QuickStart PRO . . . Coach Rich's Excellent Adventure with Cumberland Elementary School Students -- June 2012
QuickStart PRO is a pilot program that is taking professional tennis resources to rural counties in central Virginia. QuickStart is taught to summer school students during the school day. This is the first summer for Cumberland Elementary School, so the inaugural session is in the able hands of Rich Michaels, a QCV Board member who resides in neighboring Buckingham County. Rich is a PTR scholastic coach (junior development) and a graduate of the USTA School Training Workshop. He has also participated in numerous QuickStart Tennis Recreational Workshops and taught in after-school and summer school programs in Buckingham County where he's known as "Mr. Tennis."
Rich has been chronicling his experiences in Cumberland, so QCV has created a blog for him. Read and ENJOY!
Week One -- Day One
Forty-two kids today out of the 67 on the rolls. Probably forgot today was the first day of summer school. While only one teacher actively participated on-court the first day, when they see what FUN their kids are having, all will be joining in soon enough.
No fifth graders - the decision was to send three kids with multiple disabilities and two teachers to the 9:40 to 10:20 class. Starts tomorrow. We'll see how that goes. The instructor:student ratio (1:1) is pretty good though!
Had lunch with the rising first graders today. The kids and teachers all thought that was great. It's something I always do to meet and learn about the kids as individuals. Plus, even though I'm the biggest little kid in the class, I need somebody to help me open my milk carton!
Fifty kids today at Cumberland, including the three with disabilities (two four-year olds and an eight-year old). Three teachers for those guys! An even better instructor:student ratio than forecasted. They stayed for the whole forty minutes, something the teachers didn't expect. Might break out the koosh balls for tomorrow.
The teachers played right along with the kids today in three out of the four other classes. We were doing tap-ups (forehand and backhand grips), tap-downs, and self-rallies. As expected, balls were flying all over the gym. But the kids were having so much FUN it couldn't help but be infectious. So their teachers joined right in.
Superintendent Amy Griffin stopped by the class right before lunch. Didn't stay long nor say anything, but in case you're worried, I was on my best behavior!
Had lunch (hot dogs) with the rising fourth graders today. Asked one kid why they're called hot dogs when they look nothing like a dog. His theory - they're made from real dogs!
51 kids today. Did the Lobster Trap (single-handed and double-handed) and Alligator River, in which I was the alligator at one end of the "river" and the teacher was my prey at the other end.
The Lobster Trap is probably the first time the kids experience a ball coming at them. They have to judge the incoming ball speed, where they think it might land, and how high they think it might bounce. Borrowed "The Ball is Not A Dog" technique from USPTA and PTR Master Pro Joe Dinoffer to show the kids the ball won't come to them -- they have to move to it, either forwards, backwards or sideways as the situation dictates. Saw Joe demonstrate this on a Tennis Channel "One Minute Tennis Clinic" segment.
The overall goal of Alligator River seems to be to introduce kids to both the concept of timing their shots (as the alligator passes directly in front of them) and to introduce directional shot control. Alligator River is always fun, especially when I tell the kids the fate of their teacher rests in their hands! During my first pass "down the river", the kids have to aim for my foot by rolling a forehand along the ground. Second pass through, a backhand. If they hit me, the alligator slows down. If they miss, the alligator speeds up.
Would have liked to be a little farther along right about now but part of this is of my own doing. For the Lobster Trap, I was the one tossing the balls to the kids, rather than using a partner toss. It's been my experience that this drill has value only if the kid making the ball toss can accurately place it so that the "lobster" can catch it.
Subdued banter at lunch today. As the table-talk was waning, one little girl mentioned that Monday (the first day of summer school) was her sixth birthday. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to test the kids' mathematical reasoning skills. I asked, of no one in particular, that if Somer turned six on Monday, two days ago, how old would she be today?
One boy stopped eating, put both hands out in front of him as if he were counting, and said, "Eight", ostensibly adding the six years and the two days together. If he's right, there must be a rapid aging process going on in Cumberland -- a process in which I have no desire to partake!
Hump Day! Half-way point for summer school tennis in Cumberland County. The nets (four of 'em) go up Monday when school resumes after a three-day weekend.
Dr. Griffin stopped by during the class for the kids with disabilities. And she's been keeping up with the blogs!
Did the double-handed Lobster Trap again today but with a twist. I put up a net! Kids already had the two racquets with the ball pressed between them. Placed each kid, one at a time, in an open stance position; told them to keep their feet pointing at me standing on the other side of the net; make a good shoulder turn to their forehand side; drop the front racquet; and hit the ball (after it had dropped and bounced once) with the back racquet over to me. Depending on age group, this was easier said than done. Wound up using only one racquet eventually for the little guys.
