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

Saturday, December 14, 2019


“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…


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. Pleas 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!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019


One of the most neglected aspects in modern tennis is the ability to keep the ball low. Young players today are so focused on hitting bigger shots and are so fixated on topspin that their ability to keep a ball low is completely missing.

However the top players understand the value of keeping a ball low in certain situations and employ underspin a lot more than you think. Here’s when keeping the ball low is beneficial…

1.  To Stop Your Opponent Attacking You

It’s the era of big groundstrokes! Dominant forehands are now the norm and any ball waist height today is an invitation for your opponent to go on the attack.

By throwing in a low ball when in trouble during the rally you are neutralizing your opponent’s offense. The low ball has taken the ball out of his/her strike zone and gets you back into the rally on level terms.

2. When You Volley

If you are at net and playing a volley you are generally in a strong position to win the point. The only real concern you have is being passed or lobbed by your opponent.

This can be avoided by keeping the ball low because a passing shot or lob is much more difficult off a low ball. Keeping the bounce low may only be a small change but will make all the difference to your opponent’s options.

3. When You Approach Net

Many up and coming players today have relatively poor net games. It’s not just the quality of their volleys that’s causing them problems, it’s often the quality of their approach shot where the problem starts.

Similar to the Volley, any ball you approach the net on that bounces too high will give your opponent the chance to counter-attack.

By learning to approach on underspin (usually the best way to keep the ball low) and to vary the depth of your approach, will make your volleys much easier and your net game in general much more effective.

4. Slow the Ball Down

Everyone is hitting the ball fast and although I teach my players to hit with speed, I also like to see them mix-in slow balls sometimes.

This is particularly effective in women’s tennis where some of the most successful players recently have had the ability to use an underspin backhand to create some variety of speeds during the rally. Ashley Barty (currently world number 1) has a very effective one-handed underspin backhand which allows her to defend, change speeds and create an effective net game based on keeping a ball low.

5. To Create Variety

It’s important as a player not to be too one-dimensional. Being predictable allows your opponent to be one step ahead in the mental battle taking place in each match. It’s tough to win when you are “playing mental catch-up” with your opponent throughout a match.

By adding underspin to create low balls you’re adding another layer to your game.

The best players in our game got to the top not because they hit the ball faster than everyone else. They got there because they have the shots to attack and defend the most effectively. Maybe it’s time to add low balls to your on-court “tool box”

Thursday, September 26, 2019


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

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. 

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!

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).

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. 

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.

Monday, September 23, 2019


AS A COACH THE LANGUAGE I use is important. Something said the wrong way on court can have a negative effect on the player, while compliments tend to have a more positive effect.

I use the “X SIX principle” when talking to players on-court or whenever they have just finished their match. 

The “X SIX principle” means that anything you, say either as a parent or as a coach, is magnified by six times in the head of the player. It is therefore always important to filter your comments through the X SIX “filter” and imagine how your comment will be perceived if multiplied six times.

An example could be if, as a coach or parent you remarked that the player had missed many first serves in the match (which could be completely correct), and told the player this soon after their match. The result of that comment could be disastrous (remember the X SIX Principle) because the player could take the comment as a personal attack on them and their ability. Done repeatedly over time, these seemingly harmless comments around the practice court and during tournaments create a poor dynamic between the parent and their child.

Examples of this breakdown in the relationship between parents and their children are plentiful in tennis.

So, what to do?

Every young player, and many players not so young, want their parents to be parents first, and not their coach. They need separation from their tennis careers and their family life.

After a long day training or playing matches the player wants a safe space to relax. They may have played well or poorly that day but they don’t want to review the whole stressful account of the day in the car going home. They need the ride home to be their safe place.

As a parent, continually getting involved in a post-match autopsy that goes over every negative part of the match will at the very least turn the child off tennis and competing, but a much more serious outcome is that it could permanently hurt your relationship with your child.

Another unwanted outcome is that your criticism will eventually creep into your child’s demeanor during matches in multiple ways that could include forms of fear, anger issues and a general lack of motivation.

Here’s a two-step method for every parent to follow to help eliminate these negative issues already present in their child or to stop them developing in the first place:  

Be a Parent First
I remember my daughter being on court in matches and thinking how lucky I was to have a healthy, motivated daughter participating in sport. I used to think of how many children in the world that didn’t have the same opportunity to play tennis because of health issues or the fact that they had to grow up in a country where war or poverty restricted their ability to live normal lives. And here was my daughter playing tennis! Be eternally grateful for the opportunity to watch your child play tennis!

Use The “X Six” Filter
Before you make any comment to your child about tennis (at home or around the courts) use the “X SIX” filter on what you are about to say.

Do this by running your comment through in your head before you speak. Still want to say it? Ok, go ahead… otherwise put your comment away and leave it out. As you start to do this you will find that many of the things you would have said previously to your child regarding their tennis really didn’t need to have been said at all.

It’s not easy being a tennis parent and there are no manuals to help you know what and what not to do. Define your role as a parent (not as a coach). Apply the X Six filter to your communication whenever the subject of tennis comes up and your child will develop into a mentally well balanced competitor.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


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


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


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 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



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