I started coaching tennis when I was thirteen. I think that this is a job where there is no other way to learn it other that through experience. It is hard for me to walk down our local high street without seeing someone who I’ve coached. I have a head full of names of 5-10 year olds. Names can often prove a problem, in one squad we have three girls with the same name distinguished by different varients on the nickname. I have had countless complicated foreign names and twins are always a problem. I used to coach identical girls who I separated by their shoes and I currently coach identical boys who there seems to be no way to tell apart other than a mole on one ear. I generally wait for someone else to get it wrong or right and go from there.
There have been many memorable kids I’ve coached over the years. Here is an insight into two amazing characters.
A is a very cute little boy who I first started coaching in squads about two years ago and still coach today. He always bounces onto court with the biggest smile and has started to become a fairly good player. When I first knew him he would regularly tell me that he couldn’t do backhands because he was right handed. It seemed perfect logic to him that no one would ever think of hitting the left side of his body. One squad he asked, about ten minutes into the hour long lesson, if he could go to the toilet. I established that he knew where the toilets were and let him go. About half an hour later we realised that he hadn’t come back so we hastily sent off one of the waiting mothers to check that he was alright. She came back and said she’d asked through the door if he was OK and he replied that he was fine. About ten minutes from the end he reappeared and continued with the lesson quite happily after his forty minute toilet trip. Another time he spent about ten minutes of the squad telling me in great detail about the star wars concert he was in at his school where he was going to be playing the electric guitar. I will never forget his demonstration, complete with one leg in the air and sound effects. I have no idea if it was true or not but it was very well implanted in his head.
B was so funny that I almost had to leave the hall on occasions to stop myself laughing. He has this fantastic husky voice which would make him hard to age on the telephone. He would refuse to do warm ups for a long time. When we did manage to get him onto court to warm up he would run about three paces then fall over and say very loudly ‘Oh no, I’ve fallen over, I going to have to sit out for a bit’. No amount of persuading would make him do them.
‘Everyone else is doing warm ups B, why aren’t you?’
‘Oh no, I don’t need to warm up.’
‘B, come and warm up please.’
‘I’m so tired today, I’m so tired.’
‘So you’re too tired to play any tennis then?’
‘Oh no, I’m not tired anymore.’
‘Good so can you come and warm up then please.’
‘Did you see the tennis match between Murray and Federer? It was such a good match. Did you see that forehand Murray hit into the crowd?’
‘B if you don’t warm up you won’t get to play any points at the end.’
He runs three more paces and then falls over again.
‘Oh, I think I’ve twisted my ankle.’
And that would be the end of the warm ups. He was, of course, a very good player and I still coach him today. He now loves warm ups and does them a quadruple speed to try and beat his friends who form a little clique and natter constantly like they are at a knitting group.
Most kids are quite happy to come to tennis but there are some who refuse to come in the door unless their friend is there and a few who will just sit on the side and no amount of persuasion will make them hit a ball. Some kids are incredible at taking direction and there is one girl I coach who I know, if I tell her something, will do it instantly and never revert. Other kids will have to be told, shown and reminded for months before they even remember half the time.
There have been countless one off moments which stick in my head. Just yesterday my brother asked a girl why she had stopped doing the warm up and she replied, ‘I’m just scraping this bit of grot off my hand’. Today I asked three 5/6 year old boys if they knew who the top man in the world was. ‘David Cameron?’ was my first answer. A long time ago I used to teach a girl who would whistle a tune the entire time she was playing. The fact is that these are the kids who I will remember forever and the ones who just do as they are told and blend in I will forget.