The double-handed Lobster Trap is a GREAT technique I think for exaggerating the importance of the shoulder turn. I don't think you can hit the ball otherwise. Doesn't work on the backhand side though. If they drop the front racquet, a right-handed player will wind up hitting the ball with a left-handed forehand. If they drop the back racquet, the falling ball will be on the wrong side of the racquet face. In fact, I think hitting a two-handed backhand off of a ball that the kid himself drops (and not being fed by the coach) is arguably the hardest shot for a beginning QuickStarter.
Also played self-rally against the wall and partner rally over a line (based on class size). These events however caused more balls to be sprayed around the gym, a number of them winding up under an open set of bleachers. Was able to retrieve most, but not all, of the balls I could reach with my racquet. I'm not going under there! At least not alone! Could be all sorts of creepy crawly things lurking about!
So Glenda Grubbs, Cumberland Elementary School PE teacher, is gonna kill me! It's her stuff we're using. But in my defense, the balls are still in Cumberland County. Even on Cumberland County Public Schools property. Somewhere. Should have thought about not using my real name when I agreed to do this gig!
Could be worse though. Still haven't found the racquet I lost at Dillwyn Primary School in Buckingham County in 2010!
Week Two -- Day Five
Nets are up. We now have everything we need. Minus a couple of balls (see the previous blog entry). Pictures were taken in three of the classes. I'll get them soon I suspect.
Got into a rally with one of the disabled kids today, four-year old Jeffrey. His teacher held his arm and helped him swing the racquet after she dropped the ball. Got up to a three-shot rally. Him-me-him. Might have gotten even further had I not been the one to mess it up!
Also was invited to be their lunch buddy today by both the first-graders and the second-graders. The first-graders are learning consonant sounds and this morning, worked on the letter "t". Their teacher used the word "tennis" as the example word. Nice touch!
Taught the proper stroke mechanics of the forehand in class today. Showed the kids the correct ready position; racquet takeback; proper swing (low to high); hitting the ball out front; making sure the racquet follows through to the target; and finishing up over the opposite shoulder. Executing a split-step? That's a bridge too far for the time being. As it is, there's already a lot of multi-tasking going on here.
Ready position - not too complicated. Although there were several kids who held the racquet out in front (and some out to the side) of them with stiff arms and locked knees. For the racquet takeback part, "borrowed" another teaching tip - this one from a Tennis Channel Academy segment featuring Nick Bollettieri.
Told the kids to pretend the buttcap was a flashlight and to shine that "flashlight" on the opposing player. As soon as I said "buttcap", a chorus of giggles arose. I promptly lost what little control I had over the class. Hey, it wasn't me who named these racquet parts! (See buttcap in above photo.)
Overall evaluation of today can be summarized in nine words. Words that pretty much describe every shot in tennis. Assuming contact with the ball, THE BALL WILL GO WHERE THE STRINGS ARE POINTING. 'Nuff said!
Partnered with eight-year old Haley against all-comers and their teachers in the kids with disabilities class today. Haley's in a wheelchair and as the net person, pretty much just shoveled the ball over to the opponents' side while my job was to run down the lobs. First time I've ever gotten a chance to hit the ball after two bounces and still have it be in play!
Also introduced volleys. Was going to wait until later but the kids yesterday all really seemed to enjoy taking the ball out of the air - while standing on their own baseline!
Did backhands too. Managed to make it through the buttcap part of the demonstration without incident, but the same nine words from yesterday still apply. So for this blog, I'm going to editorialize a little.
Those of you who know me know I have a one-handed backhand. And that I absolutely dislike two-handed backhands. To me, they're the tennis equivalent of dribbling a basketball with two hands!
Last week, while assessing the basic hand-eye coordination and initial shot-making abilities of the kids, I noticed that when the ball came to their backhand side, their response was to take a swipe at it - with one hand. Thus it seems the one-handed backhand is the NATURAL defensive shot mechanism for younger players. I do teach the two-handed approach, but I'm having second thoughts (no pun intended).
It's my opinion that there's no way a kid can stay balanced after hitting a two-handed backhand. They might be balanced going into the shot, but their follow-through spins them in a circle. Not good! The one-handed bunch can at least try to maintain their balance with their opposing (trailing) arm.
Yeah, I'm aware that in today's game, one-handers have difficulty returning high-bouncing balls. But how many six-year olds hit all their groundstrokes with topspin or have an effective kick serve?
