The summer after his junior year in high school, Vic Braden, the son of a coal miner, swung his first big deal in tennis: he gave lessons to three children in exchange for a set of tennis clothes. In the 34 years since, Braden has achieved national renown, but he has kept making time for youngsters. He has taught kids like Tracy Austin who wanted to be champions, kids like his five children who were interested only in recreation, and tots, some as young as 21 months, who simply liked "running about the court with a giant racket and trying to hit that fuzzy yellow ball."
This year, drawing on his long experience with kids, Braden joined Bill Bruns to write Teaching Children Tennis the Vic Braden Way (A Sports Illustrated Book/Little, Brown and Company, $16.95). The book lays out a comprehensive instructional system for parents, explaining how to communicate technique, conduct enjoyable drills and maintain motivation and discipline.
As in his fine first book, Vic Braden's Tennis for the Future, Braden presents his theories on stroking form and strategy and emphasizes the advantages of coolly playing a high-percentage game. But Teaching Children's greatest strength is Braden's empathy with both the parent/instructor and the child/student. He never regards their relationship impersonally: the instructor spouting wisdom, the student obediently absorbing it; rather, he recognizes that each instructor and each pupil will have his own emotions, goals and physical and mental capabilities, and Braden builds enough flexibility into his teaching system to indulge individual differences.
In Braden's view the parent-child relationship cannot succeed in tennis unless the parent enters the child's psychological world, consulting him like a partner, bolstering his ego, staying alert to his pleasure and comprehension. The parent should work at everything from recognizing his child's signs of anxiety (tense face, clutched non-hitting hand, tight body movements) to evaluating his own teaching performance by reviewing tape or video tape recordings of his lessons.
Braden also insists that the parent encourage civility on the court and keep trophy-hunting in perspective. Goes one Braden maxim: "A child eventually puts his trophies in the garage, but his personality is on display his whole life." That advice comes too late to enlighten the parents of rude pro players, but for parents just introducing their kids to tennis, it can still do a world of good.