If you are a recreation coordinator for a community association in Calgary, you know it’s not always easy to find good instructors for your summer tennis camps.
Most freelance instructors are under-equipped for this task. Either they do not have the right balls for the right age groups or they lack the nets and temporary lines needed to make the courts the correct size for their students. The result is typically low quality lessons that will not satisfy your customers.
On top of that, most of the people available to teach tennis in the summer are not available when you need them. Or, they commit to doing the program and then fail to deliver on their commitment because they get a full time job or are hit by a personal calamity, such as illness.
Fortunately for Calgary community centres, Racquet Network has a full state of certified adult tennis instructors who can be hired to come in and deliver high quality tennis camps and programs for all age levels.
All Racquet Network instructors are fully certified adults who have completed police background checks. They are backed by a warehouse full of tools and teaching equipment and a team of professionals who can cover for them in the event of illness.
Hiring Racquet Network gives camp coordinators peace of mind. They know that the instructors will be there on time and with the right tools every day they are supposed to be. If an instructor is ill, no worries; Racquet Network sends a replacement who teaches the same method from exactly the same lesson plans.
Racquet Network is currently rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta. We have been operating in Calgary for more than a decade and have become the leading tennis teaching organization in Calgary. Call us at 403-238-0687 to find out how we can help make your summer tennis programs easy to run and capable of bringing customers back year after year.
Imagine for a minute that you are a tennis instructor looking at your newest class of students. At one end of the spectrum you have a young man who dreams of being a pro. He idolizes Novak Djokovic and sees your lessons as the first step on a road that will lead him to the US Open.
At the other end of the spectrum, you have Mrs. Johnson, a fifty-six year old woman who spends most of her time in the garden or out walking her Shetland Collie. Her goal is to learn how to rally well enough to hit the tennis ball around with her pre-teen grandchildren when they come to stay with her next month.
Between these two extremes you have three other players. One is taking tennis lessons in the hopes that he can learn to serve better and maybe improve his backhand. His goal is to finally beat his brother, who has been beating him at tennis for the past fifteen years.
The other two players arrived together. They are friends have been playing with each other for a while but want to improve enough to start playing in tennis tournaments. Even these two players, though, are do not have identical needs because one is a phys. ed. teacher runs two or three times every week. The other is an office worker who gets his exercise only from tennis and only on weekends.
Imagine trying to put together a lesson plan that will satisfy the needs of all five of these five tennis players. Now imagine trying to do that without first knowing what their backgrounds or goals are. Do you think you would be successful?
It is essential for tennis instructors to know something about where students are coming from and where they want to go if they wish to see their students benefit from their lessons.
Players who want to learn how to rally have needs that are very different from players who dream, one day, of playing in the US Open. The same is true when it comes to differing fitness levels; a young woman who runs 10 miles a week may not have the same goals and abilities as a middle-aged guy who sits at a desk all day.
In an ideal world, every tennis pro would come into every lesson knowing exactly where students are coming from and exactly where they are heading so that he can adjust his lesson plan accordingly. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case in the real world of tennis instruction. Such questions, if they come at all, usually come at the very beginning of the very first lesson.
Therefore my advice to students who sign up for tennis lessons is to get this information on the table as quickly as possible — preferably in the first five minutes of the start of your program. If the instructor doesn’t ask, bring it up any way.
Most classes begin with introductions that give students an opportunity to state their name and tell the group something about themselves. Included in this introduction should be a simple statement describing where you are coming from and what you hope to get out of the lessons. By doing this you will help the instructor understand your needs as a person and as a tennis player.
After reading my blog entry earlier this week — Tennis Lessons: How to Play, Practice, Improve — Gwen wondered about the following: “How is it possible to practice tennis serves while standing at the service line? Shouldn’t serves be practiced from the baseline?”
Let me answer them by saying that beginners who are learning how to serve have different objectives in practice than intermediate tennis players who are learning how to improve their serve.
More than anything else, beginners need to learn and practice service motions and rhythms. Since a good tennis serve is primarily about timing, players who are learning how to serve must focus the bulk of their practice time on the service motion itself rather than on hitting balls and trying to get them in. For beginners, that part comes later.
Intermediate tennis players, by contrast, have already learned the components of the serve motion. Generally speaking, they can put all of the serve components together in a continuous, fluid motion.
Therefore when intermediate players head out to the tennis court to practice their serve, it makes perfect sense for them to head straight to the baseline with a basket of tennis balls. They already know how to get their serve in. What they need to practice are the rest of the five elements that make up a good tennis serve: placement, depth, spin and power.
The best place for a beginner to begin the process of learning how to get the serve in, is on the service line. By standing at the service line and practicing their service motion, they will quickly develop a serving rhythm that is essential to their serving success.
