Showing posts with label tennis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tennis. Show all posts

Friday, October 18, 2019

HOW TO PLAY AGAINST A COUNTER-PUNCHER





AT A HIGHER LEVEL EVERY PLAYER LOOKS GOOD. The top players seem to attack every point aggressively with big full swings on every ball. Their mindset seems to one of all-out aggression, with the goal of finishing points quickly


Likewise, their defense is at times miraculous. When you are attacking them, these top players seem to be able to change into defense and hit incredible winners from impossible positions in the court. During your match you begin to see this same scenario repeating often. Your attacking game is being ripped apart by your opponent’s incredible defense skills!


YOU COULD BE PLAYING A “COUNTER-PUNCHER” PRETENDING TO BE AN ATTACKING PLAYER!


Sometimes when you review the match later you begin to realize that actually your opponent seldom hit winners from offense. You begin to realize that the full swings he/she were taking were a type of disguise. While looking and sounding scary they weren’t actually your opponent’s main source of points. Most of their points were coming from defense, particularly their counter-punching whenever you attacked them!


YOU HAD BEEN PLAYING A COUNTER-PUNCHER AND YOU DIDN’T REALIZE IT!


I liken this to a fly being caught in a spiders web. You had continually player into the hands of the counter-puncher each time you attacked them.


Therefore, Step #1 “Know That You Are Playing A Counter-Puncher”


If you are unaware that your opponent is setting you up for the counter-punch you will keep playing into the same trap.


Counter-punchers need not be skinny nerds wearing thick horn-rimmed glasses. They can be muscular specimens with huge serves. Don’t be fooled by appearances


Which leads to… Step #2 “How Do You Attack A Counter-Puncher”?


The short answer is… with caution and intelligently

Any time you attack an opponent there is an element of danger. Offense usually involves you going inside the baseline, even as far as the net. With some opponents you’re going to win the point often this way. The sheer intimidation factor is enough. These opponents will give you lots of free points when you attack them… but not the counter-puncher!


When you attack the counter-puncher you are entering their world. You think you are controlling the point but you’ve actually played yourself into a world of trouble, and you’re in danger of getting tangled in thei web.


That’s the warning to be cautious! Now here’s how you attack a counter-puncher intelligently.


Playing offensively against a counter-puncher requires you to juggle 4 important dimensions successfully, all at the same time and on every point… (yes, it’s mentally very exhausting). The 4 dimensions to coordinate against a counter-puncher are:


Speed:

You need to get your speeds right. The counter-puncher will prefer you to attack them at a certain speed (fast or slow). Learn the speed they prefer and give them the opposite speed!


The counter-puncher wants to take the speed of your ball and hurt you with it but if you don’t give them their preferred speed you have neutralized one part of their “web”


Angles:

Your use of angles also needs to be done intelligently. Let’s first consider the counter-puncher themselves.


Attacking the counter-puncher wide will show you their preference for passing shots. They will try to pass you either down the line or cross-court and again, they will prefer one of these options over the other.


Once you begin to see their preferred option on the passing shot you can set-up a trap (web) of your own!


Now let’s consider the angles you will be giving the counter-puncher. As you come forward to attack the counter-puncher you need to make a decision on either  going wide to the forehand, backhand or through the middle (into their body).


Again. Whether you attack the counter-puncher wide or through the middle will depend on what you are learning about their preferences as the match unfolds. Once you know their preference, give them the opposite.


Height of the contact:

The counter-puncher will try to get the ball as low as possible to as you come forward. They are trying to make you lift the ball and create a high bounce at their side of the net to help them pass or lob you.


You’ll need to play these low balls they are giving you intelligently. Do not dropshot these balls. Instead push these balls deep, either to a corner or down the middle (remember “Angles”).


Position of your feet for Contact:

Be aware of how far you are positioned over the baseline at all times. The closer you are to the net when you contact the ball determines how offensive you are in each particular  point.


