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Tennis Programs: The Good. The Great. The Bad and the Brutal.

Article #1: The Forgotten Question

This is the first in a series of posts designed to help you determine the best group
tennis program for yourself or your kids.

The NTS Gold Standard: 8 players training on 3 courts

There are tonnes of tennis programs out there. They sound good on paper, but what they actually deliver ranges from good to great, and from bad to brutal. How can you navigate this ocean of offerings and select the best program for you?

The key is knowing what questions to ask. Parents and club players have limited knowledge about tennis development, so they base their decisions on familiar and measurable factors like convenience and cost, as well as the reputation of the coaches and the level of the players associated with the club or academy. These considerations are fine, but they are not sufficient to make an informed decision, and sometimes they can be quite deceptive. For example, a top coach can put their name on a brochure, but you may never see them on court. And the price may seem great, but if the program is crowded, disorganized and incompetent, it’s not such a good deal!

There is one question that’s rarely asked, yet it holds the clue to how a program is likely to run. That question is -

How many players will be on each court?

The answer to this question tells you a lot about what the program will be able to deliver. People often ask about the ratio of coaches to players, but the ratio of players to courts is at equally important.

A good program includes singles and doubles play, plus cooperative training and game situations that give the experience of moving and playing in the full tennis court. If the number of players on each court makes these experiences impossible, or makes them possible only if many of the players are off and waiting for their turn, the tennis development potential is severely restricted.

The Good: 4 Players Per Court.
This allows volume training on essential situations in the half-court, such as cross-
court rallying. It is perfect for doubles training and play, and it’s possible to train
and play singles in the full court using rotation systems without excessive waiting
times. Half court is not as good as full court, and waiting to play during practice is
never great, but 4 players per court is manageable, and if well organized and
taught can bring decent developmental results.

The Great: 3 Players or Less Per Court.
3 players per court creates a 2-on-1 training format that opens many possibilities,
with at least one player constantly moving and hitting in the full tennis court. It
reduces waiting for singles play to the minimum, and coaches can play in for
doubles. Where multiple courts are involved, teachers can create singles and
doubles at the same time - for example with 6 players on 2 courts, one court is
singles and the other is doubles.

The NTS Flight system, with 8 players on 3 courts, or 2.66 players per court, is the
gold standard, permitting singles, doubles and volume training every day and
simultaneously, as well as many variations depending on the priorities and
creativity of the teacher.

The Bad: 5-8 Players Per Court.
Many programs run with 6 or 8 players per court, which makes realistic practice
and play virtually impossible, unless you are willing to accept rotation systems
that create very low volumes of play. Teachers make valiant attempts to
compensate with rapid-fire feeding, fitness stations, lots of energy and feedback,
and fun group games. However, in the final analysis, this ratio of players to courts
is unsuitable for tennis development. We do not play volleyball with 12 players
per side, and we do not play tennis with 8 players per court.

The Brutal: 9 or More Players Per Court
Now we enter the realm of the absurd. We see this with summer camps,
sometimes putting 12 or more players on a court, in which case it is babysitting or
crowd control on a tennis court, not a tennis lesson.
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