Tennis and a great coaching moment

Erik Antonson
Erik Antonson
November 13, 2016February 9, 2017

We’re doing an experimental home schooling year.  The goal is to allow our children to follow their passions in a focused, deliberate manner and use that passion to build tangential skills.  They are still in a normal school curriculum, but homeschooling allows us to tackle the requirements in about half the time.  My daughter, Kemper, has decided that this year her first focus/passion is going to be tennis.

Today she asked if I’d take her to the courts so she could work on stoke technique.  I thought we’d be hitting balls, but when we got there, she grabbed the ball cart and told me I’d be standing a few feet in front of her and dropping balls for her to hit.  Her tennis coach, Gabby, was there and she came over and coached me on how to correctly set up the shot, and then watched Kemper’s stoke.

It’s a perfect deliberate practice loop.  A controlled environment, immediate feedback on how the shot turns out, and outside feedback from a coach.  Kemper hit a couple hundred shots.

In watching Kemper’s backhand, I was surprised at the grip she was using.  I asked Gabby, her coach, and she explained it’s the best practice for numerous reasons.  I didn’t believe it,  the hands were rolled back on the handle and were separated by about an inch.  When I swing a backhand they’re basically overlapping.  I played baseball and use the same grip.

I wanted to understand  the logic behind that grip and Gabby handed me a racket and asked me to hit a few backhands my way.  The same drill Kemper was doing, ball, drop, hit.

I hit in two of five balls with three sailing high.  She had me change the grip.  The next four  backhands were the best I’ve ever hit in my life.

It was one small change, it was immediate.

I was on the other side of my favorite moment in coaching.

It was so simple and beautiful, I thought I should deconstruct the moment.

  1. Gabby is one of the best tennis players in Costa Rica.  She’s put in the time to have a deep understanding of the game.
  2. She’s studied best practices.  And her level allows her to differentiate between good and better.
  3. Instead of engaging in a discussion about the grip, she just handed me the racket.  Those few hits changed my mental model of a backhand.  The most powerful models are ones that we’ve experienced.  We first model others, but once we’ve accomplished the action, we can replace the outside model with personal experience.  A much deeper model.

Tomorrow I’m going to start jamming on deconstructing paddle surfing.  Specifically I’m deep in the understanding of stability in negative float boards.  I’m learning it’s all in the transitions…  stay tuned.



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