Likewise, if you can keep your opponent’s feet as deep in the court as possible while attacking them the chances of them passing you or hitting a winning lob are reduced


Counter-punchers are tricky opponents but the important thing is to identify them early in the match (if you haven’t already seen them play previously). Once you know you’re up against a counter-puncher your task is every bit as mental and strategic as it is physical








Thursday, September 26, 2019

COMMON COACHING PHRASES I USE ON-COURT




An important coaching tool I use every day is the repetitive use of phrases. These common phrases help the student and I stay on the “same page”. They can also be used to set the tone of the lesson in terms of intensity.


Here are some common phrases I use and the meaning behind them


 “COACH YOURSELF”!
Every lesson has a purpose and often that purpose is introducing new techniques or patterns to the player. Once the new technique or pattern has been explained I’ll most likely go straight to live points and challenge the player to reproduce the lesson topic while under pressure.

To do this successfully the player needs to recall the key parts of the new technique or pattern and what I tend to do often is gently nudge the player with “Coach Yourself”! I’m asking for self-awareness, self-discipline and I higher degree of focus from the player when I say this. 


 “YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT”!
Rather than being a negative statement I use this phrase to demonstrate to the student that I believe in them and I believe in their ability.    

I’m telling them that I expect better and they should too!


“YOU’RE NOT HERE TO PRACTICE”!
This will sound strange I know! What I am trying to do with this statement is to get the message to the player that winning is important, even during our “practice sessions”. 

I don’t see any point in treating points during practice or tournaments differently.  Points are to be won… otherwise why play them?

Often the players I’m repeating this phrase to during practice sessions are having trouble competing in tournaments mentally. I’m attempting to change their mindset from “I’m practicing to improve” (Future) to “Points are to be won, not practiced” (Present).


 “HOW DOES THAT FEEL”?
I’m constantly asking players how they feel in practice because I desperately need their feedback on new techniques or patterns they are trying to adopt.

From their feedback I am able to either help them immediately with a solution, or stand back and let them continue to develop further at their own pace. 

I gain understanding from their answer. 


“DEMONSTRATE TO OTHERS WATCHING”
Often a player learning a new technique does so better when they are asked to observe themselves from “outside”, as a bystander would. This “observer” mindset helps them overcome their lack of confidence in performing the new technique correctly.

If they are applicable to the particular lesson I’m doing, I’m repeating these phrases often. I’d rather repeat the same thing often than talk non-stop on a variety of themes. That’s confusing for students. 

Be careful to always keep the scope of your on-court verbal instruction to a minimum if possible. The student has to focus on many things when they practice and therefore if your instructions are too frequent, they have no opportunity to self-learn.




Tuesday, September 17, 2019

TRAINING RECALL IN YOUR PLAYERS





I’m not a fan of using repetition to practice when training players. I use repetition drills very rarely. Repetition drills are when a player has to hit many balls one after the other, either from a basket feed or with someone at the other end giving you the same ball.



Repetition drills contain very little that is similar to match-play. I understand it looks good to people watching the lesson from a distance outside the court and on Instagram posts but repetition drills offer very little to players wanting to develop a new technique or pattern for their next match.



Often coaches feel that they have done their job by showing the student the new technique and then drilling it many times through repetition. They believe the transfer of information (the new technique being taught) from practice court to match court should happen automatically and is the players responsibility.



This is false. It’s the coach’s job to introduce the new technique AND to create a “Bridge” to match-play so that the player can integrate what they have been taught.



Part of creating that “Bridge” is the ability to recall the key elements of the new technique.  By training the recall abilities of the player you are ensuring a smooth transition from practice court to match court.

 

I focus mostly on training a player’s RECALL of a new stroke or match-play pattern. Here’s an example which can be used by you for any stroke or pattern you desire…



“John” was trying to improve his serve so that it’s a bigger weapon and can do more damage to his opponent in matches.



I worked with John on his front foot, in the knowledge that a technically better front foot will improve his timing, feel and power, and that will translate into a much better service weapon.



