Showing posts with label Bigger Better Tennis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bigger Better Tennis. Show all posts

Sunday, April 5, 2020

3 SIMPLE STRATEGIES TO BOOST YOUR GAME




Strategy is the most neglected part of a player’s development, and yet with the correct strategy any opponent can be beaten 

In my opinion, Strategy is the “next Frontier” of tennis. Most of the competitive players I see today are technically very good and are physically in great shape but few are playing their matches with any real understanding of Strategy. 

Here are three super-effective ways for you to add some basic strategy to help boost your game almost immediately.

1. Hit Crosscourt

There is a saying in boxing that “The Jab is everything, everything comes from the Jab”. Every fighter is trained to establish the Jab during the fight because once a fighter can dominate with their Jab, they dominate the fight. 

Why? Because the boxing Jab establishes the distance between the two fighters allowing one fighter to dictate whether the fight is conducted at close quarters or further apart.

The Jab is also the “stepping stone” for other punches. Fighters throw the Jab out and look to follow-up that Jab with another more telling punch such as a Hook or an Upper-cut.

In tennis, the equivalent to the boxing Jab is the Cross-court (forehand and backhand). Here are the reasons why the tennis Cross-court can be so helpful to you in matches:

– The Cross-court shot in tennis puts your opponent under more pressure because it’s always moving away from them. If you’re Cross-Court game is strong enough your opponent will eventually drop a ball through the middle of the court and short. That’s your chance to attack with a forehand or to come forward to the net!

If you are in trouble during the rally the best direction to defend is Cross-Court. There’s more court to defend to when you hit to the far corner, but even more importantly you have given your opponent the toughest option on their next ball, a down-the-line shot. Although they can still hit the ball back cross-court, you probably haven’t recovered your position yet after the previous shot, so hitting down-the-line is their best option. For your opponent, changing direction down-the-line is a tougher shot to play.

If your game can be based around a strong Cross-Court foundation you become a much more difficult opponent to beat.

2. Give Your Opponents What They Dislike

It sounds obvious but why wouldn’t you give your opponent the type of balls they don’t like, and as often as possible?

The problem with most players, however, is that they are unable to analyze their opponents well enough to really know for sure their opponents’ likes and dislikes. Here’s how to analyze at your opponent better.

If you’ve played your opponent before or have seen them play matches before then you have some idea of their preferences. If you’ve never seen your next opponent before then you will need to focus hard during the 5 minutes of the warm-up. The 5 minutes of the warm-up tend to show you everything you will need to know about their preferences and dislikes.

Of course, you should be still trying to “read” your opponent as the match is in progress and make adjustments to your plan when you see anything that may help. Here’s what you are looking for:

High or Low: Does your opponent prefer to play their strokes off a high or low bouncing ball?

Fast or Slow: What speed do they prefer the ball to come to them? Which option do they make timing errors off?

Wide or Tight: Does your opponent prefer to play their strokes while moving wide in the court or do they prefer to hit balls that are "tight” and into the body?

Up or Back: Some players prefer to play up at the net while others prefer staying back at the baseline. What does your opponent prefer?
Whether you’re scouting an opponent during an early-round match, trying to get an understanding of their game during the warm-up or analyzing them while the match is in progress , look for two things, What type of ball are the mistakes coming from and what balls do they play really well? Whatever they dislike, give them more of and whatever they like avoid giving them that ball.
“Avoid what is strong and attack what is weak”
– Tsun Tzu

3. Be Aware of Your Feet & The Height of the Ball

Making the correct decisions during the point is critical to you being successful. This is called your shot selection. The essence of good shot selection is about you deciding the best, most effective ways to play each ball. Whether you defend the point or attack the point at the correct times will make you a much better player. Whether you must go into Offensive mode or Defensive mode can be decided by becoming aware of two factors:
The position of your feet when you hit the ball. Any time you hit the ball with your feet positioned inside the baseline you’re in an Offensive situation. Attack the point! If your feet are behind the baseline when you contact the ball you’re on defense. Nothing silly!
The height of the ball when you make contact. Picture an imaginary line running parallel from the top of the net (the white band), all the way across your side of the court. Any ball struck above that imaginary line is an offensive ball, while any ball struck below the imaginary line is a defensive ball.
These two simple “rules” provide you with a shot selection template. They will ensure that you are not making shot selection mistakes and trying to hit the wrong shot at the wrong time.
With these 3 simple strategies, your games will become stronger immediately, but more importantly, you will now be dictating the rally, reading your opponent better and making all the right decisions in matches


Thursday, March 19, 2020

MASTER UNPREDICTABILITY



We all desire Control, Understanding and Predictability in our lives and we feel uncomfortable with anything that is out of our control, not understood or unpredictable.

