great blog post about the importance of 'silly' when working with young children. Couldn't agree more! Silly does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it. But being around young children provides lots of opportunities to get my 'silly' on. Here's a few silly interludes that are popular with my students. And a few that are not.
Let's start with the Nots.
Silly Jumping Jacks - this is, or used to be anyway, a recommended activity at USTA QuickStart workshops. It is a sort of, for lack of a better word, punishment for any activity where someone may come in last. For example after explaining various parts of the court I usually call out the part and everyone must race there - Baseline! Service Line! Net! etc. The last one there is called out of the group and asked to perform something silly in front of the group. Silly Jumping Jacks is just regular jumping jacks with some silly movements and facial expressions tossed in - waggly head or arms, stick out tongue, whatever they want to do. Sounds good on paper but more often than not the student is so embarrassed not only to be slowest, but to add insult to injury, they are now called out to perform something ridiculous in front of the others. FAIL. I don't do this anymore. Every now and then the kid was class clown and was thrilled at the attention. But it isn't worth it to me for that one out of ten kids who actually enjoys this.
Donkey Kicks - see above. To perform a donkey kick, bend from the waist and place your hands flat on the ground, similar to Downward Dog if you are a yoga fan. Then kick your feet into the air. That's it.
Basically the Nots consist of any activity where a child is singled out, usually unwillingly. But the really fun stuff is either something everyone is eager to do, or something silly the coach does.
Word of the Day - a little R&D (ripoff and duplicate) from the old Pee-Wee's Playhouse children's television show. I usually do this at summer camps where I am going to be seeing the same group of children several days in a row, because I like it better with a little continuity rather than one off. Works best for 8 and under. Each day I select a Word of the Day, tennis-related natch, and whenever I say that word, everyone must scream/yell. Play fair and choose words you know you are likely to use frequently: Ball, Net, Racquet, Shot, Forehand, etc.
Polar Bear Plunge - keep in mind I live and work in South Carolina, so any relief from the summer heat is most welcome. Again this is something I usually do once during a camp week, not regularly. Helps keep things fresh. I bring a large plastic tub down near the courts (not on) and have it about 1/4 full of ice and then filled about halfway full with water. We have a Polar Bear Plunge competition to see who can keep their hand in the ice water the longest. Completely voluntary - no one is forced to participate. Sometimes they ask to put their bare feet in instead but I can tell you from sad experience this is nasty - not recommended. Also some have asked to dunk their heads in after the activity is completed, and I am fine with that. Much fun is had by all.
this serve activity. I modify it by eliminating the point system and just have them try to hit the balloon into the correct service box from increasing distances across the net. Just make sure all the little bits of balloon are cleaned up and the courts are dry enough to play safely when you are finished.
Woo-Hoos - this one I discovered purely by accident. Our courts are US Open Blue which makes it easy for the kids to see when their ball is in or out. So of course most of my instruction includes something about keeping the ball 'in the blue'. We were working on forehands one day with my very young beginners and one of them hit over the net and into the blue playable area. I was so excited for this player, I threw my hands in the air and shouted 'Woo-Hoo!' which startled the kids at first but since they copy just about everything I do, they soon joined me in the 'Woo-Hoo'-ing whenever they made a nice shot. So now our motto is, "In the blue - Woo-Hoo!".
Celebrate! - I blogged previously about appropriate on-court celebrations. Be careful with this one - too much of a good thing and all that. I had a student recently who celebrated every well-hit ball. Before the point was over. We had to have a discussion about that.
Human Target - when my students are struggling with getting the ball over the net and into playable area, I don't hesitate to encourage them to try to hit me with their ball. If they do I make a big deal about it in a silly way and we all have a laugh. Like I tell my students - it only hurts for a minute!
As I said, I really need to work on my silly skills. Any tips greatly appreciated.