Here is my theory:The longer a developing player works on technique before actively entering into a competitive atmosphere, the quicker that player will develop.
A good example of this happens to be two of the greatest professional competitors of all time: Serena and Venus Williams. Their father believed that practice, and perfecting their technique, was better for their development than playing competitive junior tournaments. He kept them from playing many competitive matches until they were ready for the tour. Serena even beat the #1 ranked female junior player in the world 6-1,6-1 and accredited it to practicing more than that competing as a junior player.
Let’s picture a developing 10 year old player and what they have to go through. Maybe they have played a time or two with their parents or with a coach at their local school. It’s likely they don’t know how to keep score and even more likely they cannot make 1 out of every 2 serves well enough to play a league match without double faulting more often than not. This does not make for an enjoyable experience for the child or for parents and coaches.
Many parents however will insist their children play matches much sooner than I prefer, as a coach. Especially when we (coaches) work hard, over weeks and weeks, to introduce a new technique, to watch a player revert to an old way of doing something is a terrible feeling.
Let’s say we discuss the benefits of installing a continental grip on the players serve. In this example, it can take months for the feeling to become anything less than frustrating and uncomfortable much less easy to use and the child is still naturally reverting away from the new technique. To put the player in a “win or lose” situation where their serve success-rate is more important than “doing it right” is detrimental to the players development.
The “win or lose” situation becoming prioritized over “doing it right” is something all future coaches will work against for the rest of the player’s career. This is not including the short-term struggle of coaching the child not to worry about winning or losing but to focus on sticking with the proper technique. Most of what the player is likely to experience will be failure to succeed during the process of installing a new technique while at the same time fighting against the drive to win a competitive tennis match.
This appears to me to be placing this young player in a circumstance of cognitive dissonance. When the natural drive to be successful during a competitive endeavor is set directly against the idea of successfully utilizing a partially installed technique which has yet to become natural, I can’t imagine that’s a comfortable feeling for a developing player.
Are we not better off then, to promote the idea of not playing matches while installing specific, basic techniques at the beginner and intermediate levels?
What do you think as a parent of a player or as a coach?