Monday, February 11, 2013


Never settle for the obvious because the real solution may just be around the corner

In whatever endeavor we tackle, if we never went beyond what is obvious or outside our comfort level, we would never develop at our chosen skill. 

Think about the level you have reached in coaching.  At the present moment you think you know a lot about helping players improve their rankings right?  Hopefully in six months time you can look back and say that you are another 15% better than you are now. This should be our goal.

The ability to improve your craft over time is dependent on you asking the hard questions of yourself.  Instead of using the same “fix” each time for a particular problem, try another way. In time you will have a variety of methods to solve a problem and you will be able to select which particular fix works for an individual player.

Many years ago I attended a coaching seminar and an old friend, Bernard Gusman, presented an on-court session called “Looking Beyond The Obvious”. What Bernard said that day changed the way I looked at problems during a lesson and also the process I used when searching for solutions.

It’s easy to create solutions to problems. But is your solution getting to the root of the problem, or is it only a cosmetic solution that will eventually have the player going back to their same faulty ways later? I have found that if you find the source of the problem, usually a faulty fundamental, you have solved the problem for good. If you create a remedy that is only near the source, the problem will eventually come back to haunt the player again in the future.

In his on-court session that day Bernard encouraged all of us to continually “go beyond the obvious”.  It was a key demand and made us all dig deeper for the root cause of the problems we saw.

I recently worked with a young player called Willie.  Willie has a good all round game but is very stiff on his backhand side.  This means he has trouble getting any penetration off the bounce at the other side of the net.  Notice that I am not so concerned with the stiff look of the backhand, but much more focused on the result of the backhand, his lack of penetration at the other side of the net.  This is the first commandment in going beyond the obvious…

1.     Worry less about what it looks like and more about the result at the other side of the net!

My immediate solution was to loosen the swing and see if the increased fluidity allowed Willie to increase the pace and penetration of the ball on his backhand. Visually he lacked hip and shoulder rotation, surely this was the cause of the stiff “look”.  Soon Willie was hitting better.  The increased fluidity had helped but after many years of “going beyond the obvious”, in all honesty it was not good enough for me. The simple truth was that rotation, while helping, was obviously not the root cause of the stiff backhands and lack of penetration. I needed to follow the second commandment which is simply…

2.   Look beyond the Obvious

I began to ask questions as I watched Willie battle with his backhand.  Why did he revert to an under-spin backhand so quickly on short balls and wide balls? In both cases he could have continued with topspin and been far more effective.  So why was he reverting to under-spin whenever his balance was tested (topspin on both the wide and short balls would have required a long last step and balance during the execution)?  The third commandment you need to follow is…

3.   Ask why the player NEEDS to do it this way

Whenever he was required to step long and balance he neither had the strength nor the confidence to create the contact foot necessary to execute the stroke well. When a player can’t start the bio-mechanics from the ground they are forced to use the upper body.  The upper body however is far less effective at producing a free flowing stroke with perfect timing and energy for the swing.  I remebered that Willie often mishit the ball on backhands when under time pressure.

Therefore the question being asked as to why Willie needs to avoid hitting topspin on balls that tested balance is fundamental to finding the solution to our backhand problem, penetration.

I saw that Willie’s lack of balance stemmed from a poor contact foot, in this case his right foot.  Once we started focusing on a better quality contact foot in the lesson the upper body relaxed and began to rotate naturally, the stroke began to flow and more importantly we started to penetrate off the bounce at the far side of the net.

We had reached the finish point.  We were achieving our goal of penetrating the ball at the other side of the net and under all situations. Therefore commandment four tells us…

4.   If you can’t go any further, you have reached the fundamental source of the problem-fix it and you’re finished

Not only does searching for the root cause of the problem help the player permanently, but also, over time, takes your coaching skills to the next level.