Stepping out of your comfort zone to truly connect with students
  | By Daniel Bednarek
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

When I began to coach tennis for a living there was definitely a lot to learn. Sure, I knew what a continental grip was, but how do you make sure your students have it when they are learning the serve? What kind of continental grip drills are appropriate to use during different developmental stages? What are the right things to suggest when the student is struggling with the grip?

The answers to these questions are just the tip of the iceberg when trying to develop someone’s serve properly. And the serve is just one stroke/aspect of the game!

It took a few years for me to get to the knowledge and experience level (obviously there is always more to learn) of how to coach the sport of tennis to a point where I had a clear blueprint of what I could do to help a player reach their goals.

However, once I reached that level of proficiency, I felt like something was still missing. It was difficult to put my finger on. The students I worked with were getting better technically and tactically, but didn’t seem as excited about it as I was. Sometimes they weren’t very engaged. So, I did some research and asked my colleagues for advice. The conclusion we came to was that I needed to work harder on truly connecting with my students.

What is it that makes them tick? What analogies can I make to tennis that would be easy for them to retain? When do I make jokes? How hard can I push them on a given day? When do I back off?

The list of these questions can go on forever and the answers are completely different for each individual. This makes the serve ‘iceberg’ seem tiny. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by these aspects of a student and keep track of them all. And it can be frustrating when your tactics to connect with them fail and you have to go back to the drawing board. However, once you figure out these ways to connect, coaching becomes much more successful and enjoyable for both coach and student. Then you combine your tennis knowledge with your connections with them, and the sky is the limit.

Whether its superheroes, TikTok vocabulary, or any other topic that interests them; it is worth the effort of figuring out how to use this power of connection to develop long-term student relationships.

It’s easy to look across the net and say ‘keep your eye on the ball’. A robot could do that all day. But to look across and see a puzzle of a student waiting to be connected: well, that unlocks a world of possibilities which makes our craft incredibly rewarding. Being a great coach is a form of art. And like any successful artist, you have to be open to constant evolving.

 

Daniel Bednarek is a tennis coach for CourtSense at Tenafly Racquet Club,and has been there full-time since 2009. He was an all-county player at Bergen Catholic High School and a nationally-ranked junior while training at CourtSense. He is a Cum Laude graduate of Bucknell University, with a degree in Business Administration, and he finished with the fifth most career wins in Bucknell history. Bednarek is certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He can be reached at daniel.b@courtsense.com.