I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a tennis conference for the USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) and was fortunate enough to listen to some great speakers. Each speaker touched on various aspects of coaching tennis and I think the underlying theme was understand the why behind everything we do. This is something I have been working on over the course of my career and I have realized it is the most important aspect in everything we do. I will be applying this to a tennis situation however it can be applied to all facets of life.
The reason you miss a shot in tennis may have nothing to do with a technical aspect of a students stroke. We have all been there as coaches of all sports where you see a student miss a shot and we are quickly to judge with words like, keep your elbow up, get the racket back sooner, load your legs, bend your knees etc… We are all guilty of this and I’m not saying those statements are wrong. We have a tendency to focus on the end result at times rather than the chain of events which have led up to this end result.
The steps I follow as a coach are simple on the outside and then my background in exercise science begins to kick in.
1. Does your student understand your instructions? (Don’t ask… do you understand.) Rather ask can you show me or explain to me what I just said. It’s amazing how many times I hear something completely different from how I thought it would be interpreted. If they do this and can demonstrate the stroke to me then I know they have the basic understanding of what it is supposed to look and feel like.
2. I next try to take as many variables out of the equation as possible and try to create the most ideal situation for success occur. This is important because I want the student to not only see but also feel what an ideal shot (if there is such a shot) is. I then say without hitting a ball I want you to show me where you think the contact point is etc..
3. Next I begin to toss a few balls and re-emphasize to the student to try to hit the ball in the perfect balanced state which we had put them in the beginning. For the first few I will have the student tell me if they felt just like it did when they achieved success.
– If for some reason this does not work and they just can’t seem to move a few steps and hit the ball I then begin to turn my attention to the why? I begin to first look at their eyes. When I’m tossing the ball if they can not follow it out of my hand in close range then it doesn’t matter how perfect their technique is on a shot they will not be able to pick up the ball off of their opponents racket fast enough and thus their reaction time is greatly reduced. Once this is compromised in tennis then our students are just trying to survive.
4. Visual Training is a first and probably one of the weakest aspects of the majority of my students, the ability to see their opponents movements, weight transfer, racket face angle etc becomes so important for anticipation, shot selection, tactical and strategical decisions which must occur prior to their opponent’s ball ever being struck.
5. Physical: If they are tracking a ball and they are able to move out to the ball quickly but still can’t execute the shot (technique from a stationary position is good) then we must turn our attention to the physical components of the shot. This is where my background comes in and I begin to break down the movements and look to see if the player is capable of executing the type of shot I am asking them to hit based on their strength level. If for some reason they can not then I will suggest supplemental off court work to help them better execute the shots I am asking them to hit.
-Speed, Agility, Quickness and Strength all come into play under the physical component.
6. Mental Capabilities: This varies based on the age of the individual but understanding the tactical, shot selection types all either progress/regress based on ability and age. The decision-making process is important, the ability to stay positive throughout the learning process is always important.
These are just a few of the things I begin to look for but for each stroke or each decision we make as coaches I think we always need to be asking why. I was able to work under a few great Physical Therapists and Athletic Trainers and worked in post-rehab and part of our job was to figure out the why (why did they hurt their knee) Lets get them back to where they should be but lets begin to look at bio mechanics and search for the why, are their muscle imbalances etc which may have contributed to a potential injury. If so then lets try to eliminate these potential factors so the injury does not occur again.
To me this is the best part of coaching tennis. I love helping my students achieve success and being able to guide them along the way all while asking yourself why are they missing the shot if they understand how to execute it.
I hope this opens up some discussion to a variety of tips/methods etc they we all can share as professionals. I look forward to hearing from everyone!