Sunday, May 5, 2013

6 Ways Tennis Should Go To The Dogs

Yes this is my actual dog Chloe, not a stock photo.
Pretty Pretty Princess!
Now that our two children have left the nest, our 9-year-old yellow lab Chloe is undisputed queen of the household. Every day she brings joy (and an astonishing amount of shed dog hair) into our lives.

I mention Chloe often during tennis clinics, and not just because I am a doting dog owner. I find many opportunities to use Chloe in teaching analogies my students may not immediately grasp otherwise. 

Whenever I have something Chloe wants, there is little in the known universe that can distract her from it. Usually it is food, preferably human food. But it may also be a toy (rawhide chews, tennis balls), or something she smells during her daily walk that she finds particular captivating. I greatly admire her level of intensity and often mention it on court. This works especially well when my students are also dog owners. Recently I had two sisters in a Red Ball class, ages 7 and 5. They come directly from school so there is often some difficulty in getting them to focus on matters at hand. Completely understand! They have just been released from several hours of indoor captivity. They just want to run around! I would, too! However, we also need to get a little tennis accomplished. So anyway we are at the net working on volleys. Lots of misses, lots of fooling around. I asked them if they had a dog. Thankfully they said 'yes'. I inquired further about the habits of said dog, if she liked to chase or fetch toys. Thankfully again the answer was 'yes' (apparently some dogs don't - who knew??). I asked them to imagine they were the dog, and to go after the balls like they think their dog would. Eyes sparkling, giggles galore, instant improvement!

Paired with Chloe's level of focus is an equally high level of enthusiasm. She has been known to pout and skulk, but never when there is a game afoot. If there is a tennis ball in the vicinity, she gives plenty of hustle. I don't have to beg, plead, cajole, and certainly never have to discipline her. Quite the opposite - I'm usually first one who wants to stop playing! Level of enthusiasm is a also a great indicator of whether I am doing my job as coach during class. If my students are surprised at how quickly the hour has passed and don't want to stop, mission accomplished!

Reward savvy
Most dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. Chloe is no exception. Full disclosure: she has outsmarted me on more than one occasion. But this is a good thing. This means she understands what a reward is and is able to learn what she has to do to get one. I like to have a reward-based philosophy on court as well. I don't give candy, but I do give plenty of praise using the CBG strategy (Caught Being Good). Praise for nice manners, praise for quick ball pick-up, rewards for being on time (first player to clinic gets first pick of various activities during the lesson - first in line, etc.). Participation in optional activities such as our monthly match play may result in a small reward item given to all participants. Naturally winning is a powerful reward for most of my students. In a broader sense I encourage them to set personal goals as rewards for improving their game such as registering for upcoming tournaments. It's all carrot, no stick. But the carrot is an indispensable part of any progression path.

BTW before just about any activity or challenge I present to my students, they want to know what they will 'get' if they perform well/succeed at the activity. I always say: "Respect".

This one's so simple in concept but so hard to put into practice. When I get up and walk to the front door, Chloe is on instant alert. She trots over there with me, tail wagging hopefully. When I open it, she looks at me expectantly. When I give the nod, she is absolutely joyous that we are going outside because all the fun stuff happens outside. If I also grab the leash on the way out, look out! She goes bonkers. Contrast this with humans. Given the choice of going outside to play versus hanging around inside connected to any device with a glass screen, which will most choose? I compare it to the advice I give my students about our water breaks: never pass up an opportunity to get a drink. Ditto on activity, especially outdoor activity: never pass up a chance. Unfortunately, in today's society, often the chances are not frequent enough. So be prepared to create additional opportunities to get out and chase a ball.

Chloe is a senior citizen in dog years. This means she sleeps a lot. I mean, a LOT. But here's what I admire about her and need to do more of myself: when she is tired, she takes a nap. She doesn't park it in front of a glass screen, listlessly scrolling through meaningless information,  wasting quality nap time! Science is telling us restorative brief naps are beneficial. It is also telling us not getting enough good quality sleep at night can be very detrimental, even possibly related to attention deficit issues. So let's take a lesson from our pets and make quality sleep a health priority right up there with eating healthy and getting plenty of physical activity. Walk out on the court full of energy, not draggin' your wagon!

As I am writing this, I can only think of two things Chloe is not super pumped up about doing. One is taking a dog bath. Considering she is a Lab aka 'water dog', and we live on a lake, and she is in the lake multiple times daily in warm weather, I have always found this weird. She absolutely hates being bathed. Maybe it's the shampoo? IDK. The other thing she hates is taking her flea/heartworm pill which is big and smells nasty and I wouldn't like it either. Other than that, she is on board for whatever you want to do. Car ride? You betcha, even if it is just to the corner store. Boat ride? Heck yeah - who wouldn't? Long walk? Big favorite. Short walk? Absolutely. Walk outside and plop down in the sun for a nap? Every chance she gets. Hang out with me while I am typing this? Sounds a little boring to you, I bet, but to Chloe, sure, she is up for it. That's a quality I love to see in my students. Occasionally I hear some resistance, maybe in the form of excuses, for some of the activities we do, or when learning a new skill is proving to be a challenge. Excuses are mowed down in short order on my court. Not rudely, but methodically so that the student understands how the 'impossible' can indeed become possible. And when I have students who are upbeat and ready to try again, man, that makes my day! Our motto is 'Next Time'! I also love the Yoda philosophy, totally mangling it here but the gist is, "There is no CAN'T. There is only DO."

Looking forward to seeing lots of tail-wagging out on court next time. Something about chasing a tennis ball does that to ya.