The right hitting partners

Mario power tennis

I’ve just spent a lovely hour at the tennis club. I’ve been sat in the cafe whilst my ten year old son has been hitting with a nineteen year old, on his Christmas holidays from an American college tennis scholarship. The student at 6 foot 5 towered over my son but they spent the whole hour working hard, hitting balls, analysing what was happening, discussing match situations and best of all smiling. At the end of the session my son said to me, he wished he could have hit for another hour. They used to hit once a week last year whilst Andy was on his year out and it was great to see that the relationship they had built up was still in place.

We often read that improving a child’s game is not necessarily about more competition but instead it is about hitting with a variety of people who then play in a different style so that your child also practices in a different way. Added to this are the comments that Steve Biddulph makes in his book, ‘Raising Boys’ that boys need different inputs at different times. Broadly, boys aged 0-5 look to their mums, then between the ages of 5-10 they will look to their dads (or another significant man) and then over 10 they seek other male role models who they can learn from.

I imagine other tennis parents reading this will be faced with the challenge of how can they give their child more court time whilst not breaking the bank and that hits us all at different points. Maybe one of the solutions is to look for different hitting partners.

Hitting with Mum or Dad

Certainly before my son moved up to green ball, I was his main hitting partner. We spent hours working our way through sponge balls and then orange balls. A process I am now working through with my daughter. Interestingly it helped my own game too as I was building my technique at the same time as my son. With sponge ball and orange ball, I used to throw points so that the games or sets were close. When he moved up to green ball he was less inclined to practice with me and the same is true with the full ball. I found it harder to throw points without him realising too. Hitting with Mum or Dad is the easiest and cheapest practice to organise but there comes a point when it becomes less effective. Perhaps this mirrors the observation that Steve Biddulph makes that boys over 10 needs different male role models. It will be interesting for me as to whether my daughter is prepared to carry on hitting with me for longer or not… I’ve still not read ‘Raising Girls’ for Steve Biddulph’s take on that.

Hitting with Coaches

I would imagine that most readers will then have a mixture of coaching for their children whether this is ‘one to ones’ or squad sessions. My son has built up a strong relationship with his coach and they equally have spent hours on court together. Probably his coach is the person who understands his match psychology better than anyone after me and when faced with deep disappointments or setbacks, coach can be the person who can talk this through best. The individual coach is also the person who finds it easier to take the longer view. (I’ve discussed this point in https://tennisdadblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/coach-knows-best/ )

I also think squad sessions with another coach has added real value as there another adult male who is giving advice and acting as a role model. Yet because it is a group session there is less opportunity for the player becoming confused due to less individual input. Equally it is cheaper than individual coaching. I often wish that there were more and longer squad sessions. In an ideal world it would be great if children were brought together from across the county for monthly session and I am sure that happens in some counties.

Apprentice Coaches

The hitting that my son was doing this afternoon fits in with the category of apprentice coaches. They are often teenagers who are competing regularly and looking to earn a bit of extra money. In some clubs this is an important part of the provision and I know of other parents who use this as much as if not more than individual lessons with experienced coaches. There is no doubt that the children really look up to this type of person especially if they are competing too and will swap stories of competition grades, surfaces and locations. My son was discussing the club where Andy is due to play tomorrow. Finding this person is like gold dust as not every apprentice will be right with every child. Some of this will also be age related. The nineteen year old young man may be great with a ten year old but a nine year old maybe over awed.

Hitting with friends

It sometimes seems that some of the hardest practice to organise is hitting with another child of the same age. The first issue is having someone of the right ability and age, though this may be easier at bigger urban clubs. Then there is the issue of competitiveness of whether they can rally without one or the other continually wanting to compete. This can be really tricky in the small world of tennis when they might be meeting each other in competition the next Saturday. Then there is finding court time which fits in with two busy parents schedules, not always easy to say the least. Maybe this type of practice just happens organically and you have to grab it when it does. So in the summer we’ll go on holiday and one of the boys who lives there is the same age as my son and they will rally together for hours. The real advantage of this is that they won’t be on the competition circuit together.

Finding the balance

Acquiring the right range of hitting partners for our children to develop their skills without making us bankrupt is another one of those balancing acts that as parents we are always aiming to achieve. It is probably true that varying combinations will be required for our children at different ages. Perhaps too we should not force it too much but instead see how and what develops over time whilst keeping a watchful eye as to what is working and proving effective.

1 thought on “The right hitting partners

  1. Pingback: The right hitting partners | Bring Your Racquet

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