Tennis is not just for pros.
Tennis is for everyone.
WRITING CHALLENGES -- TENNIS INSTRUCTIONALS
By TennisTom 2010
This article is for writers of tennis instructions, not for learners of tennis.
Writing understandable tennis instructionals, a primarily intellectual endeavor, is a true challenge to any author because it is quite difficult to convert to words a series of physical movements in a way that is usable for novices as well as for more advanced players. In tennis instructional writings, most of the procedures of physical action have already appeared in print; however, in my modest opinion there’s a lot of garbage out there. “Garbage In, garbage Out,” as the saying goes.
Criteria. The following eleven criteria are necessary for a quality instructional:
Logical order – a problem of structural organization (logical progression)
Clarity of instruction – not open to misunderstanding by most readers
Analytically correct information (reality = strong bias and fallacies abound)
Brevity – concise, does not contain too much irrelevant material
Pith –to the true core or nature of the subject
Insight – a product of the author’s tennis experience and creative thinking
Exemplification – using good examples, both descriptive and visual
Appealing writing style – well crafted humor, positive flavor, etc.
Specific titling - accurately reflects the subject matter
Proofreading / editing - typos, grammar, and revisions (better ways of expression)
Revisions are the cause of most writing errors. This document has 63 revisions.
Applied Logic. Writing tennis instructionals demands intellectual accuracy. As noted above, it is quite difficult to transform a series of physical movements to words on the written page. Hey, if you are unconvinced, you try writing a tennis manual on form or movement yourself.
Example 1, intellectual accuracy: Using the tennis mandate “Watch the ball.”
A recent Tennis Magazine issue contained a “revelatory” article debunking about ten typical, universal coaching instructions such as “Watch the ball,” labeling them as “myths.” The author claimed that watching the ball was an inaccurate and useless instruction. To substantiate his claim, he then mentioned a few elements which were not included, thereby saying that the instruction should not be used. To my way of thinking, to watch the ball, is not a false command, i.e. a myth. This type of intellectual inaccuracy simply is not useful to tennis learners. (I do believe that when this instruction is given, it is the responsibility of the coach to explain how to watch the ball.)
Example 2, comprehensiveness: Using the same tennis mandate “Watch the ball.”
This instruction requires the physical action of using your eyes to follow the little yellow ball from the time it leaves the opponent’s racket to the time it contacts your racket face. At the same time it requires the mental process of interpreting what is seen, which includes 1) How fast the ball is moving. 2) Whether you will need to hit the ball on your forehand side, your backhand side, or coming directly at your body. 3) Where the spinning ball bounces so you can move your body into the best court position to hit the ball, which also requires detecting whether the ball is spinning forward (topspin) or backwards (slice). 4) Choosing how fast, or slow you need to swing, 5) Deciding which type of stroke you are going to use to hit it according to the mentioned variables. A single instruction should be followed by an explanation of its pertinent details. [In this case, see my instructional “How to Watch the Tennis Ball by TennisTom.”]
A major conflict in the writing of instructionals is simplicity vs a basic measure of comprehensiveness. The problem with too much simplicity is that your instruction may not be useful. The problem with too many details is that you can overload the reader and therein subvert your good intentions. Arrrgh!
Reader Appropriateness. Unfortunately most tennis writings make the fatal error of being at too high a plane for the average learner. The typical reader will never reach college or pro level tennis. What good is a tennis instructional if it addresses the wrong level of player? The answer is: “not much.” If your writings are for players that are intent on “playing like the pros,” that is one thing, but the majority of players across the world’s courts are at or below a 4.0 NTRP level. My point is that a writing must be applicable to its average audience.
Example 1: The “inside out” forehand which is currently popular with the pros you see on TV. Professional tennis players live tennis. They hit more balls in a week that you will hit in months. Their reflexes are exceptionally quick. Their physical conditioning is likely eons better than yours. To instruct average players to run around their backhands to hit inside forehands is wasted on most of us. Remember that the sine qua non (essential) element of instructionals is to be useful.
Example 2: The instruction to launch your body as high as possible when you serve, like virtually all pros do. When coaching how to serve, jumping four to six inches off the court surface is an unnecessary timing and movement complication, not to mention totally irrelevant to the average player.
Terminology. Terminology in tennis writing is obviously a problem. Terms which are familiar to the writer may be completely unknown to the reader.
Example 1: The use of the phrase “service line.” The early learner will not know that the service line is the rear boundary line of the service boxes. He may often assume (logically) that the service line is the line from which you serve (baseline). This is where a clear diagram of the tennis court and line labels are essential.
Example 2: The use of the phrase “unforced error.” The novice will not know that an unforced error, in the most simplistic definition possible, means to miss a shot that the hitter would normally make, not a mistake caused by the opponent’s good shot. If the reader does not appreciate the distinction between an unforced error and a forced error, then the use of “unforced error” is useless mental spaghetti.
Appeal. Any writing needs to be appealing, because, let’s face it, an intellectual description of a physical process can be boring. If it is boring then a student will scan over the steps (similar to reading a novel) and will retain very little information they will use. This is where writing style is important. A manual comprised of a completely dry list of instructions will at best land on a dusty bookshelf, never to be revisited, or at worst, land in the circular garbage file, the ultimate insult. One way of putting the reader into a positive, receptive frame of mind is to use your sense of humor. In my opinion the best teachers use on-court humor in the delivery of their teaching. Humor, however, has pitfalls and can be tricky to use on the written page. Two of my favorite, comedic expletories are “Duh,” and “Arrrgh.” What great words!
Insufficient Detail. As mentioned above, incomplete instruction detail is another pitfall: For example, “Move your racket from low to high for topspin.” True but insufficient. You also need to explain that the face of your racket must be perpendicular to the court surface or slightly closed toward the court surface when you swing in order for almost all topspin groundstrokes to work. Pertinent detail is crucial in many cases.
Clarity. If whatever you write is ambiguous then confusion results. Confusion stops learners in their tracks like a brick wall. When writing any instruction, you must spend sufficient time to rewrite your results into a final, clear version. It helps tremendously to have an editor who is conversant with tennis procedures to aid you in revisions. That person needs to have sufficient knowledge and interest, and be willing to have numerous update consultations with you. That person may be quite difficult to find.
Visual Images. Many students of tennis learn best by an actual on-court VISUAL process, i.e. they try to copy your physical actions; however, this is obviously impossible to put into print, so you should include visual representations in your writings, such as:
Photo images -- but you should overlay pertinent wordage for emphasis, and you need to watch out for copyright infringement.
Diagrams – they put great demands on your creative, graphic abilities.
Videos -- it takes enormous time, energy, and relatively expensive videographic equipment, not to mention talent, to make tennis specific videotapes. Obviously you must have an accomplished tennis model who can demonstrate proper on-court form. Video are great, but they require enormous time and extensive editing.
Eye catching fonts, bold print, graphic embellishments -- such as computerized word art, and the JPEG, a computer graphics compression technique for images. By the way, JPEG derives from Joint Photographic Experts Group.
Lastly, you have to decide if the majority of your readers are or are going to be doubles or singles players. Knock, knock: It’s DOUBLES. “Duh!”
In Sum. The trick, as they say, is to create and render a series of near-perfect compromises. So it goes, in tennis instructionals, in life. All you can do is to give it your best shot. Writers, good luck to you and your efforts at growing tennis.
TennisTom, Falls of New Hope, Chapel Hill, NC 2010
[Writing challenges -- Tennis Instructionals by TennisTom] [Rev 4-22-10]