Unknowingly this need for predictable outcomes may have led us to train for tennis in the wrong way. Many training venues use repetition as their "go-to" method of teaching players the game. Coaches prefer it and players enjoy it. It makes them feel good! 

The repetition method of training involves someone feeding hundreds of balls from a basket.  The balls being fed from the basket will have the same flight, bounce in the same position on the court, arrive at the same speed, will bounce up to the same height and will each have the same identical spin. 

Hitting hundreds of balls like this gives us the predictability that we enjoy. Also, because we eventually begin to hit the ball fairly well ( after hundreds of balls who wouldn't begin to start feeling better with their stroke?), we become more confident and we start to believe our game is improving. 

But the fact is that the nature of tennis is that it has high levels of unpredictability, and all we are developing with the repetition method is a false confidence that will not stay with us throughout an entire match.



Here's an example...

You're going to hit a backhand and you are considering two choices:

Crosscourt or Down-the-Line…

Mentally you are saying to yourself that hitting crosscourt on this ball will help pull your opponent wide and off the court. This may lead to either your opponent returning the ball to a weaker position and allowing you to attack on the next ball or your opponent may have trouble recovering from that wide position off-court and allow you to exploit the open court.

You may choose to play the ball down-the-line because by changing direction you may catch them "flat-footed" and open up opportunities to attack the point.  

In this first stage, you are making decisions. Basket feeding doesn't involve any decision making.

In the second stage, the opponent will reply to your wide crosscourt or your decision to go down the line. This stage has a high amount of unpredictability because you can't really influence your opponent's decision-making process that much. Again, basket feeding doesn't contain any form of unpredictability either.

If these two point options were to develop further you can clearly see that each time your opponent played the ball there would be unpredictability present.

So why is unpredictability seldom included in practice sessions anywhere? 

Consider your tennis game for a moment and think whether or not you are approaching your tennis with the mindset of someone who is trying to make your tennis predictable? 

It's my belief that this emphasis on practicing in a predictable manner hurts our game a lot, and that if you can master the mindset of unpredictability it will also boost your game beyond its present level. 













Monday, March 9, 2020

TALENT IS NEVER ENOUGH



Having a lot of tennis talent can sometimes be a problem for some players because in the beginning of your tennis career talent goes a long way. At  lower levels, talent alone can win matches. It’s only when you get higher up the rankings and play the bigger events that your reliance on talent alone will really hurt you.

I was at a group 1 ITF Junior event last week and the standard of tennis was very high. Certainly, much higher than the level just a few years ago. Techniques and physical conditioning were exceptional. However, there was one area that was almost invisible, strategic intelligence!

Many of the young players on display last week were the best in the world. Many will be participating in the Grand Slam events this year. I can imagine that in their early years many of these top juniors dominated the junior events in their countries.

And there lies the problem. Most of the players last week are so gifted, tactics were never needed. They won on talent alone!

The problem for many of these players now is that they are now hitting, what to them probably seems like an invisible ceiling. Talent has taken them as far as this and they have nothing to “kick on” with.

Luckily, it’s never too late to educate yourself strategically and become smarter on-court. The rewards are there for the players who begin the process because correct and specific strategy for each opponent wins matches, lots of matches. However, those players that continue to play matches void of specific strategies for each opponent will easily be picked apart by smarter opponents in the future.

BECOMING A SMARTER PLAYER

Whenever you play a match your opppnent asks question of you. A fast ball asked you a question related to it’s speed and your reply to that question determines whether you can return the ball successfully or not.

