by Martin Vazquez Jones
Coaching talented juniors through their developmental years can be a challenging time for coach and player. These years, as players transition from orange, to green, to hardball, are very important in establishing the foundations for their game.
I have been fortunate enough to work with many players in this space, both in Argentina & Australia. Below are some of my through on key areas.
Find the right balance
One of the greatest challenges of a tennis coach for this age group is to find the balance between being strict and having fun with the kids. A coach must always keep in mind that they are working with under 10-year-old kids, so first and foremost we must ensure the players are having fun. Developing a love for the game is something which with stay with them for their entire tennis journey.
Here we have some of the keys points for guiding a great green ball squad. Why guide? I believe we, as coaches, are guiding more than dictating. Our job as coaches is to help kids develop their own ideas, strategies, problem-solving abilities and game patterns, rather than tell them what they have to do.
The importance of balancing technique with tactical development
Technique is the machine of our game and it is the way to develop our tactics. It is fundamental to give very high importance to technique in this stage relating to their age. It is much easier for the players to develop technical efficiency at a young age than later on in the future. Here is a link to another great article about balancing Technique & Tactical development (https://www.vidatennis.com.au/what-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-technique-v-tactic/)
Planning a green ball squad session has to have an emphasis on technical development, but also involve the tactical theme so players understand the “why”. This can be a great challenge and it relays in the coach imagination and experience on how to link the two. There are so many ways to be doing technique while we are developing new patterns and strategies during a squad lesson.
Respecting the right stage
In my time coaching the various stages of colored balls, I have often seen players be moved on too fast to the next level. The technique and Tactical components of development are much easier to learn within the use of low-pressure balls. The various movements patterns for a young player are also developed during this period and can be easily linked with the size of the court and color of the ball. These thoughts are well supported by years of research & statistic that green ball gives more time, enables longer rallies and also help the kids to strike the ball in a more optimal zone. Some of the statistics that “ITF” provide us are:
- Rallies using Green and Yellow balls lasted the same number of shots but were played at a higher tempo using Green.
- Players contacted the ball twice as often above shoulder level using Yellow balls.
- Players contacted the ball at ‘comfortable’ height more often using the Green ball.
- Players made more bad errors (1.5 metres + outside the lines) using Yellow balls.
- Players were able to hit from a position in front of the baseline more often using Green balls.
- Players directed the ball down the middle of the court more often using Yellow balls.
- The total number of volleys was the same at Green and Yellow.
- Players were very positive in their comments when asked about using the Green ball.
- This is an important reason to support and encourage coaches to use each kind of ball at the right moment.
It all starts with Planning
We will not be able to find north as coaches without the right plan. We must take into account many factors in the weekly calendar of our kids; competition, tournaments, schooling, other sports. Coaches must also plan each lesson to take into account the time and space that we currently have, the various stages of all the players and the periodised plan within the entire development cycle. Planning involves more than just hitting tennis balls. Developing cognitive and skill acquisition activities are crucial in a balanced athlete. These may include, throwing, catching, jumping, balance, agility, and thinking. Part of ensuring engaged players is to keep them challenged and a really enjoyable session.
The importance of competition from an earlier age
We want to create competitive athletes from the outset. This is firstly developed in coaching sessions and then practiced in competition matches where the focus is rewarding effort rather than winning. Some people are scare of competitions, but I believe it is a great tool as long as we keep the joy as the most important part of it. It helps the players to get familiar to think under pressure, problem solve and also to get to know other players outside of the club the belong to. The social element and environment they compete in is also very important to balance at this age.
Working in teams
It is well known that tennis is a individual sport, but this does not have to be the case in training. As coaches, we have to encourage them to work in teams, create a learning and supportive environment so that everyone is improving. Linking training with match play and keeping the groups that train together in the tournament schedule can help develop a sense of belonging. Doubles matches are a great opportunity for this as well as team-based games within squad sessions.
Find the general teaching moments having an eye on detail
Doing a squad lesson with a large number of kids is not always easy when it comes to planning. Being able to find an overarching theme on one hand but also catering for an individual’s needs is often the difference is the quality of a green ball squad.
Tennis is the game for life, it is a journey, and the developmental years are so important to set the foundation. As a coach, we play a vital role in ensuring not only game development, but helping them develop a love for the game!
I hope you enjoyed my first article here in Australia!
“Creating life opportunities through tennis”