Most physical educators and squash coaches are not lucky enough to be able to solely coach talented, young athletes in a private lesson setting. Most of are usually involved in teaching larger groups of untalented (and often unmotivated) youth or adults. Traditional racquet sport pedagogy methods usually involved teaching using lines of students trying to hit full swings off an unrealistically perfect feed from a coach – with little time for individual correction in group teaching. My first tennis teaching assignment (1975) was to teach 75 kids on three courts with two assistant instructors.
In the last two to three years a better pedagogical approach has become popular in the English-speaking world, with the USTA, the ITF, and England Squash & Racketball coming out with systematic, progressive approaches. I was lucky enough to be introduced to such an approach, mini-tennis, by Peter Burwash during my very first tennis instructional camp at age 16 – I quickly incorporated it into my teaching of all racquet sports (although my use of it was cited as a reason for not passing my first Tennis Canada Level 1 Instructor’s Exam in 1975 – I passed it in 1976, making sure not to use it during the exam).
I was also fortunate enough to be exposed to Tennis Canada’s “Rally Program” when I moved to Montreal in the late 1980’s. This was a three-unit program which moved players from self-rallying on the spot, gradually back to the baseline using progressively larger swings. Again, I immediately adapted the program to my coaching of squash, with great results. It became the cornerstone of my squash coaching at Smith College, where our teams finished two consecutive years ranked #12 in the U.S., with all players but one starting their squash (rally program) when they came out for the team.
In a series of three posts, I will outline a simplified, basic version of these progressive approaches to introducing beginners to racquet sports. In Part I, I give some examples of why we need a progressive approach, and explain a simple rationale. Here is another wonderfully concise written rationale for the progressive approach by Canadian Tennis Coach Wayne Elderton: Progressive Tennis System Example.