Speeds, heights, angles, depths and spins are all question that your opponent sends your way. That’s what makes tennis so challenging, tennis is a series of skill complexities coming at you rapidly needing answers

The important thing is that you look at matches in this way… 

1.  Your opponent is sending questions your way that have to be answered in the correct way


2. You need to create questions of your own and at a high enough level to cause your opponent difficulty in answering them

Playing on talent alone will only get you so far. It’s essential that you have a sense of what the opponent is trying to do to you and how to reply to those attempts






Sunday, February 2, 2020

A PLAYERS MENTAL PRIORITY CHECKLIST



I encounter many players who have all the strokes and can play really well in practice but during matches can’t re-produce the same standard of play. In matches       their game is riddled with unforced errors.

It’s always difficult to find the solution to help these players because the cause of the problem can be many things. Humans are complicated and no more so than the mental issues that plague a tennis player who has a chronic problem with unforced errors!

I recently had success in helping with a young player who was prone to unexplained errors during her matches.

I found the remedy to her unforced errors by first deciding that her problem was mental and not technical. Although most of her mistakes were caused by poor technique, I had seen enough of her using good technique that I decided that working more on her technique would not help her that much in the long term. This is an important decision for you to make because you will have to constantly hold yourself back from making comments during practice about her technique.

Once I decided to address her unforced errors as a mental issue and not a technical one, things changed for the better quickly.

I also began to study the other players in our group and to identify what exactly was going on in their mind as they hit the unforced error. I began to see various patterns emerging.

Although we believe that every player plays tennis with the intention of getting the ball back in the court, I began to sense that some players had other alternative priorities, and that not all of them had “getting the ball in” as their number one priority.

Here were some of those other alternative priorities I began to see:

THE NEED FOR SPEED:

There are players who are fixated on hitting the ball fast. Their goal on every ball is to hit it as fast as they can… that’s the plan! 

It’s their priority because they believe that to become a top player that’s the way they have to play.  They believe that they’re developing their game for the future and in the future, they need to hit a big ball.

Players from Korea and Russia have speed as a priority and many of the top women players in the world adopt speed as their top priority when the play.

Of course, if certain balls don’t allow for big swings and racquet head acceleration too bad, they’ll hit it that way anyway!

These players have speed as their priority above getting the ball in the court. They tend to overhit the easy put-away’s in their quest to hit the ball faster and faster.


HOW IT LOOKS:

Other players in our squad put a lot of priority on how the stroke should look. Not content on finishing the point with a standard forehand they felt the finish needed “more”, it needed to be special.

These players hit strokes that are inappropriate for what they actually need to do. It is almost like a form of acting, and I’m sure they fully expected that if the “act” well enough the stroke would be good also.

These types of players put “Look” above getting the ball in the court. “Look” is number one on their priority checklist.


WHAT OTHERS THINK:

Another player type has the opinion of others on their mind constantly as they play. They worry about what others think of them.

They play wondering if they are getting the approval of their parents or coach. Sometimes it can be the opinion of their fellow trainees that takes priority over getting the ball in the court.

Again, this takes them out of the present moment, and away from focusing on adapting to the ball and making the correct decisions during points. Imagine coming forward to finish your mid-court forehand and wondering what others would think if you missed this ball?

These players placed the opinion of others above getting the ball in above all else and therefore at crucial times in a match their focus and awareness was not where it should be.


THE SCORE:

Having a mindset of being overly concerned about the score, or perceiving a particular point as being more crucial to win than others will take your mind off the stroke about to be played and play nasty tricks with your decision making and execution of the stroke.


STRONG FEAR OF ERRORS

Having a strongly ingrained fear of making mistakes takes you out of the shot at the worst possible time… just as you are about to execute the stroke. 

Fear will fill your head with “junk” during points and that will detract from your ability to get the ball back in the court.


OVER-THINKING TECHNIQUE

I’m a big believer in correct technique. I often say that correct technique is like a players’ armor to protect them from the mental stresses associated with matches.

However, my belief is that the mind should consider technique (how you will deal with the particular ball) very quickly and spontaneously, and then allow one more mental consideration to follow it. 

Leaving the mind with Technique as its final consideration before hitting the ball is dangerous because it creates added problems of its own. A mind fixated on technique through the stroke doesn’t help with other factors such as peripheral vision and anticipation during the point.

