Teaching in a Learner-centred way ...

Tennis (along with most other disciplines) has traditionally been taught in a coach-centred way. This is an approach in which the player (that is, the learner) and the learning process are more-or-less taken for granted. The justification for coach-centred teaching is an erroneous belief that as long as the coach knows enough about tennis to teach it, the player will absorb it no matter how it's taught. Indeed if there is a problem, it's generally assumed to be the player's fault.

It is common for coaches to get so wrapped up in 'teaching', that they neglect the way the information is being received, sometimes the learner is ignored in the process. However, if there is no learning, teaching becomes a waste of time.

In Learner-centred teaching, the fact that a coach knows enough about tennis to teach is simply a prerequisite to getting a foot in the door. It is the platform upon which one can begin to build the learner-centred coach.

Learner-centred teaching stems from the realisation that not all methods of teaching are equal. Imagine two coaches, both equally knowledgeable about tennis. Now imagine that they have the chance to coach the same student, independently. The speed with which the student absorbs knowledge and acquires new tennis skills can range from "extremely high" with one coach to "near zero" with the other. How can this be? Both coaches have exactly the same tennis knowledge.

Before asking yourself the question, "What should I teach", you need to ask the question, "How do people learn?" The answers to those questions takes a coach down very diffeerent paths.

We now know that there are critical elements that affect the rate at which people learn, and the quality of that learning. Once we as coaches understand what these are, with practice and commitment to improve, we can greatly accelerate the rate at which our student's acquire new tennis skills.

What are these elements? We can remember all that is required to be learner-centered by the acronym S.E.T.S:

SKILLS in LEARNING: How and which skills a Coach chooses to teach can either shortcut the learning process or make it longer and unnatural. Skills that equip a player to compete (not just practise) must be the priority. Skill development must come from the perspective of overcoming the challenges players face on the court. The Game-Based Approach is a good example of a more learner-centred way for players to learn tennis.

ENVIRONMENT for LEARNING: A Coach can help a player pass through the learning process smoothly by creating a fun, safe, and effective learning environment. This is critical for stimulating a desire to play, learn the game, and build a foundation for long-term motivation and commitment in tennis.

TOOLS for LEARNING: Learning requires good communication. Effective communication techniques speed up learning and act as tools to help an instructor build skills. A coach must be able to give feedback in an effective way and at the right time.

STAGES of LEARNING: Every player passes through three stages of learning before a new skill can be used in match play (Understanding stage, Repetition stage, Automatic Decision-making stage). Each stage has its own unique goals, pitfalls, and procedures. Coaches must identify which stage a player is in and follow effective strategies to help them systematically progress. If a Coach skips, or poorly develops a stage, the result is incomplete skill development.

To coach in a Learner-centred way we must also be systematic. We need a precise plan of attack to maximize learning. Systematic learning is radically different to lessons that are 'tip' oriented. In that approach, the coach (who is usually the better player), feeds or plays with the student and gives 'tennis advice' as problems occur. Imagine learning an important skill like reading or math from a teacher who used 'tips' & 'advice'. Our students deserve systematic skill development, not 'tennis advice'.

As a resource to become more learner-centred, ACE has a coaching manual called: 21st Century tennis coaching: Learner-centred Coaching Principles for the Game-Based Approach You can order it on this website by going to the "Coaching Manuals" page.