This is the stage I deviate from conventional training methods. Many coaches would have John hit from a basket, perfecting the serve and the front foot in particular for the remainder of the lesson.



This is the “Repetition Method” of teaching a stroke. With basket repetition the player is solely practicing technique by means of muscle memory.



Training a player using the “Recall Method” is different and much more effective than the repetition method, especially later when the player needs to use the technique in matches and under pressure.



Here’s how I trained John’s ability to Recall the key elements of the front foot. There were 5 key components I used that you need to be aware of when training your players:



1.    Common Errors

John and I took note of the common errors that were occurring as he tried to implement the improved front foot during the serve. 


One of those common errors was his tendency to shift his weight onto, and off his Front Foot too quickly during the serve. John was rushing the technique and needed to spend more time on top of his front foot during the service motion.

By identifying the most common errors that occur the player can focus on these common errors and be more aware of their remedies




2.  Strengths and Weaknesses



I asked John which service target was his least preferred option when serving and he told me it was the serve down the “T” (middle) on the deuce side.

This is where we focused our attention mostly in the drills and points that followed.


Make the player aware and practice those vulnerable parts of a player’s new technique that have the potential to cause problems later in matches




3.  “Point” focused

After a very short time of showing John the front foot technique we very quickly progressed to playing points.

The reason is I see no value in repeating the front foot technique many times from a basket, when under match conditions later other factors will be tested. Those “Other Factors” cannot be tested while hitting from a basket.


If you are training tennis players always remember that tennis is competitive and includes scoring… all new techniques must be taught with the understanding that the new technique must help the player win points and that it must hold up under pressure in matches.



4.  Consequences

If there were no consequences to us making errors or playing poorly what would be the point in trying to improve!


Creating consequences for John helped him improve the front foot faster. While playing points John was faced with the following consequences (you can try to introduce these consequences to your players also):


SCORING: Because we played points and kept score (short tie-breaks are perfect), if John’s serve didn’t perform well he lost points and obviously then found it difficult to win!


RESULT: If John didn’t use the front foot well the ball tended to go long over the service line (out). If he used the front foot well the serve would be much better. 


He got immediate feedback on his new front foot technique based on the whether the ball went in or out – consequences!


DECISIONS: Serving from a basket (repetition) doesn’t involve decisions on what type of serve you want to hit. During the points the decisions John made each time he served had consequences.


He had to perform the new front foot technique AND make good decisions about the speed and placement of the serve and live with the consequences such as his opponent
attacking his 2nd serve, approaching net on the Return or simply continually putting him under pressure because his serve is not good enough.


Don’t wait and expect the “Bridge” from practice to match-play to develop automatically. It just won’t happen.



By teaching recall whenever you work on a new stroke or pattern you are ensuring that the player is prepared for up-coming both technically and mentally.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

OPEN & CLOSED GROUNDSTROKES




LET'S BE CLEAR from the start, you need both options! Both open and closed stances have their advantages and disadvantages.
Here’s when it’s best to hit an open stance ground stroke and why…


1.  Better for higher balls because you can generate more power and maintain balance


2. Can help disguise your intentions on certain balls


3. Easier to recover from wide outside the court and return to the centre of the court


4. Helps maintain contact in front on deep and fast balls (returns)


5. Better peripheral vision 

When you select to play a closed stance ground stroke factors to consider are…

1.  Easier to play approach shots that are short and low


2. Helps to disguish mid-court forehand finish

3. Better suited to a later contact point


4. Preferred option on shorter balls through the middle

Nearly every ground stroke or return of serve you play can be hit with either an open or closed stance. It’s up to you to decide which option is appropriate for each ball.

Go ahead and experiment with both open and closed options and if you are weak on either of the two options take lessons from an experienced teaching pro so that you become more proficient. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

THE LONG LAST STEP



With the French Open starting this week there is plenty for us to pick up while watching the matches that will help us improve our own game.

