Several years ago at my sleepaway camp, there was an “incident” which illustrated to me the importance and urgency of switching to “synchronized teaching” at camp. “Synchronized teaching” is a system of instruction where every instructor on every court is teaching the same drills simultaneously. It enabled me to maintain control of our teaching program.
The title character of the story was one of our best playing counselors, a 21-year-old who was very enthusiastic and whom I thought was one of our very best instructors at camp that summer.
During pre-camp training with our tennis staff, I went over all the drills that I wanted them to use. Most of these drills are very fast-paced, and either technique- or strategy-oriented. They have been proven over time to be excellent training drills and games.
When this incident occurred, the tennis director and I were both present. We had 10 courts being worked out on simultaneously, and each court had four students and one pro. The pro in question had our best campers. He knew the drills that we trained him in during pre-camp training. We made it clear that those were the drills to use.
At his own whim, he decided to use his own overhead drill. His drill came down to an overhead for one player around the service line with his opponent at or inside the opposite service line. The one hitting the overhead was given instructions to hit the overhead right through his opponent. His opponent was given instructions to return the overhead and defend his side of the net.
My director and I noticed the drill right away. It didn't look like anything we had taught the instructors in pre-camp training. We both immediately went over to see what he was doing. As soon as we got there, the one hitting the overhead nailed an overhead right at his opponent, who was standing inside the service line. It hit him in the upper thigh. The kid went down. He was 15-years-old, one of our best players and he was in pain. I held my breath while imagining that this was going to be serious. He eventually recovered after about a half-hour and was able to return to the court. It was a scary moment, and we all got off lucky. He could have been seriously injured.
It was a reckless drill. When we asked the instructor about it, he said that his coach uses it with the players on the team. We asked him why he didn't ask us first if he could use it and he just shrugged. He just wanted to do it with his group.
This is a prime example of an “unsafe” drill. There are other times when instructors will implement their own drills which are pointless, boring or ineffective.
We now use “synchronized teaching” at camp. Either I or the tennis director give the list of drills to be used that day to each instructor (the list changes daily). We give the instructors a “one-min. warning” before switching drills every 10 min. In one 90 min. class, we are able to get in around six to eight drill sequences. I believe it allows for a very energetic, purposeful and safe drilling environment on each court.
When parents send their kids to camp, they expect that the instructors will be doing the right thing with their children. Most staffers at a tennis camp are great players, and at the same time, need to be taught how to handle a group of children on their court.
“Synchronized teaching” enables directors/instructors to maintain control of their program, monitor the drills and maximize the overall experience for our campers.