Building the foundations for tennis

Building the foundations for tennis

By John Cavill

Here is a taster in advance of John's Webinar on Wednesday 25th May

John Cavill on courtFrom my experience, I have developed a method in which I feel I can progress players from their early years to around 12, which gives them a great base to progress their tennis into adulthood. There are so many permutations and factors that will enable a player to develop that there has to be a huge amount of adaptation for individual needs. Once you go down the path of trying to fulfil individual needs, the time and commitment increases massively and so does the cost, time and commitment from the parents.

The ‘bread and butter’ to any successful programme is having a good flow of players coming into the game, which can be attracted through schools, advertising, word of mouth etc. Kids nowadays have so many things going on that you need to be able to offer sessions most days of the week. When a child shows a great attitude, passion for the game and a desire to be better, then cease the opportunity to help them further! We have a programme called the Talent Development Programme (TDP) for anyone who shows commitment to their tennis and wants to play in competitions. The TDP runs several days a week and it allows me to set the environment to push the players harder in training and ask more of them. There are people who have no desire to play competition or will be put off by having to train hard, so the weekly programme is perfect for having fun and developing skills without a high level of expectation, which is what some children exactly want. I believe it is my role to give people what they want and that’s why it is important to offer a diverse programme that can cater for all.

Whether you’re a ‘once a week’ player or playing at National level, there are 3 things we ask of every player as a performance indicator; Concentration, Positivity and Effort. I believe that there isn’t much point wasting coaches time and parents money if people don’t have a good attitude towards tennis (or life) and we grade the players with a mark out of 10 on each of the three performance indicators at the end of each session. This system alone is invaluable to our development. The players will grow up with a performance mind-set and although results are important to players, hopefully they will understand that results are a bi-product of a good performance. The other important message is that the players have 100% responsibility for their performance which is in their control, whereas results are uncontrollable. Even if a player gives it their all, they could lose a match, but they will be rewarding themselves if their performance is good. After sessions the parents ask the kids what their ‘scores’ are, which refers to their performance indicator, so they get instant performance feedback rather than asking what the result was, which is usually the second question!

Like a house, the ability to develop it further, will depend a lot on the foundations. Good foundations are essential for development and fulfilling potential and the most important things about building good foundations are attitude, habits and commitment which will help them develop the physical, technical and tactical skills required. I believe that discipline is the way to achieve a good environment and that nothing apart from the best will do. By setting high standards and keeping to them, the players will push themselves harder and improve more. Naturally people will take the easy option as we like to reserve energy but unfortunately excellence can only come through hard effort. I’ve seen many players with natural coordination and athleticism which at a young age are looked at as the future stars but in their teens they are outclassed by the ‘work horses’ who have been pushing their limits every day and addressing all the areas of their game.

I think that when you start with young players from as young as 2 or 3 years old, you must focus a lot on their balance, coordination and agility but specifically for tennis and other ball sports, you must develop their perception skills. The earlier you can start developing this, the better, as you must be able to judge the flight of the ball well to be able to know where to position yourself for the shot. For those in the 8 and under age group I think that racket skills linked with coordination and perception training will help the player to feel at one with the racket. The term ‘having good hands’ is commonly known in tennis and this relates to the ability of the player to control the ball very well. The feel required to hit spin, change angles or move the ball around the court is advantageous. When a player is around 10 years old, they should have some nice technique to their shots and be able to stay on balance, contact the ball consistently in front, move around the court with good footwork patterns and have a good understanding of tactics they can employ against a variety of opponents. As competition become more important in the 12&U age group, the foundations from which were developed over the past 6-8 years will give them the platform to enhance all areas of their game as their bodies mature into teenagers then adults.

On Wednesday 18th May at 8pm UK Time I will be presenting a Tennis Works Webinar on ‘Building the Foundations for Tennis’ where I will share my experiences further and elaborate on some of the items discussed in this article. The event is free and I hope you can join me!
Register for your free space hearing John Cavill present live here