Ever heard the expression “two teachers can teach the same subject, yet they teach it in a completely different way?” We often hear this about educators, coaches, teachers….even politicians. It’s fair to say that everyone has their own creative imagination and style that they use to share and help improve others at a chosen subject. This is the beauty of teaching and educating. In the Tennis world, a coach has millions, literally millions of processes that he/she can teach to improve a player. The split step, running technique, the forehand take back, the push volley, the slice serve, the cross over, the lunge, the drop-shot. The list is literally endless and I’m in no doubt that it’s similar in other sports and subjects, especially those that are considered quite intricate and technical. However, HOW we teach these things varies between coaches, some approaches work, some don’t.
When we apply teaching styles to the tennis court, there are two main approaches that are predominantly used. Let’s go through them.
The Model Based Approach is the typical and most traditional way of teaching. Predominantly used for teaching technique and has been popular amongst Tennis coaching since the early days. In some ways, this is the most simple way of coaching. A coach on one side, the player on the other, the coach will then simply feed tennis balls in order to improve the swing or technique. From this approach the simple goal is, teach, improve & repeat. The benefits for this approach are that the player/learner has no stresses to deal with, such as a point or movement pressure, therefore it enables both the coach and player to get quite intricate and detailed with both the basics or the advanced in very closed situation. When Agassi was a youngster learning the game, his father forced him to hit hundreds and hundreds of balls that he fed from the other side of the net. Why? To improve his technique and ball skills. It worked, obviously, as he used the boring training of the MBA, and played enough matches to practice it. However, Agassi openly said in his autobiography that he hated training and hated Tennis because of the boredom of it. Could he have learnt a different way?
The Game Based Approach is a modern take on the model Based Approach. It has similarities, however the goal and purpose is slightly different. The purpose of the GBA is simple: To get better at playing the game. This is refreshing as this approach can be used for ANY standard and can help achieve any goal. Unlike the model based approach, the GBA is much less restricted and supports players power as it forces the player to almost teach themselves. For example, let’s say a player needs to improve at hitting the ball with more height when pushed back behind the baseline. The coach will set up a specific and realistic scenario that can be found on the match court. The coach will then break the shot down with the player so that the player has to think for themselves. The coach may say things like “hit the ball when it’s dropping” (if we let the ball drop, we tend to hit the ball upwards), therefore the coach isn’t doing it for the player, the coach is simply guiding the player in the right direction but still allows the player to work it out for themselves. Because a specific scenario has been set, the player will then be able to relate to it when they are the match court. GBA requires a lot of technical and tactical knowledge from the coach, but if taught properly can be highly beneficial to any age and ability.
To compare the two, let’s talk about Golf. There are two options when you play Golf. The driving range, or the course. The MBA approach links well to the driving range. Very broken down and specific and involves minimal pressures such as wind direction or distance. If a player only practices his driver on the driving range and then suddenly goes on the course, how are they going fair? There are suddenly lots more parameters and stressors for the player to contend with. Their driving shot which was once working so nicely on the driving range, has now become under other pressures. Therefore, if a player combines their driving range practice (MBA) with frequent rounds on a course (GBA) then the player can maximise their learning so that they simply improve at the game.
What’s important to understand is that some players and people respond differently to different teaching styles, therefore coaches MUST be able to adapt to their player. Over time, I feel that both a mixture of MBA & GBA approach tend to work. Teach the player in a simple, no pressure situation (MBA) and then let the player improve at that, by themselves, in a realistic and more pressured situation that aids in player power and realism GBA).
The next time you teach someone, try and think of different ways you can teach the person or player. What do they respond to? What do they enjoy the most? Essentially, a coach must adapt and allow their player to grow and improve through their own learning. I have never been a fan of doing everything for a player. Of course sometimes, especially if they’re young, coaches may need to offer an extra hand and help them in a simple and closed manner. However, at some point the player/person will need to work things out for themselves. Therefore it’s important that the coach gives the player enough independence and power through their own learning, to improve themselves in difficult real life situations.