A major challenge for coaches is finding a balance between technical perfection and gradual progression. What is the best way to approach student development and ultimately, how to enhance and speed up the development process. Is it one or the other or is it a mix of both? Let’s explore.

The environment that players train in, directly affects the flow of growth and development. Is it healthy to focus on perfecting one small component of your tennis game or once you have semi mastered a skill, move on and progress to the next level. 

In psychology, they say progression is focusing on the positives, praising and nurturing the player with rewards by progressing to the next stage. While perfection is focusing on the negative, where did you go wrong, what do you need to improve and you must try again, over and over until it is absolutely perfect. 

What does the concept of perfection do to a young tennis player? Does it help build grit, perseverance and determination? Or does it grow resentment, lack of confidence and boredom? Where as a coach focusing solely on progression, moving onto the next skill once they have a rough grasp of the first. Are they overwhelming the player? Or protecting a player by just focusing on growth? 

Is a progressional coach without perfection setting up a tennis player for failure? or is a coach focusing on perfection without progression preventing rapid and long term growth?

It is important to realise that it is a fine balance between these two styles of coaching that help shape a tennis player. Progression without elements of perfection sets the player up with perhaps bad technique and a long, arduous road ahead with skill development. Then perfection with the focus on repetition can make learning a new skill an enduring and uninspiring process.

When we want to learn a new skill it’s fairly normal for us to practice the same movement many 100’s of times over. Which works quite well to begin with but then fatigue sets in and it’s normal to plateau or even deteriorate. What if we were to focus on refining existing skills with little tweaks here and there?  

A 2017 study, ‘Motor skills are strengthened through reconsolidation’, found focusing on an existing skill set and developing it further with little changes lets the brain learn the task through reconsolidation. Allowing the brain to use a previously mastered skill, modify aspects of it to enhance it further turns out to be a much faster process. Another important component for reconsolidation to work effectively is to allow adequate rest between skill developments. The study also found ‘performance on the previously learned skill was strengthened when tested the next day’. 

How can we put this together on court? For a coach the evolution of learning is key. How the coach is able to gradually make changes that head in the desired direction. Keeping this information clear for the player so they really understand the purpose and process of the small changes. Plus and importantly, knowing where these small changes will ultimately take them (the bigger picture).

If you are a parent and have the means, avoid coaching your children. Avoid commenting on certain shots if you feel they are not working. The best thing you can do is, take a quick video and look at it together. Ask a few open ended questions; How do you think this looks? Is this similar to the goal shot in training? Just listen, no need to pass any judgement here. Send the video to the coach and start exploring the topic together. Remember the goal is not to be right, the goal is to progress forward together as a team.

Progression is much more than about skill development, it is all about the process and journey of skill development. When we understand this and embody it within our training, progression is far deeper, quicker and stronger. It will structure our conversation style, our tone and understanding of the process. These are big pieces to the puzzle and we will continue to explore.

As always, please share your experiences with coaching styles. How do you see your child’s growth and development? Have any questions or would like to provide feedback, please feel free to reach out to us.

Parent like a grand slam champion.