Many coaches are involved in the daily task of developing junior tennis players with the goal of them reaching the top of our game. A very important question for those involved in junior development is “When we develop junior players for the future, what in essence are we trying to develop”? What is the goal? A simple question with profound implications to the way we approach each on-court session.
For years my goal or mission statement when training junior players was to create a player with “Perfect Defense on Wood, and Perfect Offense on Clay”. Think about that, defense on the fastest surface and offense on the slowest surface.
Probably the fastest surface you can play on is a wooden floor indoors. Think of the problems you are faced with on fast wood.
· Returning serve: requires exceptionally fast reflexes and compact strokes
· Teaches a player the skills of staying relaxed enough in the hands to adapt quickly, but firm enough on contact to stabilize the racquet
· Fast & low bouncing ball: requires fast footwork and a good feel for your contact point
· Shorter points: Must strike early in the rally. Requires a different and more urgent mindset
· Playing a net-rusher: Requires a good understanding of the position of your feet. Standing deep off the baseline gives the net-rusher too much time to read the passing shot. Requires you to stand up close to the baseline and take the ball earlier, giving the net-rusher less time and to force them to volley from a deeper court position
· Develop the defensive aspects of your game
All these elements need to be part of a players training as they develop. But this is only half of the equation…
The slowest surface we play on is red clay. All the problems faced in the example above are neutralized by the slower and higher bouncing red clay. The biggest issue now is how to create some meaningful offense!
· Hitting winners: the point needs to be set-up with the goal of pulling your opponent out of position. With the court opened you can expect to hit more winners
· Points are longer: Must be patient. Requires a different mentality and an understanding of structuring the point
· Predominantly a baseline battle
These are just a few of the aspects that distinguish wood from clay. By developing junior players in a way that allows them to adapt their games to the different surfaces, we ultimately produce a well rounded player who can deal with all situations.