I'm very fortunate here
as Tennis Director/Head Tennis Professional at the Corfu Holiday
Palace in Corfu, Greece that I get to work with juniors of
all ages and skill levels from all over the world. I've become
a better coach because of this position and these kids. But
the kids I coach all year round, and the joys and challenges
involved, make my job all the more rewarding.
I have a great
group of local children that play here at the hotel year round.
From Barbara and Cristo (2 Nationally ranked junior players)
right down to little Mark, (age 5) these kids are a lot of
fun to coach, but most importantly, fun to be around. I have
a very special group of children that take a 2-hour group
lesson on Saturdays, and since they all started playing for
the first time here at the hotel, I feel most comfortable
sharing our experiences together with a worldwide audience.
I meet with this group of 7 youngsters, ages 5-10 for 2 hours.
As I said, all of these kids began playing tennis here at
the hotel, and I'm their first and only coach (so far). These
kids are also the most unique group of children I've ever
had the privilege of knowing, let alone coaching, for various
reasons. To begin with, they all speak 3 languages (Greek,
Dutch and English), they're all good friends and they all
try their very best each time they come to tennis.
It took a while
to explain the whole concept of hitting a ball to these kids,
and it's still a battle to get them to turn sideways and to
have the racquet level at contact. They don't really teach
European kids how to hit a ball like they do in the USA, so
it takes time and mostly patience. We just do a lot of reps,
go about things slowly, play games and have fun while learning
the fundamentals of the game. Now, the kids are beginning
to rally and are ready to start playing mini-tennis.
Teaching the kids
to serve was another matter all together. None of these kids
had ever thrown a ball before, so I had to teach them how
to do this skill first. This is still a work in progress for
them. European kids don't learn to use their hands much so
teaching them to place (toss) and catch (throw) and bow (finish)
wasn't easy, but they are all getting much better. I remember
telling Spiro to throw his racquet like he was "Throwing a
football". His reply: "You don't throw a football, you kick
it" and he turned to his friend Dimitri, and said, in Greek
"Americans" and they both laughed. I forgot they call soccer
football here in Europe.
These kids are
also good little athletes. They can run 'suicides' starting
at the first sideline and going back and forth touching every
line all the way to the other courts far sideline, which is
no easy thing, (my 2 nationally ranked players hate this run
and complain about it all the time) without complaining. They
do 6 ball pick-up drills, run laps (2) after every class and
that amazes me and makes me proud to be their coach. I play
a game called 'knockout' with them to help them with their
eye-hand coordination and they are getting very good at catching
hit balls on the run and the games last a lot longer then
they did when we first started.
These kids love
to play tennis. I mean, they really love the game. They watch
it on TV (Martin Verkerk is their favorite player), they hit
balls in their houses (sorry moms), and they want to play
all the time. These kids, after 2 hours of drills and games
and a LOT of running, are fighting over places on the hitting
wall, which I find incredible. They aren't being pushed to
play, by anyone. They play because they love it and it shows
in the progress that they've made individually and as a group
and I couldn't be happier for them.
kids has been a great experience for me both personally and
professionally. I've become a better listener and a much better
teacher and coach. I've become more patient, creative and
less demanding, skills that will help me when, or if I return
to the states. Thanks Zoe, Spiro, Robin, Alexander, Dimitri,
Laila and Mark for making my stay here in Greece much more
enjoyable and an experience I'll never forget!!
Naessens is the Director of Tennis/Head Tennis Professional
at the Corfu Holiday Palace in Corfu, Greece. For information
regarding the many programs for tourists and locals, contact
Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org.