P.A.I.D Principles of great tennis activity

Written by Mike Barrell


As a Coach you have a responsibility to deliver a high quality environment so that players can learn the game quickly and effectively. The trouble is that there are so many views, opinions and ideas out there and often it is very difficult to stay focussed. I have been lucky enough to have worked with many coaches, tennis facilities and national associations to help them develop their programs. Rather than undergo cloning we all want to feel that we can make our mark and stamp our beliefs on our program.  So it helps to follow a set of outline principles that are flexible enough to allow us the freedom to evolve but equally ensure that we stay focussed on quality.  

This is a common approach that we take at evolve9, summarised by the acronym, P.A.I.D. For each activity just consider each of these principles, and you will ensure that you create the most effective learning possible, helping players progress rapidly.


Purpose – The mission

Before you start you should be clear upon the   purpose of the activity or practice that you are   using. If you are unsure of its purpose then the best advice is not to use it.

  • Why are you doing this activity? Can you clearly define the objective?
  • Can you see the results of the activity? Can you teach / improve your player’s performance?
  • Is it a review activity, practicing a skill that you have already established, or about learning a new skill? Both are important but you should be cautious of doing too many things that do not challenge the player to improve, at this young age when learning can happen rapidly.


Activity – The Game of Tennis

This is just about making activities tennis specific. With literally thousands of tennis drills listed in publications and shared between pros around the world it is important to ensure that you use those which are most appropriate. Although these may not be very technical concepts, these create the environmental concepts that make up the game:

  • Defining The Court - Try to define an area for each activity, include where the ball should be hit from and where to. 
  • Two Players - Get players to work together, both cooperating and working on opposition, on sending and receiving in the same activity sessions. Ensure that you are teaching kids how to throw and catch and helping them to become players not just the hitters
  • Movement - Players need to start in a ready position, move to the ball, balance and then recover rather than just stand and hit. Tennis is not golf and nor should it be taught like it is.
  • The Ball - Players need to develop reception skills, strokes do not work without them so the more the ball is included the more these skills will develop naturally. 

These are the simple foundations of the game, but it is also worth considering these principles which will also help:

  • Targets - Large enough to create success with a central point for focus, keep options down to two to maintain the focus on targets.
  • Outcome- what is the objective of the activity, can you and your players see or measure it clearly. You might consider recording it and see if in a few weeks time the players have improved their performance.
  • Rules - Does the activity have rules or help the player to understand the rules of the game. Like all sports kids won’t become truly committed until they are really playing the real game. 


Individual – The way a child learns?

Children are like sponges soaking up information and knowledge and improving skill very rapidly (subject to readiness). So providing the right activities can be the difference between effective learning and children getting into bad habits. 

  • Three Hits - Avoid having children in lines, where they hit one ball and run to the back of the line.  It doesn’t create learning as children do not establish enough opportunity or repetition to learn a skill or motor pattern
  • Motivation – Consider what appeals to the child, why would they want to do it? Make sure that you explain why it is important and what they will gain from learning this skill!
  • Reward Systems – Using very simple rewards systems, using stickers, tickets or even clothes pegs can be a great way of keeping levels of effort high.
  • Review – Children love to do task that they are familiar with. If you have children then you will know how often they want to watch the same TV programme over and over again. And while you may think variety is very important to create effective learning the task must be repeated from lesson to lesson
  • Teaching in Blocks – Although they need to repeat tasks attention spans are limited so you should be careful not to do an activity for too long. Effective learning is better in short blocks, so rather than doing one activity for 20 minutes try splitting it up into two 10 minute blocks.
  • Inclusion - Avoid using too many elimination games, those eliminated are usually the ones that need more practice. If you must use games where players are eliminated then you should have a way of those players re-joining the game.
  • Progression & Challenge – One of the key skills of a coach with children at this age is the ability to find tasks at the relevant level. So activities should be easily adapted to find a suitable level for each player, bearing in mind that you may have different levels of ability within the same class or group. In general the simpler the activity is the more different levels you can find.
  • Understanding – Finally you must ensure that the activity helps the player to understand why and when they will use it. Players who understand the reason for learning something are far more likely to engage fully in trying to learn it.


03-089 image 1Delivery – The way you teach?

Your skills as a coach are the single most important factor in the improvement of players at this young age. “How to be” is THE essential skill that a Coach for kids needs to have!

Aspiration – Children under seven years old do not often have a global awareness, they know their immediate family and friends and may know little about the game at the highest level. When presenting activities the use of imagination will help, relating things to colours, numbers, cartoon characters and more. Children over seven start to develop a greater awareness of the game at all levels and you should use aspiration in your communication, naming drills and practices after players and talking about tennis at the professional level.

Brevity – This is not just a skill at this young age but you should stay focussed on keeping all communication short and simple. For most children you have 20 seconds to deliver your message before they lose focus and stop taking in information.

Visual – Of course most children learn visually so you should show the skill so that they can copy it; don’t forget to also show the activity as children will understand much more about it if they see it in action first.

Purpose – keep the purpose very clear in your head. It is easy to be distracted and start working on a topic that you hadn’t intended to. As a coach be specific and stay focused and you will make more rapid progress.

Measurable tasks – children need to see progress in increments. That is why the Awards exist to help players work towards simple tasks that they can tick off and understand that they have improved. Showing even smaller levels of incremental progress can be done by using some simple score cards and recording a players improvement over a few months.



PAID may not be the most imaginative acronym ever developed but it highlights the key things that you have to consider each time you set up a practice. Having a PURPOSE, understanding how the ACTIVITY is tennis specific, the INDIVIDUAL needs of the child and then resulting actions and skills in DELIVERY by the coach will help to keep a quality check even if it’s not going to make everyone teach exactly the same. Give it a try with your coaching team and let us know how it goes!