So what does the mind need to focus on in order for it to relax and yet make smart decisions, while also dealing with the pressures of the match?



TEACH PLAYERS TO FOCUS ON GETTING THE BALL IN

Over the years I have seen many players who alreadyhave the game and the strokes to be great players and to achieve great results but because of their fixation on how fast they must hit the ball, how the stroke must look, Their concern about what others are thinking, building pressure on themselves because of the score, a crippling fear of making errors and over-thinking technique, fail to reach their potential.

Here is the process I used recently to help change a players’ mindset to simply having Getting the Ball In as the number one priority.

Step #1:  I asked my player to drop the ball at the baseline and hit it across the net to me. 

I described exactly where I wanted the ball to land and the type of flight I wanted it to go there.

Step #2:  Once she was comfortable with doing that exactly how I wanted it, I began to return the ball back to her so that she now needed to repeat the target and flight off my return.

Step #3:  During this time I never corrected mistakes and never mentioned spins, contact angles, positioning of her feet or any other associated techniques. The exercise was to take her mind off everything except the intended target. My belief was that she had the techniques, awareness and focus inside her already… I was trying to develop her instinct for the game not more technique!

Step #4:  Over the course of the next week she made huge progress in reducing mistakes and immediately began playing points much better. Every so often I had to remind her to fix her focus back on the intended target whenever score pressure, the opinion of others etc started to overwhelm her.

However, her game had improved so much by focusing on the intended target that she changed back to it very quickly once reminded to do so!

If you have players who are failing to live up to expectations in tournaments and you feel they have a Priority Checklist problem give the above 4 steps a try.







  






Saturday, December 14, 2019

TECHNIQUE ACHIEVED... WHAT'S NEXT?





“It’s important to develop your game beyond technique and towards feeling…

…with feeling, technique improves”



The quote above is important because what many players and coaches believe is that great technique is the end destination. The belief is that with great technique you have arrived. That’s far from the reality!



Great technique is really important. It’s part of  the armour that will protect you from the pressure that comes in high stakes tennis. Your game is much less prone to breakdown in matches because good technique is your firewall to the “bugs” your opponent is trying to hurt you with.


However great technique is only the framework to the overall “building” that will be constructed around your game.  Those other additional parts to the “building” include things like shot selection (which shot to play) and strategy (why that particular shot). These elements will give your overall games meaning and feeling.


Another problem with this technique above all else attitude is that players then spend hours working hard to try and perfect their technique on a cosmetic level (how it looks) and fail to develop it past the level of just hitting thousands of balls.



Social Media is full of crazy drills showing players being encouraged to hit and run faster and faster… drills with absolutely no relationship to what happens in a real tennis match.


Here’s a suggestion. Once you have mastered your stroke fairly well take it to the next level. Give it feeling. Here’s how…




LET’S START WITH MAKING YOUR TRAINING REALISTIC.



Many of the crazy video posts on social media show a player crushing the ball 30 times, moving from the centre of the baseline to a short ball and returning back to the baseline. There are cones to jump over or run around and the whole thing looks impressive from the clubhouse. However, this scenario seldom happens in a match. It’s visual bubble gym!


Is the player learning how to create this short ball? Is the player learning how to make decisions on which of these short balls to attack? Is the player learning which is the best target (shot selection) to hit to? The player is working on none of these things. Please don’t waste your time copying them.


Your drills in practice should mirror what happens in a real match. To give your game meaning and feeling your practice sessions should include the following elements:

·     Creating the type of situations (balls) you need to win the point. Usually this will involve working to create short balls or high balls or both short and high balls.



·     Now you’ve created an easier ball to attack on but often you’re still left with another decision to make, attack this ball or wait for a better opportunity on another ball?



·     You’ve created the ideal ball and you’ve made the decision to attack on this one… now you have a final decision to make… where to hit it! This will mostly depend on your opponent. You need to consider their strengths and weaknesses and also try to  keep yourself safe from your opponent’s counter-attack.


All these components are fundamental to you becoming a better player. Unfortunately, I can’t provide you with these decisions. You’ll have to learn to make them yourself based on trial and error



Your job is to practice drills and points that mirror each of these components everyday so that your decision making becomes fast and accurate and your execution of them becomes almost automatic.