One technique you will see a lot on the clay at Roland Garros over the next two weeks is “THE LONG LAST STEP”. It’s a technique used by the top  players to help with coordination, timing and balance as they move around the court to hit the ball.


1.           Momentum

When you run to hit a ball momentum is created. As you reach the ball that momentum has to be disciplined as you attempt to hit the ball

Because of the momentum of your body, this last step has to be longer than the other steps you used to reach the ball. 




2.          Balance

When you create a “Long LAST Step” you are trying to place a foot in a position that will support your momentum and balance you while you hit the shot.

This foot is called the contact foot and it needs to be wide…



3.          Line

What the best players do now is coordinate a Line from their head over top of their contact foot at the moment of contact.

This will give you perfect balance as you hit the ball which translates into consistent ground strokes.  



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

THERE'S A GENERATION WAR IN TENNIS TODAY




There’s no doubt that we are experiencing a GENERATION WAR IN TENNIS AT THE MOMENT .


The old guard of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are under threat from the new guard consisting of Thiem, Zverev, Tsitsipas and Shapovalov


Recent results in the lead up to the French Open have seen the new guard matching and even beating the old guard in each tournament


Most surprising during this time has been the declining form of Rafael Nadal. The former “King of Clay” has not been able to win any of the tournaments during this early part of the European clay court season. His chances of winning the French Open this year look bleak.


Federer can be excused for not winning any of the lead up tournaments but he has shown us his game is good enough to beat anyone on the day and at this stage of his career he’s probably quietly saving his best effort for the grand slam.


Djokovic is the pick of the old guard to go all the way at the French. He’s a proven winner on clay and has this incredible ability to lift his form at the most important times. Djokovic is the ultimate competitor


Within the younger brigade I pick Dominic Thiem to do well at the French. But I really fancy Tsitsipas to do the best of the younger brigade long-term.


Tsitsipas has much more potential than the other younger brigade to development further, especially physically.  I expect to see him surge in the rankings over the next few months so long as his temperament keeps him focused throughout that time.


Zverev has been a disappointment to me. If he was going to become the next dominant force in tennis he would have done it by now. This “hesitation” in his career is not a good sign.


The New Guard have knocked the door down. They are showing no respect for reputations.It’s been a long time since the French Open has been this unpredictable. But the battle between the old and the new guard is even more interesting than who eventually wins the title.


“Cometh the hour, Cometh the Man”

Thursday, May 9, 2019

WHERE DO YOU SEND YOUR AWARENESS?




“THE ABILITY TO QUICKLY SHIFT YOUR AWARENESS AROUND TO DIFFERENT PARTS OF YOUR GAME IS A KEY TO PLAYING WELL”



You need the ability to shift your awareness around as you play. Each shot requires a slightly different focus, no stroke is the same.



Here are some of the main areas you need to send your awareness to as you play a match. Some of the areas I mention may surprise you. Tennis is not just about awareness of the ball and your opponent… there’s much more to tennis than that!



1.   Court Awareness

Because you are playing the ball from different places within the court you need to shift your awareness to where you are standing sometimes.



This is even more important when you are in less familiar territory such as very deep off the baseline or very wide on either side of the court.



When you are made to play from these “special” positions on the court, shifting your awareness to where you are standing will help you factor in the height of the net, the distance to the baseline and the type of spin required.



2.  Ball Awareness

The ball tells you everything. It tells you when to move back (for deep balls), when to move forward (short balls) and the timing you will need to adjust to (slow or fast ball)



Therefore, an awareness of the ball is critical to playing well



3.  Opponent Awareness

Opponent awareness covers both where you should hit the ball (hopefully where your opponent is not!) and the type of ball you should hit to your opponent (tactical)



Far too many players are concerned only with what THEY are doing. Developing opponent awareness will take your game to the next level.



4.  Racquetface Awareness

If I was only allowed to give just one tip to a player it would be… develop your awareness of your racquet head.



