Thursday, September 10, 2015

Reinventing the wheel

It's a commonly used phrase, "Why reinvent the wheel?, isn't it. It's a good principle, after all why invest lots of time and effort creating from scratch what has already been created. On the other hand, if the wheel hadn't been reimagined over the centuries, we'd still be using stone and wood rather than alloys and carbon fibre.

Of course the basic principle of the wheel hasn't changed. Round is as good as it gets. But I'm not really talking about wheels. I was thinking about the discipline of doing something for yourself for the first time before picking up the ready-plans of others. Sometimes there is real value in spending time working out something for yourself and then comparing it with what others have done in order to refine your own work.

I remember years ago speaking at a Christmas event when we were living in South London. I can't remember what I said, but I do remember some friends going to the main church event on the Sunday and coming back to tell me that the person speaking at that event reproduced my talk almost verbatim! They were a bit shocked, but if he thought it was that good, then why not. On the other hand he might not have had anything better up his sleeve!

Over the years in ministry I reused plans and talks I'd done before, borrowed ideas from others and adapted talks and plans I came across over time. I never claimed an idea as my own, but always pointed to the source, and was never afraid to cite my sources. It was always a matter of integrity for me. But more important maybe than that, I always wanted to do the work for myself. Lifting wholesale the ideas of others just seemed lazy.

Well now I have this new dimension to my life called tennis coaching. There are a lot of wheels out there in coaching that do not need reinventing! Lots of drills and plans and well oiled practices that you can pick up, stick in a lesson and run almost without thinking. The value of this is that you can build a simple lesson structure quickly and easily. It also means that you can give more thought to what you're trying to do because you haven't got to work out a drill, you can just pick one up and know it will work. More or less.

The downside lies in not using your own brain to engage with what you trying to do. For my final assessment lesson I did a backhand rally drill. As I watched it fall apart before my very eyes, I was so tired and weary–it was the end of the day, I was last on and I'd spent the previous few hours hitting with my non-dominant hand. I was in no mood to be excited)–I just couldn't figure out how to take hold of it and turn it around. Later, a day later in fact, I realised what I could have done and a few simple things I could have changed that might have made it work far better than it did.

So I think there is a case if not to reinvent the wheel then at least to imagine it for yourself. I'm trying to set out a beginners tennis course. Thinking through all the shots and game situations you would teach a group of new players in order for them to be able to get our on court as quickly as possible and enjoy playing. Yes, a plan already exist courtesy of the ITF, but I want to think about how I would do it before using their plan to improve my own ideas. It will help me think about different drills, lesson outlines and practice routines for my players. After that, the ITF resource will be really helpful as will all the stuff I see other coaches doing.

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