Principles of Teaching & Learning Part 4 of 4

In this months blog series we have been focusing on aiding LTA Level 1 and 2 Tennis Coaches to gain a greater understanding of how players learn, and how this should influence their own coaching behaviour. In the final post in the series we concentrate on lesson planning.

Planning a lesson

You cannot underestimate the importance of lesson planning. All the previous information we have imparted in this series of posts so far cannot help a player if the coach chooses the wrong area to work on.  So how does a coach decide what to do?

Assessment and evaluation are key

Look and observe the players in relation to the 5 main playing situations

  • Serving
  • Returning at the back of the court
  • Returning moving forward
  • Volleying
  • Opponent moving forward to volley.

Consider these points in each instance

  • What can they do in relation to the tactics of each situation ?
  • Can they get the ball over and in and TRADE with an opponent when rallying ?
  • Can they move their opponent and BUILD  a point to create an opportunity to win and FINISH the point.
  • Can they recover when they have been moved into a defensive position and NEUTRALISE their opponents advantage ?
  • Can they STAY in the point or even TURN the POINT AROUND ?


Everything depends upon the age and stage of the player. It would be totally inappropriate to choose to teach a six year old group of girls a lob volley even though it is something they cannot do.

Decide not only what they cannot do but what is going to make them better tennis players most quickly. For example with mini tennis specifically serving, returning and rallying are essential skills to teach.

Logical progression

Having established the playing situation eg both back rallying, once they can simply trade, you then expand the tactical intention to hitting into space to move the opponent and build the point. This means the lessons progress logically with post lesson evaluation confirming the direction of the future lessons.

Having  set the big picture tactically how are the players going execute an improvement technically ? Tactic WHAT to do Technique HOW to do it.

Assessment and observation brings analytical diagnosis and the selection of one key teaching point.
  • We cannot overload with information the learner so limit it to one key point which is demonstrated.
  • Its vital that reinforcement is obtained from any demonstrations, refer to that point repeatedly until the end of the lesson.


Feeding is a very important coaching skill. Knowing how to feed at each stage affects the rate and effectiveness of learning.

In a lesson with beginners at the cognitive stage a coach should make it as easy as possible for the player to achieve success with a more repetitive feed. If young players feed each other at times and the feeds are not very good remember tennis is an open skill game, we never hit the same ball twice so it is good practice for them.

However it is important to work on young players feeding skills and this can be done through warm up / ABC activities.

As players pass through the associative and autonomous stage the feeding becomes more game related. Like demos the feeding position should reflect the shot/s being worked on. The speed and rate of feeding should help the players develop their skills.

The 3 stages of feeding

Stage 1

Easy, slow feeds in short blocks with time to think, building up the picture, feel and pattern of the stroke.

Stage 2

Game related with a varied feed to learn the different ball characteristics and see how the skill stands up under pressure.

Stage 3

Game related varied feeding which is challenging, maintaining skill level and identifying small errors.

We started the blog thinking about the importance of task selection and that is where we end…

  • Tasks must be relevant to the age and stage of the players
  • Tasks must be linked to the key teaching area
  • Tasks must allow the teaching point to be practised
  • Tasks must be challenging but realistic for the players
  • Tasks must have relevance to players TENNIS development
  • Tasks must be enjoyable and purposeful

Ultimately, the satisfaction of coaching is seeing players improve! And our sole aim at UCoach is to help you and all the other coaches that learn with us to do this. 

Over the past 4 weeks we have touched on what we at UCoach consider to be the major principles of teaching and learning. Obviously the subject is much wider and we will touch on more aspects of this over time, but we hope this blog in some way will reinforce some key points with you and in turn help you to help your players reach their maximum potential on the tennis court.

See you again next time!

Jenny Thomas & Liz Jones, Directors of UCoach

Do you have any experience you want to share with others on this subject? Remember if you go away and put some of these things into action we would love to hear how it goes or any problems you encounter so feel free to comment below and join in the discussion.

Principles of Teaching & Learning Part 3 of 4

In this months blog series we focus on aiding LTA Level 1 and 2 Tennis Coaches to gain a greater understanding of how players learn, and how this should influence their own coaching behaviour .