The racquet head is the surface the ball takes its instructions from. If a player has no feel or control of  their racquet head they will never reach a higher level



Great awareness of your racquet head is more important than footwork!



5.  Self-Awareness

To play well you must be constantly monitoring yourself.

Awareness of your technique, confidence levels, fitness levels and the type of strategy you are using are all important during a match




Saturday, April 6, 2019

2 SIMPLE SERVE BOOSTERS!




If you can’t hold serve you can’t win the match 



That’s how important the serve is in tennis. Players with average groundstrokes but great serves have done well in tennis, particularly on the faster surfaces.



The serve is not a complicated stroke but it can be prone to break down under pressure in matches. It’s important therefore to understand the key elements of the serve so that under pressure you can focus on 1 or 2 things that will make it work for you.



Here are the 2 key elements I recommend you focus on when under pressure in matrches. Each of the two elements, if done correctly, will cover any problems you may be having with your serve.



THE FRONT FOOT:



The front foot is the “Bridge” for your serve. It’s the transfer point for your forward movement during the serve.



If this “Bridge” is weak or not operating well enough your serve will lack power, timing and balance.



The Front Foot is therefore responsible for…



1.   Supplying Power

2.  Is the source of Timing

3.  Creating Balance



THE WRIST:



The wrist puts the ball in. It adapts within the contact zone to meet the ball early, late. Left or right. It is the steering wheel for your serve.



The wrist also transfers the energy within the swing into the ball. Much the same as you throw a ball or crack a whip, your wrist can increase the velocity of the racquet head by accelerating during the swing.



The biggest single problem with most serves is a stiff/ locked wrist. Make sure your wrist is relaxed and flowing in order the transfer efficiently the energy sent to it by the Front Foot.



The Wrist therefore has 2 important functions when serving…



1.   Finding your target

2.  Accelerating the racquet head



Within these two techniques you have the answer to any problem you will experience.



During practice sessions focus on isolating these important two elements to solve problem issues that arise.



Monday, March 25, 2019

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY!



A coach can only do so much with a player who is experiencing destructive mental issues related to tennis competition.

Players who find competition mentally too much to handle and suffer from choking, low levels of self confidence or an inability to close out important matches are generally the victims of their environment. They are reflecting the environment they live in everyday when they compete in matches.

Prolonged and repeated negative mental issues in matches when competing as a junior player, also continue to be a problem for the player much later in life, even though the environment which has caused the mental issues in the first place might have changed for the better.


Considering a majority of competitive junior players suffer from an almost crippling mental war inside their heads, it would be fair to say that a majority of players never fully reach their true potential.

It therefore becomes clear that the  environment we grow up in when we start our tennis is critically important. 

Coaches can sometimes merely inherit the mental problems of their students, although in some cases coaches actually add to, or at worst create the negative mental issues.

This article therefore is for Parents and Coaches who need help in understanding how to avoid their child or student developing mental issues related to competition in the first place. It can also be a reference in how to handle players who have already developed issues mentally and ultimately how to reverse the problem.


A father recently messaged me while on his way to a tournament with his son. They were on their way to play the first day of the Nationals.

The stress in the car must have been considerable because his son had asked his father "What if I lose"?

His father had messaged me asking "What should I tell him"?

The most important thing for Parents and Coaches to remember is that in order to play at their best a player must enjoy the process of playing. Enjoyment unlocks the mind and allows you to perform to your potential. Any form of mental contamination will hurt your performance.

The root causes of contamination are broad but can include unrealistic expectations, unrealistic pressure, low self esteem, low self confidence and fear.

In my experience most of this is picked up by young players from the people they want to please the most, parents and coaches. It is therefore important to know now that what you say as a parent or a coach becomes extremely powerful... the emotion you send to a young player within your comments is magnified 5 times!

 IF YOU THINK THE SUBTLE COMMENT YOU JUST MADE WAS NO BIG DEAL, MAGNIFY IT BY FIVE TIMES... NOW TELL ME IT WASN'T MEANT TO HURT OR PUT STRESS ON THE CHILD!


