Brent Zeller has been one of the most sought-after tennis instructors in the San Francisco area. His program, Effortless Tennis, has helped beginners and elite competitors alike find success. Now he wants to spread his mantra of noncompetitive training to the larger physical education community, and even into public school classrooms. In his recent book, “Evolutionary Education: Moving Beyond Our Competitive Compulsion,” Zeller speaks on the negative effects of trying to win too soon.
Can your noncompetitive training be related to the classroom?
Absolutely. Montessori and Waldorf [two different school models] use a lot of noncompetitive learning to great effect in their schools. The same problems come up in the classroom, like when you are given words to learn for a spelling test and are tested the next day. If you haven’t learned the words, why are you being tested? I believe we need to follow a model similar to the Kumon method, that develops a series of tests from the most basic material to the most advanced. The only way you can take test two is to get 100 percent on test one. It’s based on mastery of the most basic material before moving on to the next level.
Do athletes develop bad habits when they jump into playing a sport to win?
It’s the emotional habits that can be the problem. I believe performance anxiety is learned. When you fail when you first start, self-doubt naturally creeps in. That makes you tighter. Competition is an advanced aspect of any activity. It can be damaging before competence in the fundamental skills can be demonstrated.