One thing is for sure however, by practicing in this way you are elevating your game past the cosmetic level (what the stroke looks like) and past the level of hitting 30 times to the point of exhaustion (who hits 30 balls like that in a match anyway?) your game will begin to click into place and the results will come!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

STORIES AS A DAVIS CUP CAPTAIN





As a tennis coach there can be few experiences that equal sitting in the court as a Davis Cup Captain. You’re an integral part of the drama and at the core of the excitement. The fact is that you are communicating directly with your player at each changeover and therefore actively participating in the match.

The conditions we experienced in the different countries we visited varied greatly. We were drawn to play Kuwait in an early round of the 1990 Competition during the time of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims around the world.  During the daylight hours you are expected to abstain from drinking and eating which would have been fine if we didn’t have to play the best of five sets in the hot desert sun.

The tie was broadcast locally live on TV and during the changeovers the camera would discreetly pan away from the players and into the crowd, allowing players from both countries to drink water!

The timing of our return home from that fixture against Kuwait was fortunately two weeks before Kuwait was invaded by neighboring Iraq, or we may have been trapped there during the hostilities.

In Iran one year the Thai Davis Cup team was jogging around the tennis complex warming-up before a practice session when a horrified groundsman came running up to us to ask us to cover our legs.  It seems it was improper for men to display their legs in public, even while playing sport.

On that same trip we were shown a far hill near the tennis complex with seating for about 6 people, This was the seating used by women to watch the tennis.  It was at least 200 meters up the hill and I guess had something to do with men’s bare legs again!

Crowds play a big part in Davis Cup ties, none more so than in our tie against Sri Lanka, also in 1990, when I was lucky to get off the court in one piece.

During the weekend of that tie there were 14 over-rules from the local umpire, all going against Thailand! On each overrule I got out of my seat to protest to the neutral ITF referee.  Sometimes my protest was brief but many times a full dispute developed.

In the middle of one particularly heated dispute, with the Sri Lankan crowd chanting obscenities at me, I happened to look up at the Thai section in the crowd and caught the eye of the President of the Thai Tennis Association, Khun Varin Pulsiriwong.  He gave me a sheepish grin and a look of “I’m glad you’re out there and not me”!

Having an input in the eventual result of some matches was thrilling; it was like captain and player competing as a duo.  I would use my tactical knowledge and the players would use their physical and technical skills.

Danai Udomchoke was playing an Iranian in Teheran during the opening singles match several years ago.  The local player was built like a bull, huge legs and incredible power in his shots.  Danai on the other-hand could have been mistaken for one of the ball boys!  (despite his small stature Danai was later to reach #77 on the ATP world rankings and was a great player).

I guess the Iranian crowd saw Danai enter the court and could smell victory, after-all their Thai opponent was so small and they were playing on home ground. The Iranian player had a large group of friends in attendance to witness what would be a comprehensive victory.

The first 2 games went by real fast with the Iranian blasting winners left and right.  Danai looked over at me wondering how to stem the flow of winners.  It also didn’t help that on every winner from the Iranian his friends would bang the tin fence surrounding the centre court in approval. The place was going nuts!

What I did next changed the match almost immediately.  At the next changeover I stood up from my courtside chair and applauded the Iranian as he came to sit down.  This guy was playing the match of his life, in Davis Cup competition and with his friends and family watching on from the stands.  He was literally playing on rocket fuel and now the opposition Captain was acknowledging his superiority! 

When the players returned to the court the Iranian began attacking the first point again, only this time his half-court forehand winner completely missed the court, hitting the back fence with a loud bang.  

On the next point he hit a backhand passing shot into the bottom of the net.  The tide had turned and Danai stormed back to win the match easily.  For the rest of the match the friends who had been so supportive in the beginning stopped banging the tin fence and fell silent.  The Iranians winners had dried up. 

Overall, I Captained Thailand 13 times in Davis Cup Competition.  I also Captained Thailand in Federation Cup, Asian Games and South East Asian Games competitions.  But it was the Davis Cup which was special to me and from where many of my best memories come from.