Saturday, November 18, 2017

A MENTAL ROADMAP FOR MATCHES



A player involved in a match and trying to play smart tennis is constantly assessing a variety of factors when trying to maintain their good momentum or make significant changes in the match because they are behind on the scoreboard.

If a player feels they are losing the battle either technically, tactically, physically or mentally, there needs to be a process each player can go through to make those necessary changes. As a Davis Cup and Federation Cup captain I often had to go through this mental process myself in order to turn a match around by adjusting the way my player was competing.

Those adjustments came about after a process that involved accurately reading the situation and deciding what needed to change (or in some cases to not change at all) and putting those changes to the test during the match.

Here is that process in detail:

1.     EXPLORE (Analyse)
This is the stage where, if there is a change of strategy needed, the player explores the possibilities. At the same time as they compete in the match every player needs to monitor a variety of "aspects". The particular aspects I like to monitor are called "The 8 Opposites". The 8 Opposites can be used to exploit weaknesses in the opponent.

I have dealt with this subject previously within the “The 8 Opposites” blog article.  The “8 Opposites” involve the variables of High v Low, Wide v Tight, Fast v Slow and Up (net) v Back (baseline). The opponent’s preferences need to be assessed as the match progresses and a specific strategy designed to exploit the weakness you have identified.


2.   EXPLOIT (Plan)
The player now needs to exploit the perceived weakness by devising a plan. Within each of the 8 opposites every player will have a preference. Opponents will prefer one of the two options, High or Low, Wide or Tight, Fast or Slow and Up and Back.

This step should involve designing a plan based on The 8 Opposites. Whatever the perceived weakness of the opponent, it needs to be exploited.

3.   EXECUTE (Just do it)
Now the new tactics need to be executed on-court. The player needs to put the new changes to the test within the match. Experienced players will execute new strategy swiftly, accurately and with conviction.

4.   ADAPT (continue to monitor the situation)
Matches are constantly in a state of flux. What was working early in a match may not be working now, after-all the opponent could be going through a similar process of analysis and creating fresh tactics when facing defeat. 

Players must constantly stay aware of the developments within the match.

 EXPLORE......EXPLOIT.....EXECUTE....ADAPT
  
This whole process must continue throughout the match if momentum is to be maintained or if you have to change a losing situation into a winning one.  

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 IMPORTANT WAYS TO COMBINE PHYSICAL TRAINING WITH TENNIS TECHNIQUE


A correct physical training program can enhance your tennis game significantly, while an incorrect physical training program can also harm your game tremendously.

In past years players honed their skills on-court and then participated in an off-court physical training program that was very general and non specific to the demands of a tennis match.

This all changed several years ago when players, coaches and trainers began to mimic the physical demands and skills required in competitive tennis. Suddenly off-court training became highly specific to tennis and the players began to experience a marriage of tennis skills and physical ability… the two facets of training began to enhance each other!

If you have not yet synchronized your on-court and off-court training programs you are definitely missing out on obtaining optimal results in competition.

So what areas do you need to be aware of when synchronizing physical training with tennis technique?

 Here are 5 areas you must get right:


1.     The Line




With any movement you undertake in the gym you must be aware of an imaginary Line from your head, to the foot you are using to leverage ground forces.

When you play any stroke in tennis, correct execution of this Line insures optimum timing and an efficient transfer of energy into the ball.

However, if you repeat The Line incorrectly many times in the gym you are creating an incorrect habit that will hurt your timing and consequently your consistency in matches.

Focus on the Line while working with weights and any pulley type apparatus in the gym so that you are creating habits that will benefit your on-court technique.

2.   Balance


Put simply, good balance is maintaining the Line from your head between both feet at all times. Any time the line from your head goes outside either foot you are falling (loss of balance).

Your program in the gym should incorporate activities that enhance stability through a wide base (feet) and dynamic balance exercises that test this stability during movement (maintaining the head within the boundaries of the feet).

By combining awareness of balance during off-court sessions in the gym and on-court practice sessions you will develop excellent stability as you move and hit your shots during matches.




3.   The Ground




All strokes in tennis require the creation of energy. Energy is generated from the ground and transferred to your strokes from the legs.

