I live in a smallish Canadian city with one 7-court outdoor tennis club and nowhere to play indoors. While I love my club, the seasonal nature makes it tough for us to retain teaching pros. We typically have one or two coaches each season, and these are often high school or university students, so we get a lot of turnaround. I’ve also traveled to some resorts and participated in lessons and clinics at these.
So, in the 3 years that I’ve been playing a lot of tennis, I’ve had live instruction from a variety of coaches.
And in addition to this, I’ve consumed a ton of tennis info online. High-def videos of pro strokes, video coaching lessons, blogs, articles, podcasts, and discussions have formed a lot of the basis for my game.
I think there’s a stigma that online coaching is inferior to live coaching, and I simply do not believe this to be true. This post is about why I think online coaching can be a great complement to live instruction, or can even form the basis of a solid tennis game in some cases.
Yes, there are some advantages to live coaching that can’t be easily attained from a distance. For instance:
- Most online coaching is general advice – the coach doesn’t see the player’s particular game or technique and can’t offer real-time suggestions and corrections (although this can be somewhat overcome with video analysis). Live coaches offer advice and feedback geared towards the player’s game and goals.
- It’s up to the player to incorporate the advice of online coaches. The coach can offer suggestions or recommend drills, but the player needs to be accountable for actually following through. Live coaches design and run your practices to make sure you’re working on the intended technique or tactic.
But, on the flip side, there are many advantages to online coaching that make it a great option for learning all aspects of the game at a much more affordable price.
In both of my coaching experiences – live and online – I’ve seen and heard good advice and bad.
In a live setting, I was once told that I needed to switch from my semi-western to an eastern grip. According to this coach, the pros hit semi-western because as children they were too short to hit Eastern so had to develop semi-westerns and just couldn’t make the change later on. The semi-western would lead to shoulder injury and no adult player should learn it. I suspected this was bad advice.
But also in live settings I’ve received excellent advice, had coaches who could pick apart my technique and make instantaneous improvements, and who designed drills that were fun, pushed me physically and mentally, and increased my technical and tactical skills.
Same goes for online. There is so much information out there, some of it excellent and some not-so-excellent.
We Need to Think Critically
Tennis coaching isn’t one-size-fits-all. Techniques and strategies that help one player might not help another.
As players, and particularly as adult recreational players who are on self-guided tennis adventures, we need to be open-minded to the possibility that good advice will come from where we least expect it. Otherwise we might be missing learning opportunities. I love learning from other people’s experiences that they share in places like forums and Facebook groups.
But we also need to be able to use our own judgment to assess the information we’re getting, incorporate what works for us, and set aside what doesn’t, regardless of where the information is coming from.
As we do this, we begin to weed out the coaches, programs and other resources that don’t help our game, and narrow our attention to the ones that do. This applies to both online and live coaches, but a key point is that we often don’t have a lot of choice in our live coaches, whereas we have a great deal of online coaches and resources to choose from.
We can always learn from any lesson experience. Hearing many different points of view and testing out different options before choosing what’s right for you is a great way to learn. However, this filtering process is time consuming and can be costly (particularly if you’re sticking with live coaching), so finding a coach you trust – be it live or online – is important.
Benefits of Online Coaching
I want to reiterate that I’m a big proponent of live coaching. If you can afford it, and there’s a good pro in your area or you’re travelling to see one, then it’s a great option. One that I hope to continue using in my tennis career.
But I’ve had such a positive experience with learning tennis online and don’t think tennis would be such a huge part of my life without it!
So here is a list of reasons that I think online tennis coaching shouldn’t be brushed aside as inferior to live instruction, as I find it sometimes is:
- With little to no financial investment, we can look around and find coaches that align with our tennis philosophies and goals. This usually isn’t possible with live coaching.
- We have access to world-class tennis coaches – who are leaders in the coaching industry, who’ve coached pro players or who’ve played professionally themselves. This would also be highly unusual in a live setting.
- Videos and images allow us to see in detail how to perform a movement.
- Online coaching offers great flexibility for absorbing information at your own pace and on your own schedule.
- Video and article format coaching can be revisited time and again. Unless you video-record your live lessons you only get to experience them once. I personally have found that I will get different things out of a video or article at different points in my progress.
- You can go online and quickly get a lot of different opinions on a certain aspect of your game that you’re working on. You’re limited to the number of perspectives you can get if you only work with live coaches.
- Online coaching is so much more affordable than live coaching, and I believe can be just as, if not more valuable, for some aspects of your game or in some circumstances.
- Online discussion groups offer a sense of community where players learn together and support one another.
As recreational adults we need to take charge of our own learning if we want to improve efficiently, and making use of the wealth of tennis knowledge available online is a great way to do this. Online coaching might not be for everyone, but I do think that it can form the basis for your tennis instruction, or be a complement to live instruction.
Check out my favourite tennis resources for a list of tennis coaches, blogs and podcasts that I love for learning tennis. I’m a premium member of Tennis Evolution which is Jeff Salzenstein’s coaching program, and I highly recommend this program to players at any level. Essential Tennis and Feel Tennis are two others that I visit regularly for coaching.
I’d love to hear your experiences with live and online tennis coaching. Do you find one better than the other? Or do you see value in both?