GAME – SET – MATCH: GROW! HOW PROFESSIONAL TENNIS FOSTERS PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT OF BUSINESS STUDENTS
The abilities to set and pursue goals as well as to cope with pressure to perform and stress are highly important to both business students and future managers. Nevertheless, many business students report that they still lack these skills when they near the end of their studies. This may be due to the fact that it is difficult to train these skills in a classroom and allow students to immediately experience the positive effects of various strategies for achieving goals as well as coping with pressure and stress. These conditions reduce the likelihood that students will actually be convinced and motivated to incorporate these strategies into their everyday (study and work) life.
This deficit is eliminated by the design of a recently developed course at Vienna University of Economics and Business: the above-mentioned strategies are not only conveyed as part of a management training course taking place in a classroom, but also developed jointly with trainers of professional tennis who work with the students on the tennis court by applying techniques that are usually used in professional tennis.
At the beginning of the course, students only get a very brief theoretical introduction to the topics of goal setting, stress management, motivation and mood management. The main part of the course takes place on a tennis court in a non-formal educational setting. The individualized tennis training requires the participants to quickly adapt to an environment they are not familiar with (some students have never played tennis before), perform tasks that they have never done before and quickly explore techniques to develop stress management and resistance, concentration and goal orientation, skills that cannot easily be learnt from reading a book or listening to lecturers. In the various performance situations on the tennis court, the students immediately notice and recognize which strategies help them to achieve better performance and to remain more focused and calmer. They need to learn to set goals and to consistently pursue them in order to fulfill the tasks successfully. What is more, students immediately feel the importance of reflecting on their strengths, focusing and quickly analyzing the present situation, of looking ahead and not complaining about mistakes or weaknesses.
Reflection phases are provided during and after the tennis training. The students are asked to self-assess their behaviour and the techniques they used in order to cope with pressure and stress. They are also asked to reflect on how their experience can be linked to the theoretical introduction that they received at the beginning of the course. Setting and pursuing goals, developing a plan, staying focused and positive about one’s efforts and abilities, etc. is just as important for success on the tennis court as it is for making progress in your studies and at work and to support a persons’s personal growth. On the tennis court, however, the importance becomes immediately visible, in the situation itself one immediately recognizes the positive or negative consequences of one's own behavior and one's own attitudes. This is incredibly memorable for the students. The learning reports of the students and their feedback in the course evaluation clearly reflect this learning outcome and their personal development.