Therefore anytime you perform an interactive exercise in the gym between the Ground and a weight or pulley system you should maintain awareness of the energy you are drawing out of the ground and through your legs.

If this awareness is unfocused and performed incorrectly you are teaching yourself bad habits that will carry over onto the court and your strokes will lack optimum timing and consistency and could even lead to injury.

4.   Speed


The human body is very good at adapting to the conditions within its environment. If you train repeatedly in a slow twitch manner (under fatigue, with weights and in an endurance mode), your feet are being taught to move in a slow way.

There is a time and place for strengthening the legs by using weights and creating fatigue in order to enhance endurance on-court. But if you are trying to develop more speed and agility on-court you must incorporate fast twitch exercises into your fitness program and avoid activities that teach the legs to work in a slow twitch manner.


When you want to develop more speed and agility, create a fast twitch environment in your off-court sessions

5.    Posture


Put simply, one of the purposes of your fitness program is to be able to maintain proper form and technique throughout a match no matter how long the match lasts.  Another benefit of having a high level of fitness is the ability to make good decisions under pressure and while fatigued.

Often your posture as you hit a stroke is an indicator that you are fatigued in a rally.

Make sure that anything you do in the gym is done with an awareness of correct posture so that when you are on the match court that awareness is being repeated during points and while under pressure.


The importance of synchronizing your off-court and on-court training programs is critical to you reaching your full potential. Likewise, if these two components are not working to enhance each other the consequences can be detrimental to your game.

Monday, May 22, 2017

WHAT ARE THE TENNIS FUNDAMENTALS?


Everyone talks about fundamentals and how important they are.  Anyone playing well is said to have “great fundamentals”, while anyone playing poorly is accused of having “poor fundamentals”. But have you ever tried to find a list of these fundamentals? If such a list existed surely this would be of immense help to players and coaches alike.
FUNDAMENTALS CAN ACT AS A ROAD MAP IN
HELPING A PLAYER NAVIGATE THEIR GAME

The truth is that you will never find a definitive list of the “Tennis Fundamentals”. Although players are continually admired or criticized about their fundamentals and although training programs around the world attempt to install “fundamentals” in their players, there is no definitive list available.

So let’s start defining what exactly a fundamental is, or should be. I believe a fundamental is something that cannot be taken out, in other words you cannot play without it. Think about that for a moment. What elements cannot be taken out of our game? Is the backswing a fundamental? No, because some volleys, service returns and half volleys don’t require a backswing.

Is footwork a fundamental? No, because sometimes a ball hit into your body doesn’t give you time to move your feet and wheelchair players manage just fine without the use of their feet. Is the follow-through a fundamental? No, because half volleys, some volleys and the return of serve don’t always require a follow-through.

I could come up with many more mythical “fundamentals” that are actually cosmetics and not always necessary to execute the shot correctly. If these cosmetics were eliminated you would be able to play the game just fine.

Here are the 3 Fundamentals I teach every day. They cannot be taken out of tennis, without them you cannot play the game.

CONTACT
You can have the most perfect backswing and follow-through in the world but that never guarantees that the ball goes to its intended target.   The ball goes where the racquet strings “point”, regardless of backswing and the follow-through. Contact is a Fundamental.

GROUND
Your relationship with the ground when you play incorporates multiple elements such as movement, balance and timing. Without any one of these elements you provide energy or control to the ball. Energy and timing come from your interaction with the ground. The correct use of Ground is a Fundamental.

SPIN
Anytime you hit the ball you create ball rotation (spin). Beginners create ball rotation almost by accident when they hit the ball. Advanced players use spin as a tool to help achieve speed and angles while still controlling the ball in the court. Spin is present in every shot and is a Fundamental of tennis.


In all three instances you cannot eliminate Contact, Ground or Spin from the game. They are fundamental. Your level of manipulation of these fundamentals and your ability to master the use of them defines your ability as a player.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

SHOT SELECTION MADE EASY

CORRECT SHOT SELECTION GIVES YOUR GAME COHESION AND MEANING

At any given time during a point you are in one of three conditions, Defense, Neutral or Offense. You need to clearly define which condition you are in to compete successfully.

If you attack the point at the wrong time, or have an opportunity to attack but fail to take that opportunity, it doesn’t matter how well you stroke the ball your overall game will lack cohesion and meaning.