As they become more comfortable with the rhythm of the serve and as they learn how to get the ball over the net and into the proper court, they can begin to move back in stages toward the baseline.
Eventually, they will get all the way back to the baseline and begin serving from there. Once they get there, however, they really won’t be able to call themselves beginners anymore. Nor will their smooth, fluid serving motion lead anybody watching to believe that they are relatively new to tennis.
They will look like they know what they are doing. And from that will come the confidence that they actually do know what they are doing.
In general, people who are learning how to play tennis should spend less time at the baseline than they do at the service line.
The move back to the baseline should happen only after beginners have learned how to control the ball and maintain a consistent rally.
Think back to the last set of tennis lessons you took. How much time did you spend at the baseline? Probably not a lot.
If you took your lessons from a PTR-certified instructor, you may have started and ended the lesson with a demonstration from the baseline, but everything else was probably done on the small area highlighted in the illustation on the right.
Instructors do this for a reason: it is easier for students to control the ball over short distances than it is for them to control the ball over long distances.
My best advice to tennis beginners is to adopt this small, service-box-court as their own. Learn to rally forehand to forehand on this small practice court. Then learn to rally backhand to backhand. Eventually they will also be able to practice volleys and other basic shots on this smaller court.
Even serves can be practiced at this distance. Standing at the service line is the very best spot on the court for beginners to practice their serve motion and rhythm.
Beginners who adopt the service-box-court as their very own tennis court will spend more time hitting and less time chasing errant balls. By increasing the number of balls they hit in an hour, they will be increasing the rate at which they improve.
Using the smaller court will also cut down on the number of times that balls get away from beginners and end up rolling through other courts and interrupting other players — something which many beginners tell me is both frustrating and embarassing.
Tennis lessons for kids under eight should include a lot of fun and games. This game, called Jail, is one of our favourites. It is perfectly suited for group lessons of four to eight children who are using large foam tennis balls.
The instructor stands at the centre net strap with a basket of large foam tennis balls. The children line up in the doubles alley to his right on the opposite side of the net.
Most children will line up where the serve line intersects with the singles line. However, advanced students or older children may be lined up further from the net at the tennis coach’s discretion.
The coach begins the game by calling Child One to the tee between the service boxes. Child One then has two opportunities to hit a hand-fed foam tennis ball over the net into the doubles court.
If the child succeeds, they “stay out of jail” and go to the back of the line. If they fail, they “go to jail” and join the coach on his side of the net.
Child Two then moves to the tee between the two service boxes and also has two opportunities to hit a hand-fed tennis ball over the net into the doubles court.
Meanwhile, Child One (the “prisoner”) now has an opportunity to free himself from jail by trapping Child Two’s ball between his tennis racquet and his non-hitting hand.
If Child Two successfully hits the ball over the net into the doubles court and Child One is unable to catch it, then Child Two “stays out of jail” and goes to the back of the line.
If, however, the prisoner (Child One) is able to catch Child Two’s foam tennis ball after only one bounce, then Child Two and Child One will change places.
The game continues until time is up or until there is only one hitter remaining who is not yet in jail.
If the final hitter is able to hit the ball over the net into the doubles court and nobody catches it, then he wins the game and all of the other children have to run three laps around the tennis court.
However, if one of the “prisoners” is able to catch the ball, then a “jailbreak” occurs in which all of the children run free.
nnCanadian Sport For Life recommends that children six and under spend most of their time on unstructured play that incorporates a variety of body movements in order to develop coordination, social skills and gross motor skills.
For the tennis instructor teaching group lessons (and the parent who watches them), this means a lot of laughing, playing and running around combined with only a small amount of actual “hitting”. Since children at this age are still learning the basics of physical literacy, tennis lessons may not appear to be very different from soccer practices. In fact, settings (tennis courts vs. soccer fields) will sometimes be the only way to distinguish one activity from another at this age.
Tennis Lessons: Children 6-9
At the next developmental stage, which is 6 to 9 in boys and 6 to 8 in girls, activities should be more structured. While the focus of the lessons should still be on fun, it is possible at this age to introduce minimal amounts of formal competition.
At this age, “hitting” becomes both possible and beneficial. Tennis instructors are able to introduce technical instruction and begin to develop essential shots and tennis movements. The emphasis should continue to be on having fun; however games and activities that result in winners and losers can begin to make their appearance.
Tennis Lessons: Children 8-12
By ages 8-11 in girls and 9-12 in boys, children are ready to begin training according to more formalized methods. However, the emphasis should still remain general and should not focus too much on any single sport. “While it is often tempting to over-develop “talent” at this age through excessive single sport training and competition (as well as early positioning in team sports),” says Canadian Sport for Life, “this can be very detrimental to later stages of development if the child is playing a late specialization sport: it promotes one-sided physical, technical, and tactical development and increases the likelihood of injury and burnout.”
