Sunday, December 30, 2012


No matter how good a coach or player you think you are, you would be nothing without the help of a substance called myelin. The better you are as a coach at creating myelin in your players, the better their results will be. The more myelin your players have, the better they perform. It's as simple as that!

Think what could happen if you understood how to train to create myelin and were able to even increase the production of myelin each and every practice session. Do I have your interest yet?

Let’s start by explaining what myelin is first. 

Myelin is a substance inside your body that coats itself around the neurological pathways and assist with any activity that you do often. Instead of having to re-learn a tennis fore-hand every-time you went out to play, the body creates myelin to help you “remember” the process. It creates a neurological "super highway".

Someone who plays tennis only on week-ends will have less myelin around the “tennis neurological pathways” than a player on the ATP or WTA Tours. The myelin build-up of an ATP or WTA professional tennis player will be considerably more than that of a weekend player because they play and practice every day for hours.

For years medical people have noticed this excessive myelin build-up in people who specialized and excelled in their particular field of endeavor. Tennis players, violinists, racing car drivers, scientists, barbers, anybody who performed an activity intensely over a long period of time produced excessive myelin build-up.

 It was thought that myelin was present in these exceptional people simply because they performed their tasks more often. Our earlier belief was that the mere repetition of an activity created myelin, but we didn’t know why the body needed to produce myelin nor what purpose myelin actually served.

Knowing the reason why we produce myelin and the purpose it serves has only just been discovered. Our new understanding of myelin has profound implications on how, as coaches we should teach tennis and how we should conduct our on-court practice sessions each day.

Why We Create Myelin

We all know that if you hit thousands of back-hands during practice your back-hand will get better. If you practice your back-hand for one full hour on Monday it will feel much better on Tuesday. That feeling has been termed “gaining confidence” and is sometimes called “grooving” the stroke, but that is being too simplistic.

In pre-historic times the human body created myelin so that we are able to perform very important activities when we were faced with danger. It was about survival.  

Myelin helps make an activity more efficient. Done enough times, climbing that tree to avoid being eaten by a predator will become very efficient, and thankfully so! It’s linked to us surviving as a species.

What Creates Myelin in a Player

Remember how well you played after a few continuous weeks of tournaments? Waking each day and playing to the best of your ability against high caliber opposition? You started to feel really good about hitting those clutch passing shots and serving yourself out of trouble on break points. 

You were creating myelin during those important matches. This leads to the most important ingredient when attempting to create myelin… STRESS!

The more stress we are repeatedly under, the faster myelin is produced and in greater quantities. This is important and worth repeating: DOING AN ACTIVITY FREQUENTLY AND UNDER STRESS CREATES MYELIN FASTER AND IN GREATER QUANTITIES.

How to Train Myelin

Players will thrive on the additional pressure and become much better instinctively in matches

To help develop myelin faster all you need to add to your practice is tennis related stress and pressure.  This can take the form of:

  • Time pressure
Create time limits that add pressure to drill

  • Target pressure
Set-up target drills and demand accuracy through rewards and penalties

  • Skill complexity pressure
Put a variety of strokes together in the drill that demand more of your player

  • Complex patterns
Develop complex hitting patterns that duplicate real points and match situations

  • Peer pressure
By training in groups and demanding more of each player you are automatically creating peer pressure. Nobody likes to be the weak link in the drill.

  • Over-loading
This can be achieved by having players perform “cold” without a warm-up as is the case in the “Nominated Player Drill”.  Start complex, skill complex drills that have consequences early in the practise rather than later when players have "found their feet".

  • Penalties
  Always create consequences for sub-standard  performance

Understanding myelin and the purpose it serves helps us to re-jig practice sessions so that they become more meaningful and productive. Players will very quickly develop a natural instinct in all facets of the game necessary for competition.