Teaching Tennis And The Unheralded Bonus


While good school teachers may often be victims of societal indifference, remarkably, depending on the community, tennis instructors often receive unmitigated reverence. Odd but true.

There is little doubt in the United States that teaching school is one of, if not the most, undervalued profession.

Given the importance of education, one would think that competent, dedicated educators would be sought after, revered, and at the very least, fairly compensated for their efforts on behalf of our nation’s students. They are not.

I defend their position because I was once a part of the system.

Regardless of what is being taught, teachers, educators, instructors, coaches, tutors, mentors–however one refers to them–shoulder an awesome responsibility. They have been entrusted with an almost sacred vocation.

When I taught public school back in the 1970’s, I felt an immense burden to “get it right.” After all, I was influencing a segment of our nation’s most important commodity–young minds.

I loved the job and worked hard at it. Had I not become disillusioned with what I perceived as administrative ineptness, I might very well have completed a career as an educator.

Now after 28 years as a tennis instructor, I feel the same burden to do the best job that I can. But I’m now the administrator as well as the instructor. As such, I have total autonomy. It’s a huge responsibility.

I set high standards for myself as an instructor. There is no room for slacking because I exult in student achievement.

If a student seems unhappy or is not progressing acceptably, it’s totally up to me to remedy the situation. I don’t have anyone telling me, “This is how the system works. Do it this way.”

My primary aim is to partner with each student to either coax them towards their maximal potential or to help them achieve a specific tennis aspiration. Either goal is acceptable. Both are achievable.

I take accomplishment seriously, so much so that often I may appear to want it more for the student than she does for herself.

Each individual is unique and should be administered to with that fact always at the forefront of communication. A verbal explanation or physical demonstration of something technical may be crystal clear to one while totally incomprehensible to another.

It’s the proverbial “what’s steak to one is poison to another” phenomenon. Making it “steak” for all is my goal.

Having said that, over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I am the recipient of a unexpected fringe benefit from my endeavors.

I’ve found that during a lesson, when a student has a “primo” experience, one in which every facet of the lesson comes together for a short burst or a single outstanding shot, I experience the same rush that they feel.

Sometimes such an event elicits a scream of, “Yes!” from me. I may raise my racket heavenward, wag it around a bit and say to the student, “You did it! Now do it again!”

Whether they manage to repeat it at that instant is immaterial. They’ve done it once and felt the bliss associated with a great stroke. And based on the mental snapshot I took as they created the success, I know it wasn’t a fluke. It was a move forward.

For adult students, advances are particularly rewarding because such progressions tend to come in small increments. But those experiences are cumulative and eventually lead to a quantum leap forward.

Some years ago, after one such event, the student and I were both in an elevated state of elation (I personally was near euphoria), pumping our fists in the air, dancing silly jigs, when she stopped and called me up to the net as though she was the teacher. She looked me squarely in the eyes while struggling to maintain composure and said in her most serious tone, “Martin, you need to calm down.”

Simultaneously we broke into side-splitting laughter that lasted for several minutes. We had shared a memorable moment.

I’ve had innumerable similar celebrations with many students throughout my career.

These moments have led me to understand that the joy I experience from these situations is not ego driven. I’m not rejoicing because I’ve taught the person how to do this thing. The success was a joint effort anyway.

My elation stems from knowing first hand just how good they felt during and after the “miracle” happened. I’ve “been there and done that” as the saying goes.

Having learned (and continue learning) tennis as an adult myself, I possibly have a greater appreciation for what it takes and what it gives. It takes dedication and persistence. It gives a lifetime of joy and fulfillment.

Teaching tennis is awesome. Sharing the excitement of learning and achievement with students is an absolute bonus.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Tennis And The Unheralded Bonus

  1. Very well put !! I am not an instructor, but I understand the joy in looking at something I’ve worked on with a student finally being achieved. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK !!

    • True that Ed…true that. This game gives much more to us than it takes from us. We are all blessed to be able to walk on court and hit the ball, even if it isn’t always perfect.
      The other added bonus is the varied array of people tennis brings together.

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