Game-Based Approach

Ultimately tennis is a game. When players come to a coach for training, it is generally because they want to play the game, and play it better. The fun of playing is why people take up the sport.

The Game based Approach uses the word "game" to emphasize the idea of playing rather than reproducing a technical model. Everything the coach teaches must be transferable to "real world" game play. If this transfer doesn't occur, then what was the point of the lesson?

The key to transferring skills is understanding the nature of tennis. Tennis is an athletic as well as a mental activity. It is a balance between how much physical skill is required (called Motor skills), compared to how much mental skill (called Cognitive skills).

Let's look at both:

  • Cognitive Skills: To play any game requires cognitive skills. For example, in chess, no benefit is gained if the pieces are moved quickly or smoothly. Rather, moving which piece where, and when, is critical for success. The quality of movement is of little importance. Cognitive skills include all a player's mental resources (perception, decision-making, problem solving, memory, creativity, etc).

  • Motor Skills: Motor skills require a precise quality of movement for success. For example, a javelin thrower knows exactly what to do and when to do it, but the challenge is moving efficiently enough to get maximum distance. Problem-solving and decision-making are nearly absent.

Sports can be plotted along a continuum with the poles being Motor priority or Cognitive priority.

From Ace Coach Photos

Playing tennis is not just a technical challenge but a tactical one as well. The tactics of the game dictate the technique of the game. In other words, one needs to know what to do before being taught how to do it. Cognitive skills become equal in priority to motor skills.

Unfortunately, the "traditional" approach to training often fails to equip players to use newly acquired skills in game play. The acknowledged reason for this failure is that traditional training often isolates skill development from game play. The movements (motor) aspects of skills are taught without the cognitive aspects. The player knows how to move without knowing when to move and why. The end result is that the player performs the skill successfully in the controlled training situation, but the skill falls apart during live game play.

In a Game-Based Approach, the process is to structure a progression of situations to develop the competency of playing tennis. Players are taught how to make tactical decisions and learn technical skills as solutions to solve problems on court. Technical skills are learned in the context of playing.

The term "Game Based" however, doesn't mean that lessons involve students just playing tennis points. That would allow the skills and situations players need to master to occur randomly. With any complex skill, it is often easier to learn if it is broken down into manageable parts. This is true for tactical skills as well as technical.

To help coaches systematically use a Game-Based approach, ACE will provide resources to employ "Situation Training". We will break the game down into specific, frequently encountered situations, adapted to the student's level.

From Ace Coach Photos

Once those situations are identified, they are presented to the student as problem-solving tasks to accomplish. The coach then sets-up drills to groove the technical skills required to perform the outcome. This approach allows students to maintain the feel of playing while getting the appropriate repetition to develop the skills of tennis.

For example, one of the first playing situations a beginner needs to master, is how to rally. Exchanging the ball with a partner is a source of great enjoyment for most players. Instead of copying a model, students can be placed in situations where they need to rally with each other in a "small scale" version of tennis at Mid-Court.

This situation will create many challenges for the beginner. One key problem is making the appropriate contact with the ball. To solve the problem, they will be led by the coach (or discover for themselves) that contacting the ball in front of them, with the strings of their racquet facing their partner, helps to centre the ball and send it back to their partner.

Situation Training ensures that everything taught on the practice court:

  • Is derived from a player's current game play needs (that is, the coach determines what will be taught based on analysis of the player's performance in a game play situation)
  • Is taught in a realistic way (that is, the situation presented, the ball feeds, and the task to be performed by the player simulates what actually happens in a tennis point at their level of play). Progressions are fine as long as the final skill is built back up
  • Is re-integrated into game play during the training session

This equips players far more effectively than the traditional way of teaching "strokes first". It is also far more FUN!