I prepare myself to react to situations around players. I prepare for possible questions that may come, either in a few moments or in several days. I'm ready.

I also react to questions or situations in the third person. Often I observe myself speaking to a player from the perspective of the third person, monitoring my words, my tone and my body language.

Timing is important. Don't bring up possible stressful topics around stressful times, before or after matches for example. I'm not saying tough topics can't be discussed. I'm saying be smart with when you bring them up. 

DEVELOP EMPATHY FOR YOUR CHILD OR STUDENT

Parents often ask me what they can do that makes a real difference to their child's tennis. By monitoring how you act and what you say around your child you will create an environment whereby a happy, competitive player emerges. This is the single most important  ingredient in developing a successful player.

With enough awareness and empathy you will also be able to correct unwanted behavioural problems that have already developed.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

THE CRAZY GUY FROM KOREA





The Korean guy in the front row was losing control. 


It was 1991 and Beijing was the venue for the Asian Games.  We were playing for at least a Mixed Doubles bronze medal and Thailand hadn’t won an Asian Games medal in tennis for almost 40 years! Personally, this was the biggest match of my tenure as Thai National Tennis Coach.  


The Thai team of Wittaya Samret and Orawan Thampensri were in a match with a typically tough Korean team.  You can always count on Koreans to make it a battle.  They are always in great shape physically, mentally very strong and always 100% committed.  


I had encountered the Korean attitude in many events prior to this.  Players from Korea could sometimes over-step the boundary of what was considered good sportsmanship sometimes.  This didn’t make them any friends on the tennis circuit and I had even witnessed Korean coaches physically abusing players several times.


I’m not sure whether or not the guy in the front row was a coach attached to the team or not, but he was calling instructions between each point.  The rules of tennis clearly state that you can not communicate with the players in any way during the match, either verbally or with signals. 


Several times he had been warned about communicating with the players’ during the match but he continued to do so.  


I caught his attention and asked him to stop talking to the players.  He replied that he was not “coaching” the players which, even if true, didn’t alter the fact that he was communicating non-stop with them.



News of the match had also now spread to other sporting venues in Beijing and the Thai media covering the Asian Games started arriving at the tennis venue in anticipation of a rare tennis medal for Thailand. Every Thai television channel was represented and all the Thai newspapers were there. 


I already knew all the Thai media people from other events we had played and they had always supported me personally and written favorable articles about my work with the Thai team.  For them and me, an Asian Games medal was the icing on the cake.  



But there was still the matter of this crazy Korean guy in the front row!  As the Thai duo began to dominate, he got more and more irate.  Once again I asked him to stop communicating with his players.  This time however he began climbing the seats in front of me with the clear intention of punching my head off my shoulders!  As he climbed over the first row and made his way up to my seat he continued shouting abuse at me, the blood vessels in his neck bulging and his face turning purple. 


The media guys around me began sensing a much bigger story than the Thai Mixed Doubles team picking up a bronze medal!  Camera lenses were poised for the biggest scope of their fortnight in Beijing. I could visualize the headlines in Thailand the next day announcing “Thai Tennis Coach Involved in Brawl at Asian Games”.  


Thankfully other more sensible Koreans in the group had a firm grip of his jacket and pulled him back to his seat.  Several from the Thai Media were claiming “He was going to pick a fight with you”! Still concerned about newspaper headlines the next morning I deflected their concerns by down-playing the whole incident.  


Thankfully Wittaya and Orawan did win Thailand’s first Asian Games tennis medal for 40 years. 


For years after Beijing I never traveled to Korea.  I guess my early experiences put me off going there, believing that the place would not be that friendly and the people difficult.  When I did actually go there several years ago with players I was shocked to find one of the prettiest countries, and the friendliest people you would wish to meet.  What a contrast!  

During the month of May Korea is stunning

Today it would be my first pick of countries to live.  However if I ever did live there I might have to keep looking over my shoulder for that crazy guy from Beijing!