So how do we define when we are in a Defensive situation, a Neutral situation or an Offensive situation?  What exactly are the factors which put you in a defensive mode? When are you able to attack the point with a high degree of confidence that you will be successful? How do you know that you are in a Neutral situation during the point?

Whether you are in Defense, Neutral or Offense depends on two criteria and you must constantly be aware of these criteria as you play.  Those criteria are:


1.   THE POSITION OF YOUR FEET WHEN YOU CONTACT THE BALL
If your feet are behind the baseline when you contact the ball, you are on Defense. If your feet are inside the baseline when you contact the ball you are on Offense.


2. THE HEIGHT OF CONTACT IN RELATION TO THE WHITE BAND OF THE NET
If you contact the ball above the height of the white band of the net, you are on Offense. If you contact  the ball below this white band you are in Defense.


NEUTRAL
If your feet are inside the baseline (Offense) but the height of the ball is below the white band (Defense) you are in the neutral condition such as when you are approaching the net and have to hit a low mid-court ball, or when you are playing a low volley at net.

If your feet are behind the baseline (Defense) but the ball is above the white band of the net (Offense), you are in a Neutral condition also. An example would be when your opponent loops a high ball during the rally.

This is called the DNO Theory (Defense, Neutral, and Offense).

Many players fail to clearly define their role with each shot during the point. This leads to poor shot selection and ultimately unforced errors. Learn to constantly access which condition you are in for each shot, Defense, Neutral or Offense, and respond  correctly to each condition.


Monday, April 17, 2017

CONTACT V"s COSMETICS: "Don't Train Like a Golfer"




Many players and coaches try to approach tennis with the belief that if they can create the perfect swing, their game and results will automatically improve. I call this the “cosmetic” mindset. They believe that something that looks (cosmetic) correct, translates into a perfect result.

In fact you see golfers at golf driving ranges adopting the “cosmetic” mindset to improve their games all the time. Golfers spend a lot of time tweaking the position of their feet, where their elbows finish, correcting the angles of shoulders and arms etc before and after every stroke.

The problem with adopting a golfers “Cosmetic” mindset for your tennis training is that golf and tennis are completely different sports requiring different training methods. In golf the position of the ball is predictable (stationary), while in tennis the ball is unpredictable and not under our control.  In golf you can stand over the ball and dictate exactly what you want the ball to do. Having a perfect almost mechanical swing guarantees good results in golf.

In tennis however the ball is not predictable and in fact your opponent is trying to make life as difficult as possible for you. Moreover, if you have been trained to respond cosmetically like a Golfer, you will never be able to manage the unpredictable nature of tennis. 


Ninety percent of the players that come to me for help have the cosmetic mindset and are constantly searching for the “perfect swing”.  


So what do I replace the cosmetic mindset with? 


...I GET THE PLAYER TO FOCUS SOLEY ON CONTACT

Here’s why the “Contact” mindset helps the player achieve better results and increased understanding and control of the point.

1   Adaptability:
Many times in a point you are forced into controlling a ball that is too deep, too short, too wide or too close to your body, too fast, too slow too high or too low. If you have been trained to adopt the “cosmetic” mindset you will try to take the same “classic” backswing or the same “correct” follow-through… and this is the problem. You may continue to blame yourself by saying that you need to get your racquet back faster, watch the ball closer and move your feet faster but the fact is that many times you cannot take the “correct” backswing or follow-through and that sometimes there is no time for “classic” footwork . In tennis adaptability is a key to playing well

Control of Height & Direction:
Another myth that hinders your progress if you are a player with the “cosmetic” mindset is the belief that the backswing and the follow through dictate where the ball will go. The simple truth is that….

"The ball will go where the racquet(face) angle tells it to go… your follow through dictates the amount of spin on the ball and… your backswing dictates the amount of energy (power) you transfer into the ball… but contact is responsible for Height and direction".  - PD

Adopt the more practical “Contact” mindset from today and watch your ability to control the ball and your opponent improve instantly. 

Here's what to do now...

Avoid the golfers "cosmetic" mindset at all costs!

I recommend that you continue to practice the same drills and continue to play points in your practice just as before, only now change your mindset to a "control the ball at all costs" mindset (by focusing on controlling contact).