Importance of communication, demos and feedback


A coach can be very knowledgable about tennis but unless they can communicate effectively that knowledge is wasted.
We know that the majority learn not through being told something so the words we use must be carefully measured. We also know that How we say those words conveys more than the words themselves.
  1. Keep instruction to a minimum, don’t waffle.
  2. Tell players what they need to know at the moment they need to know it, not for the whole lesson.
  3. Use appropriate language that is easily understood
  4. Ensure a group can all hear you, never start talking until you can make eye contact with them all.
  5. Vary your tone and intonation to provide motivation
  6. Avoid generalities and repetitive phases ‘ unlucky ‘ ‘ great ‘ ‘ok’
  7. Consider your body language it conveys more than verbal communication.
  8. Move with purpose, use open gestures, don’t cuddle your racket it gives a closed message.
  9. SMILE it relaxes you and your pupils.
  10. Actively listen
  11. Use question and answer pit stops to check understanding and involve the players in their learning.
  12. Consider at all times the preferred way of learning of your pupils. For instance, is your pupil a kinaesthetic learner? if so get them to consider how the last shot felt.
  13. Consider at all times the stage of learning of your pupil, for autonomous learners ask them what went wrong with the last shot.


  • a key teaching tool to help players understand what they are doing and what they need to do.
  • information received by the learner during and after attempts at a technical movement or an action within the game.
  • To benefit from feedback the information must be accurate.
  • Do not overload the player, restrict the feedback to information around the one main teaching point.
  • It is a two way process and as a player develops it changes, to recap.
  • must be specific. Shouting ‘good shot’ is obviously praise, but you need to expand and let them know what was good about it!
Depending on the players stage of learning depends on the origin of the feedback…
Stage 1 – Feedback almost entirely from the coach to the player
Stage 2 – Feedback from both the player and the coach
Stage 3 – Feedback almost entirely from the player
Whatever stage the player is at the feedback must be accurate and conveyed with
sincerity. If you say that was a great shot regularly with a bored tone your player will not believe you or understand when they really hit a great shot !

When to give feedback?

When to give feedback depends upon the experience level of the player, it may be after several attempts or after a particularly good/ bad shot. Feedback can be positive or negative, and you should now understand what influence the stage of learning has on this.
Feedback can be based on performance or outcome, girls learn more by performance
feedback, boys by outcome.


Children learn by seeing and copying so perhaps the most powerful learning tool at mini tennis level is the visual picture created by a good demo.

How to execute an excellent demo…

Step 1:

Ensure the players are in the best position to see you, are they able to see your racket ?  can you talk to them as you show them.? We know this is the way they will retain information best of

Step 2:

Give  them clear instruction as to what you want them to watch. It may be the whole shot, part of it, it may not be the outcome of where the ball goes.

Step 3:

Check for understanding use Q and A . Ask them to SHOW you what they have seen ( kinaesthetic learners)

Step 4:

Choose to demo from the  part of the court from where the shot would be played from in a match. Eg Volley demo at the net

Step 5:

Be accurate in what you show remember it is not your serve you show, but what you want them to do.

Step 6:

Do the demo 3 times minimum.

Step 7:

Dont forget about left handers, do you have any in your group? have they seen it from their perspective?

Step 8:

If you have used a player to help you with the demo change the helper so all players get to see the demo.

Step 9:

Perform the demo multiple times to reinforce the key teaching points

Step 10:

In a group lesson its ok to do an individual demo for some players as you move around the court.

Step 11:

Consider using a peer demo but think carefully about a negative demo, it can be confusing. Always better to know what to do rather than what not to do !
And finally…
Take your time over the demonstrations you do, they are so important, if it goes wrong don’t be afraid to tell your group and then do it again!


In next week’s final post in this series we consider lesson planning and setting up effective and appropriate tasks.

See you next week!

Jenny Thomas, Director of UCoach

Do you have any experience you want to share with others on this subject? Remember if you go away and put some of these things into action we would love to hear how it goes or any problems you encounter so feel free to comment below and join in the discussion.


Principles of Teaching & Learning Part 2 of 4

In this months blog series we focus on aiding LTA Level 1 and 2 Tennis Coaches to gain a greater understanding of how players learn, and how this should influence their own coaching behaviour .

Last week we looked at creating a positive learning environment and how players learn a new skill, this week we turn our attention to the stages of learning and the optimum coaching behaviours needed at each stage.

Stages of Learning

The purpose of coaching is to bring a permanent improvement in a players performance. That permanent improvement will only take place if the player has learnt techniques and developed them into skills by practising them within the context of the game.


Firstly some considerations for the coach…
  • Players differ in respect of their previous learning so all come at different stages.
  • All players learn at different rates and all move through the stages at different times.
  • The motivation of players to learn is different at different times and this affects their learning rate.

Three Stages of Learning

There are 3 stages to go through in learning any skill, not just tennis skills.

Stage 1: Cognitive or beginner stage

This stage is where the player tries to understand what to do
THE PLAYER - Typical examples of what a player is doing at this stage:
  • Trying the whole action but looks awkward.
  • Developing a general shape.
  • Making lots of errors.
  • Asking lots of questions to understand the task
  • Needs time to think between attempts.
  • Makes rapid improvement.
THE COACH - What should the coach be doing at this stage ?
  1. Lots of demonstrations.
  2. Positive feedback on good actions.
  3. Ignoring mistakes
  4. Answering briefly.
  5. Feeding to allow thinking time.
  6. Keeping feeding similar to limit decision making
  7. Being positive and encouraging.