By this stage in their development, girls 8-11 and boys 9-12 are ready for higher degrees of formal training and competition. While the emphasis should remain on skill training and physical development, players at this age are ready to consolidate their basic sport-specific skills and tactics. Therefore tennis lessons in general should look like a cross between an aerobics class and a formal tennis lesson. Indeed, for juniors who are getting sufficient amounts of aerobic training outside of tennis lessons, the tennis lessons themselves can become highly focused on technical development.
Parents have to remember that tennis instructors create lessons programs based on an understanding of averages. Most will assume that the children entering their class are participating in other sports programs as well. Therefore, they will often place less emphasis on physical education and more emphasis on tennis-specific activities.
Parents who choose to enroll their child in tennis lessons ONLY, should make this clear to the instructor from the outset. In these situations, it will be very important for the coach to take a more generalized approach that will strike a balance between technical instruction and physical education.nn
Do tennis ball machines help or hurt the development of tennis players at the adult beginner to intermediate level?
It’s a major debate amongst instructors. Some pros insist that hand-feeds are the only way to go. Others use ball machines liberally. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
There is no doubt that tennis players at this level love ball machines. Last season we doubled the length of our popular TENNIS FOR ADULT BEGINNERS lessons program here in Calgary by adding a second hour that consisted entirely of supervised practice with a Shotmaker Deluxe tennis ball machine. Enrollment in this program more than tripled in spite of a significant price increase.
Therefore I don’t think it makes sense to ban machines completely from the learning process. After all, anything that motivates adult tennis students and keeps them engaged is not entirely evil.
The key lies in creating a balance and in making sure that the ball machine is a tool used to help the instructor teach the student, not a replacement for the instructor.
Our TENNIS FOR ADULT BEGINNERS lessons program provides an excellent example of this. It is a series of four two-hour lessons that takes students through the basics of forehands, backhands, volleys and serves.Each lesson starts with an hour of progressive tennis instruction led by a certified, adult PTR-certified instructor. The second hour is spent practicing and further developing the skills learned in the first hour.
During their hour with the ball machine, the players are under the constant supervision of the same tennis instructor who led them through the first hour. Therefore he is able to give them feedback and further guide their development.
Without question, students are learning faster now that we have incorporated a ball machine into that second hour of practice. Having an additional hour with the instructor standing with them on the same side of the net is of clear and lasting benefit to our students.
There is a mistaken belief out there that every certified tennis pro will jump at the opportunity to teach private tennis lessons. As a result, many would-be customers are baffled when they talk to tennis pros and learn that private lessons A) are expensive and B) cannot generally be booked during peak times of the day.
The reason for this is simple economics. During peak periods, such as early in the evening mid-week, most instructors can choose between teaching a one-hour group lesson which will bring in $180 or a one-hour private lesson will bring in just $70. Since the pro can earn more than double by teaching a group lesson, you can understand why he is reluctant to book private lessons during peak hours.
Students who wish to book private lessons, therefore, should begin the process by understanding this economic reality. If price is a concern and the student is looking for a low hourly rate, then the student must be prepared to take lessons during off times when demand for the pro’s services are low. Conversely, if having the lesson at a convenient time is the student’s priority, then she should be prepared to pay a much higher price.
Students for whom time of day is an issue, must also consider very carefully whether or not private lessons are the best way to go. After all, not all students benefit equally from private tennis lessons.
Beginners, for example, tend to do best in group situations where they can learn from listening to the instructor correct the mistakes of other students. Group lessons are also less demanding physically than private lessons. So students who are in less than ideal shape will have more opportunities to catch their breath and return their heart rates to near normal levels.
Intermediate tennis players, meanwhile, tend to get more out of semi-private lessons than they do out of group lessons. This is because intermediate players usually have some bad habits to unlearn before they can move forward with new learning. Therefore, intermediate players benefit from the additional one-on-one time with the instructor that semi-private lessons have to offer.
Private lessons, finally, are best for advanced players who are trying to reach the next competitive level. While they can be useful to some beginners and some intermediate players, especially those with learning difficulties or those who are painfully shy and unable to perform around others, private lessons are generally of less benefit to players at these levels.
If time of day is a critical issue for you, then you should seriously consider semi-private or group lessons. If you are a beginner or an intermediate tennis player, then these lesson plans are probably a better fit for you anyway.
If, however, you have considered all of the issues and still insist on taking private lessons during peak hours, then you should be prepared to pay top dollar.
Like anything else, shopping for tennis lessons requires a little bit of forethought. Two questions are especially important for people who want to learn how to play tennis: what do you want to learn and who do you want to teach it to you?
Having answers to these two questions before you talk to your first tennis pro will help you spend your money wisely.
Question 1: Is Your Pro Certified?