I believe the ITF should rule that since two-handed backhands are UNNATURAL (not to mention just plain ugly), their use will result in an automatic code violation. Throw excessive shrieking in there as well. And loss of point if the shrieking occurs while hitting a two-handed backhand. There - I've said it. In print no less. Who's with me on this?
Got to the "courts" about 35-40 minutes before the first class only to find - the nets gone and the racquets missing. I leave the nets up every night on the gym floor, and the racquets grouped by size on the back wall. That's where the kids are told to return them after they're done using them, and to stack them neatly for the next group of kids.
Found the nets buried in a corner by the bleachers (one net intertwined with one other) and the racquets just thrown in a box. Went to the middle school principal to find out what the deal was. Turns out the basketball guys used the auxiliary gym last night for conditioning drills because the main gym was hosting a girls' volleyball camp. And the new athletic director thought I took everything down and put it all away each night.
The principal helped me get the nets back in position and ready for the first class. Would have been nice if the BB guys would have put stuff back where they found it. The first-graders do! But I digress.
The rising fourth-graders just found out that tomorrow is the last summer school tennis class. A collective groan went up. Awwww! They're gonna miss me! Two want to transfer to Buckingham County's summer school tennis program which starts next week!
The serve was the event du jour today. Underhand for rising first-graders and rising second-graders and overhand for the others.
What can I say. Other than suggest that we could have spent the entire summer school tennis session working on the service toss. Especially when the kids want to toss the ball up with their dominant hand - the one which is still holding the racquet! Talk about chasing your toss all over the court!
Here's an idea. Since it's the serve that actually starts the point, why not allow everyone three, rather than two, serves? Don't tennis balls usually come three-to-a-can or three-to-a-package? What are we supposed to do with that third ball anyway?
Forgot to mention that yesterday at breakfast, I quizzed some of the kids on their knowledge of primary colors. Asked what color the blueberries were in their blueberry muffins. Full credit for an answer of BLUE. Or even PURPLE. Got one response of PINK. Is pink even a primary color?
Class championships today in the last day of Cumberland County's Summer School Tennis program.
I entered the singles division in the kids with disabilities division. (Wanted to be able to use the two-bounce rule to my advantage). First Round - my former doubles partner, Haley. First player to three points wins. Score: Haley 3, Me 0. Off to the backdraw to square off against Jeffrey. Score: Jeffrey 3, Me 1. Asked Haley for a return match. Played pretty even-up until match point. Seven (count-'em, seven) shot rally. On the final shot, Haley saw me camped out behind the baseline and hit an ever-so-deft slice drop shot which hit the top of the net cord and rolled over - onto my side of the court. Score: Haley 3, Me 1. I STINK! Who is this Haley person anyway? Another Esther Vergeer?
Second graders Go Bananas for QuickStart!
Special guests today for the 11:00 class and for lunch: Lynda and Roy Harrill from Charlottesville. Lynda is the Vice-President and Founder of QuickStart Tennis of Central Virginia, Inc., and her husband Roy is the Treasurer. They played with the rising first-graders in the class and then passed out Go Bananas! bracelets, posters, cards and other goodies to all 51 QuickStart kids at lunch while asking them what they thought about tennis. A group photo was taken of all the kids right before lunch.
So that now we've come to the end of this most Excellent Adventure, it's time for me to reflect on my favorite summer school moment.
It happened during the forehands class this week: Kid A hits the ball over the net to her partner, Kid B, who returns it back to Kid A. But Kid A now has to hit the ball on the run. Kid A gets to the ball before it bounces twice and hits a beautiful inside-out forehand - over the net on an adjacent court, to Kid C. Kid C, although off-balance because he wasn't expecting a ball to come at him from another court, manages to get his racquet on it and hit it over the net (on his own court) to his partner, Kid D. Kid D returns it down-the-line for a winner. You really just can't make this stuff up!
I had a great time over the past two weeks with the kids in Cumberland County and I hope they enjoyed it as well!
Next stop on the 2012 QuickStart PRO World Tour - Buckingham County. Twelve days - 72 classes - 152 kids!
Quotes from Cumberland QuickStart Kids
"My favorite part was Alligator in the River. I like Coach." -- Ivy
"Dear Coach Michaels, I like when you taught me the backhand. You are the best tennis teacher. I think you are cool. The volley is very fun. Tennis is the best thing ever." -- Jayven
"Dear Coach, Thanks for teaching the tap up and tap down and the back and forth. I like hitting on the wall and serving." -- Darius
"For Mr. Tennis, Thank you!!! I love to play tennis". -- Daniel
"Thank you Tennis. I like playing tennis with my cuzan (sic)!" -- Amar
Amar's artwork depicts a QuickStart rally through the eyes of a six year-old