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Young at heart | Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) | ConnectedCoaches

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Coaching Children (Ages 5-12)

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Young at heart

Avg: 4.83 / 5 (1votes)

Amanda Twigg and Judy Murray

  • Amanda Twigg, the 2014 Aegon Children’s Tennis Coach of the Year, shares her invaluable advice for coaches and would-be coaches.

  • She stresses that, to succeed, it’s vitally important to set the right environment, prioritising safety.

  • Amanda works hard to ensure coaching and playing are done in a fun and positive environment.

  • She also emphasises that coaches shouldn’t try to teach adult techniques to children, highlighting that a one-size-fits-all-approach will only lead to ultimate disappointment, and can directly lead to injuries and result in poor development.

Coaching young children is a skill – a precise skill that requires many qualities that are different to those possessed by other coaches. 

Such skills and qualities include patience, understanding and an indefinable ability to help newcomers progress, and promising young players to prosper. And one coach who has all these attributes and more is Amanda Twigg, the 2014 Aegon Children’s Tennis Coach of the Year.

Amanda is a qualified referee and Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) tutor and fully licensed LTA Level 4 Performance Coach. She works as a Mini Tennis coach at David Lloyd Cheadle, and has more than 25 years’ invaluable experience of coaching players with potential, usually aged 10 years old and under, although she has coached at all levels and age ranges.

As her website states: ‘Give me a child at five; I’ll give you a player at 10.’

Amanda is more than happy to share her coaching experiences with her peers, and her valuable advice begins with a personal coaching philosophy:

‘To help children to be as good as they can, and want, to be.’

In safe hands

This may be easy to say, but it’s not always so simple to do, and Amanda has a dual goal to judge if this key coaching strategy has been successful:

  • do the players she takes keep playing tennis into adult life?
  • do the ones who choose to take it further fulfil their potential?

She explains that in order to succeed, it is vitally important to set the right environment. The crucial initial point is to prioritise ‘safety first’, as she explains:

‘Keeping children physically and emotionally safe allows them to develop. For example, children will not think to take a jacket off or have a drink if it is very hot. We have to do some of the thinking for them.’

Amanda stresses that lesson one in the coaching manual is that good planning and organisation are paramount. However, she points out some simple but not immediately obvious dangers that need to be avoided in what some might consider a relatively sedate pursuit for accident-prone youngsters:

‘The most obvious example of a danger in tennis is the equipment. Put a racket in a player’s hand, and they will want to swing it.’

Obviously, this can cause all manner of needless accidents and potential injuries before the young player even gets on court, and could curtail a promising sporting career before it even begins!

Amanda ensures she leaves rackets safely on the floor when doing a demonstration, and always ensures that during the next step – when players are actually hitting the ball – she leaves plenty of room between the participants.

She continues her theme of the protection of her pupils, which has stood her – and them – in good stead over the years:

‘I consider that keeping a player secure emotionally is important. This is what will keep them coming back to learn more. Who enjoys sport when you are the last to be picked, feel you are the worst or are being bullied by another player?

‘Children will often not tell us when they are upset so it is up to us as coaches to pick up on signals. This might be them being quieter than usual or not wanting to come back. I try to do something about the problems like changing partners, differentiating the task or scoring system, and offering words of encouragement.‘

Amanda Twigg

Fun and games

Amanda always strives to ensure coaching and playing are done in a fun and positive environment.

This starts out with ‘beginner players’, always ensuring they play with friends, and working to create situations where they can have success.

‘This can lead to another type of fun,’ Amanda explains, ‘which is the satisfaction of working at something and seeing the improvement.’

This forward-thinking children’s coach has a third priority, which is no less vital than the others – to develop children’s tennis.

‘This is where I do most of my work, and it is the area I am best known for,’ she says.

Another crucial lesson Amanda has learnt and wants to pass on to fellow coaches or would-be coaches is a simple but vital one to remember at all times:

‘Don’t try to teach adult techniques to children.’

A one-size-fits-all-approach, not taking the fact you are teaching children into account, will only lead to ultimate disappointment, and can directly lead to injuries and result in poor development.

As she explains:

‘It is more effective to lay down simple foundations, which can be built upon later.’

Another key lesson for wannabe children’s coaches – in any sport – is to remember that communication is key. The young beginner or up-and-coming junior player needs to be spoken to, and dealt with, in a language and style they understand. They don’t need to be blinded with science, or given overly complicated explanations – this is a good way to put budding players off the sport, entirely the opposite effect the coach is intending!

The great joy Amanda has taken in her coaching career is clear for all to see – as she says herself:

‘I have had a wonderful experience as a coach to young children. I see a huge development during my time with them, and that is very rewarding, but it is even more exciting to see what players may go on to achieve in the years to come.’

Success story

One of her success stories is Naiktha Bains, a former pupil who has won a Junior Federation Cup silver medal with Australia. A burgeoning career at the height of the women’s game was indicated by Naiktha’s place in the main draw at this year’s Junior Wimbledon.

The impressive list of past pupils has seen several of Amanda’s former charges accepted on to tennis scholarships at key US universities, and others have proudly represented Great Britain in junior events.

As Amanda modestly says:

‘I think I share a passion for sport with my players, and I couldn’t be more proud of them all.’

Looking ahead, despite her successes over a long career, like all the best coaches, she is not satisfied to rest on her laurels.

‘My ambition is to start off a future Wimbledon champion. Who knows if it will be Naiktha or a five-year-old I meet tomorrow? Of course, it might not be any of them, but as long as we have all enjoyed the journey, it has been worthwhile.’

Amanda Twigg’s top tips for coaching young players:

  • Get the communication right. Use language and imagery that children can understand, and ask questions to make sure that they have listened and understood.
  • Talk to and help the parents. They won’t automatically know how to be sporting parents, and they spend more time with their children than the coach. Getting the coach/player/parent dynamic right is important.
  • Supply honest information about possible outcomes, and allow players and parents to make decisions. For example, due to the technical nature of tennis, it is unlikely a player will succeed to the highest levels without individual lessons. They need to know this, but whether they take them up is entirely their own choice.
  • Don’t expect too much – or too little – from players.
  • Encourage children to do a variety of sports and physical activities.
  • Be inventive. If one way of helping a player to develop doesn’t work, think of another.
  • Last but not least, always pay attention to detail – you will be well rewarded with coaching success.

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Comments (2)

Congratulations Amanda.
Can I also encourage coaches in schools to organise friendly fixtures with other players (perhaps at your clubs). I am aware of pupils at my school who have had years of coaching but never played against anyone other than their class mates.
Avg: 3.53 / 5 (2votes)
Superb Topic. Fantastic.. Thankyou
Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)
Thanks Sudhir glad you liked it!
Avg: 3.53 / 5 (2votes)