Stage 2 Associative or improver stage        

This stage is where the player is practising the action.
THE PLAYER - Typical examples of what a player is doing at this stage:
  • Improving the shape of the action
  • Making fewer mistakes
  • Giving feedback to the coach
  • Developing the action as an open skill for tennis
  • Can lose confidence as rate of improvement not as great as 1 st stage.
THE COACH - What should the coach be doing at this stage ?
  1. Reducing demonstrations
  2. Giving positive feedback
  3. Questioning to check understanding
  4. Making feeding more game realistic
  5. Checking for small errors

Stage 3 The autonomous or skilled performer stage  

This is the stage where the player is maintaining the action

THE PLAYER - Typical examples of what a player is doing at this stage:
  • The action is automatic
  • Action is fluent and mistakes are few
  • Player is confident in the skill
  • There is more feedback from the player
  • Player can self correct
THE COACH - What should the coach be doing at this stage ?
  1. Feeding is game related although blocked feeding ( the same ballrepeated) may be used to groove the action.
  2. Feedback is encouraging but mistakes are discussed
  3. Player is encouraged to assess own performance
  4. Demonstrations by the coach are reduced but “expert ” demos by pro players on video etc may be used.
All players go through these stages when learning a new skill, it is vital that a coach understands the stages and can satisfy the demands of each player in whatever stage they are in.



Principles of Teaching & Learning Part 1 of 4

This months blog series aims to help level 1 and 2 tennis coaches have a greater understanding of how players learn, and how this should influence coaching behaviour .

Week 1
Creating a positive learning environment.
How players learn a new skill
Week 2
Stages of learning and coaching behaviour at each stage
Week 3
Importance of communication to include demonstrations and feedback
Week 4
Lesson planning and setting up effective and appropriate tasks

So lets get going…

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Profile of a UCoach Coach – Jonnie Crowley

Ok so as the spring starts to steam headlong towards us and everyone starts gearing up for the main tennis season we thought it would be nice to celebrate the work we do by profiling a selection of coaches that have gone through the “UCoach” system and are out there right now in their communities delivering sessions week in week out. If your thinking of starting out as a tennis coach or are already on the pathway then read on over the next few weeks to see if these guys and girls can motivate you into taking that next progression to a career coaching this wonderful sport.

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Teaching Tots 3 – 5′s Part 3

In this the final series focusing on Teaching Tots we see Matt Fellingham, Head Coach at Royston Tennis Club sharing his wealth of knowledge to pinpoint what exactly he thinks makes a good coach for this specific age group, and how they should approach the delivery of sessions.

What should the coach do

Organisational skills.
* provide a safe environment by defining the playing area
* have simple command words for starting and stopping activities
* use markers, spots, cones to define where children stand and return to
* delivering simple tasks on an individual basis until children mature into being able to cooperate

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Teaching Tots 3 – 5′s Part 2

Continuing our series on Teaching Tots this week Matt Fellingham, Head Coach at Royston Tennis Club shares his wealth and knowledge to pinpoint what exactly he thinks Tots aged 3-5 should learn and what exactly is it that they need.

* commands of the coach for starting and stopping
* rules of an activity
* boundaries in/out
* counting… Colours
* cooperation working with a partner
* seeing, copying, listening.
* watching is an important part of learning

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Teaching Tots

Teaching Tots 3 – 5′s Part 1

This month UCoach have invited Matt Fellingham to share his experience of teaching tots within a club programme.

Matt is Head Coach at Royston Tennis Club. He currently has 66 under 5′s in the core programme with a very long waiting list. He is fortunate to have a wife who is a nursery school teacher and his first piece of advice is to listen and to learn from those who have real experience of working with very young children. Whenever possible Matt employs nursery assistants to work within the clubs tots programme.

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Understanding the Female Tennis Coach – Part 3 of 3

Thinking FEMALE

The skill of the educator and mentor is to socially engineer the environment to bring out the best in the female coaches they work with. To help wiht construction try the “think “FEMALE” method. It spells out the key components that need addressing when nurturing female coaches:

Think “FEMALE”

Focus: On personal best goal setting and achievements
Empathy: Recognise the feelings that the coach is experiencing
Mastery: Encourage the joyof accomplishing at one’s own pace
Autonomy: Promote a sense of choice and self determination
Learn: Help capture teachable moments that steepen improvement
Effort: Show respect for human endeavour

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