the practice over shadowing his willingness to investigate the causative factors for his low points tally. A persons’ behavior is influenced by his emotions which is in turn a result of the nature of his thoughts. The players’ inability to control his emotions can be linked to his perception of achievement and success. This ‘motivational climate’ can be significantly influenced by the coach in this story.

If the coach can think of exercises that encourage the player to be more proficient at understanding and then executing performance and process goals the outcomes will be more satisfactory.

The player ‘does not believe he moves well and is not very agile’ (SLC)

This harmful belief may be the result of a negative self-fulfilling prophecy by the coach. This self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when coaches’ expectations become reality.

A coach will sometimes develop an expectation for the player that predicts the level of performance and type of behavior that the player will show.
These expectations may influence his treatment of the player. So, the coach’s behavior toward our player in the group may differ to that of the others in the group according to the coach’s belief concerning the player’s competence.
The way in which the coach treats our player will affect the player’s performance and rate of learning.

Also, different communication to different players tells each player how competent the coach thinks he is. This information affects the player’s self-confidence, motivation and level of aspiration, all of which are influential to the steepness of the learning curve of the player.

The player’s behavior and performance then conform to the coach’s expectations of him. This behavioral conformity reinforces the original expectation of the player by the coach, and the process continues. Now imagine the impact that the players’ own self-fulfilling prophecy will have on his treatment of himself! The player will begin to have what is called a ‘negative filter’ and notice only those behaviors in himself which reinforce his own beliefs that he moves poorly.

Feedback by the coach can therefore raise or lower the level of self-expectation of the player and influence subsequent behavior. For example, after the player has not made an effort to chase down a ball, the coach might say “Tom. That’s unlike you, not to chase that ball down.” Or “Tom, with your improving speed and determination, that’s unlike you not to chase that ball down”, resulting in the player chasing down subsequent balls in similar situations.

Another way of raising the aspirational level of the player is by showing your high level of expectation by apologising to the player for not working him hard enough and so not being appropriately demanding of him e.g. “Ahh! Sorry Tom I let you down then…I’m sorry. That last feed was probably too easy… what do you think?”

Here is another example in this short story when working hard to understand and accept would be very relevant to the coach.
When the coach directs his attention toward the player either through eye contact, verbally or by moving closer to him the players’ attitude becomes even more distracted and uncooperative. (CE/EWR)

This probably requires the coach to look inside himself and reflect upon his role in the development of a healthy working alliance with the player, in other words how to form a more effective working relationship.

The coach’s presence seems to have triggered a negative change in performance/behavior of the player. There may be something about the approach of the coach that the player feels is negatively parental, punitive, demanding, or having expectations.

Even though the coach may want him to get better, the ‘want’ could be an expectation and an expectation is a hidden demand - not just “I want”, “you should”.  Taking a ‘want’ and making it a ‘should’ is what creates an expectational pressure.

The players’ unhealthy attitude is starting to have a harmful effect on other players in the group. (CE/EWR)

An important role of the coach within a group or squad situation is to nurture effective working relationships between players. Players may need help to be aware of their important role in supporting each other, as this security is a key factor in people making changes and sticking to them.

For example, in the above part of the story if players had accepted that it is their responsibility to ‘look after’ the standards of the whole group in the session and they may have offered support for this player ‘in trouble’ at the very first sign of his mental struggle.

If a player acknowledges their role for the group then they may choose to respond differently when not playing well because they understood that the health of the on-court environment is about us not me.


The coaching tools of the Toolkit are split into three categories.




WAR (Winner Assesses the Rally) and LAR (Loser Assesses the Rally) drills help encourage the player to review their performance and not just the outcome (win or lose) of the point. After a rally, starting with or without serving, either the winner or the loser awards points to the actual player who won the rally on the following scale:

 + 3 points = very good tennis
 + 2 points = good tennis
 + 1 point = ok tennis
 0 points = average or below average tennis

Before each point the player gives three separate scores out of ten, one for how hard they tried on the last point, another for their performance and finally another score out of ten for the effort they are just about to give in the point about to be played.

The player and coach agree on a specified number of times that the player will be ‘tennis tough’ during point play. The player has to show good emotional control during the period he has chosen to be ‘tennis tough’. This pre-decided period may be for a certain length of time or number of points or games. When this time has elapsed the player may resume as normal.


Learning opportunity is not confined to the tennis court and lessons only.
These ‘off-court’ and often ‘off-lesson’ tasks provide coaches with additional and alternative ways to help players learn outside of the tennis court and help the player to grow and develop self-responsibility as well as enabling the coach to explore player motivation.


The player is asked to write a short story (no more than one side of A4) about one of the following titles: ‘I play my best tennis when…’                    
 ‘How I would help a young player who sometimes gets down on himself in practice and matches’


The last category we have included in coaching tools is ‘Super Coaching’.

Super Coaching is occurring when the players’ “light bulbs” are flashing on repeatedly or helping to get that ‘penny to drop’ in record short time.

Analogies, because they are descriptions and examples of events and experiences similar but not identical to the ones directly being addressed by the pupil and coach, ask the pupil to make a leap of imagination and reasoning, the equivalent of mental gymnastic training.

The effort involved in arriving at the conclusions helps retention of the lesson; an example therefore of ‘Super Coaching’.

Coach: “You play football don’t you?”

Pupil: “Yes”

Coach: “If I tell you that if you become very good at swerving a free kick up and around the defensive wall you will develop a really great serve.
  Why could that be true?”

Pupil: “Because they both involve making the ball spin when you want.”

Coach: “How?”

Pupil: “You need to strike the ball at one side so it spins and then
  curls around”

Coach: “I said you will have a huge serve one day!”

Within Super Coaching there is an understanding that the key lies not in providing players with just information, but in turning information into knowledge that cannot be ignored. Analogies can do this by passing information onto the player through an ‘ah-ha’ moment.
For example the following analogies may be useful in our story:

· The importance of emotional control: Imagine an astronaut making a mistake on his spaceship and then ‘hanging his head’ while the others are trying to rescue the situation.

· Imagine what it would be like to be in one of the ‘8’s’ of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race and rowing out of synch with the rest of the team and causing chaos as the oars clatter into each other.

TRANSFERENCE OF SKILL – Challenging Unused Strengths

A creative search through the life experiences of the young player may well reveal an area they are successful in, which is closely related to what the coach wants to work on. A conscientious school student will be familiar with the discipline required to switch off the television and begin revising, or a keen middle distance runner will understand how to cope with his own negative thinking when the race pace starts to hurt. Super coaches tap into these unused strengths, transferring confidence from another part of the players’ life, so by-passing a potential ‘road block’.

This young players’ attitude off court of being the ‘life and soul of the group’ can be used to help his on-court performance.

I wonder how long it would take you to lead the player into becoming the ‘life and soul of the tennis group’?
And the others to be saying “we can’t start Coach, without him being here!”

…..a Super Coach!

Tennis Coaches Tool Kit

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