Tennis instruction is a completely unregulated industry. Literally anybody can say they are a tennis instructor. In fact, more than half of all the lessons taught in North America at the community level are taught by instructors who are not properly certified.
All instructors certified by the USTA, PTR and Tennis Canada are automatically covered by $2 million of liability insurance. Instructors who work as professionals at major tennis clubs are typically insured by their clubs even if their professional certification has lapsed.
Uncertified instructors who teach in community programs or on public courts may not be insured. If you are not completely certain, ask your instructor for proof of insurance. If they are unwilling or unable to provide it, consider taking your business elsewhere.
Question 3: Can Your Pro Teach?
Students are often impressed by their instructor’s tennis accomplishments. However, accomplishments matter little if the instructor can’t teach. As a beginner, it is better to have a certified instructor who has demonstrated to other professionals that he is capable of teaching beginners than to have an accomplished player who has not learned how to communicate what he knows to others.
Find out if your pro can teach by asking for references. Or better yet, talk to people who have taken lessons from him. Good instructors rarely get bad reviews.
Question 4: Does Your Pro Teach Sustainable Tennis?
Pros like Roger Federer, Raphael Nadal, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are exceptionally gifted athletes. They also spend a great deal of time and energy working their bodies into top physical shape.
For example, a top-ranked tennis player will spend two hours in the gym with a professional trainer every day of the week. They will also spend an hour or two on the track either running for distance or sprinting for cardio training.
This off-court training allows pro athletes to challenge their muscles, joints and ligaments in ways that would be unhealthy and potentially dangerous for people who aren’t as physically fit as they are.
Unfortunately, many well-meaning tennis instructors forget this when teaching recreational and non-professional players. They forget that serving like Nadal requires Nadal’s upper body strength. They forget that hitting Federer’s backhand requires Federer’s eye-hand coordination plus Federer’s exceptional footwork.
Good tennis instructors rarely make this mistake. Most will spend a lot of time at your first lesson assessing your fitness and skill levels. They will also ask you questions about your personal goals with respect to tennis. They will do this because their primary goal is to figure out what is possible and what is sustainable for you as a tennis player.
A good tennis instructor will correctly assess that “sustainable” means one thing for a 14-year-old and something else for a 44-year-old. It will also mean one thing for a player who regularly runs marathons and another thing for a player who is relatively sedentary when he or she is not on the tennis court.
In other words, good tennis instructors will not teach you how to serve like Nadal or rally like Serena until they are convinced that you are healthy and fit enough to sustain a similar level of physical challenge. If you are not quite ready for this, they will help you figure out what you need to do in order to get ready.
Question 5: Who is the Back-Up?
The final thing you should find out from every would-be tennis instructor is the name of the person who is backing them up. Unfortunately, everybody gets sick, everybody has car trouble and everybody runs into last-minute emergencies every now and then. Good instructors plan for this by having a replacement ready in the event that they are unable to teach the lesson as scheduled.
Recreational tennis lessons consist of large groups and usually involve more than one instructor. The instructor to student ratio is typically eight-to-one. If the lessons occur outdoors, the price is usually very low: less than $20 per student per hour. If the lessons occur indoors, they will cost more.
Large group lessons like these are intended for students who just want to have fun with a tennis racquet in their hand. One-on-one instruction is minimal due to the large student-to-instructor ratio. Students in these programs can and probably will learn something about tennis. However, the emphasis in these programs is to create a fun atmosphere and teach kids to enjoy tennis.
Small Group Lessons
Small group lessons typically have a student-to-instructor ratio of six-to-one or less. The price for small group lessons is higher than for recreational group lessons. However, the fact that there are fewer students ensures that each will get more one-on-one time with the tennis instructor.
Students in small group lessons will typically spend less time waiting their turn and more time actively acquiring and improving tennis skills. Therefore the opportunity to learn more per lesson exists — although not all children will take advantage of this opportunity. Prices vary from $20 to $40 per hour.
Semi-private tennis lessons usually consist of one instructor with two or three students. Although good instructors will always ensure that students have fun at every lesson, the emphasis in semi-private lessons is focused on acquiring and improving tennis skills.
Compared to group lessons, semi-private lessons require more expertise, more one-on-one instruction and more equipment. As a result, the costs are higher than in group lessons — expect to pay $40 $60 per hour depending on the number of students.
Private lessons ensure that your child will have the instructor’s full attention for the entire lesson. However, in most cases, this is not necessary. Most children will, in fact, learn better and enjoy themselves more in small group or semi-private lessons than in private lessons.
However, a small percentage of students will benefit from the one-on-one instruction offered in private tennis lessons. Foremost among these children are those with short attention spans and those who are exceptionally gifted tennis players for their ages. Expect to pay at least $60 per hour for private tennis lessons. If the lessons are indoors, add up to 50 per cent.
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