Saturday, May 24, 2014

TIMING - WHAT IS IT AND HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE IT?



THE RIGHT FOOT SUPPLYING TIMING TO THE SHOT


DESCRIPTION
Good timing is important in every sport.  Timing can involve swinging an object at a ball such as a tennis racquet or golf club, or in the case of football; you must achieve timing in your leg and foot to successfully kick the ball.

Timing is also important when throwing something. When throwing a basketball you use a wrist action and skilled players can throw half the length of the court with ease. For the ball to cover that amount of distance there must be something else at work assisting the wrist. Wrists can't function that efficiently without good timing.


But what exactly is timing and how is it achieved? If you are like most tennis players you know when you have timed the shot well (or not), but are not sure what actually occurred to achieve it.  Without knowledge of how you achieved good timing how can you re-create perfect timing at will?

Timing involves the successful synchronization of energy into a ball so that optimum power is achieved.

This transfer of energy can involve a racquet, a golf club or a leg. It can even involve a wrist used to propel a basketball. 

In each of the above examples energy is created from your interaction with the ground through your legs. Timing is created by interacting with the ground, and bio-mechanically sending that energy, through your legs, into your swing and ultimately into the ball.  Sending that energy too soon or too late means inefficient energy transfer – poor timing.

THE DRILL
Here are some suggestions to help you improve your timing.

  • Ground energy can be transferred through either the right or left foot so during practice try to hit off either foot as required. When the ball is short or deep you will probably need to use different feet. Practice becoming proficient using either foot.

  • Leave the ground when you make contact with the ball. By jumping to hit the ball you are practicing an extreme version of ground interaction. This exercise will help you become comfortable with the concept and will automatically improve your timing.



  • After hitting the ball maintain balance on the contact foot and lift the opposite foot off the ground. This will force you to commit fully to organizing a contact foot as you approach the ball.


Becoming proficient with your contact foot will have a direct effect on your timing which directly affects the quality of your game.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

PRACTISE WITH A "HITTER" MINDSET


GETTING THE CORRECT MINDSET IS ESSENTIAL TO
PRACTISING AND COMPETING BETTER


DESCRIPTION
The most important drill you do each day is the “drill” in your head.  The way your mind operates during practice will also be repeated during competition, therefore it’s critical to not only work on technical and physical aspects, but also practice the type of mindset that you need in order to compete at your optimal level.  

In many cases the technical problem you see when a player makes an error actually starts from a faulty mental mindset.

If you are a player who over-thinks when playing, chances are that you are making many unforced errors.  Over-thinking doesn’t allow you to play on an instinctive level where everything flows and your true potential comes to the fore.  As you make more and more unforced errors your confidence can reach an all time low. 

Over the years several players in my country were selected for special training because of their potential to be great players in the future.  They were given the best coaching and a regular hitting partner to spar with.  After 2-3 years of the best possible training and with considerable attention from the coaching staff each “designated player” failed to achieve success. 

There was a positive outcome to these “projects” however, in each case the project sparring partner went on to compete in Grand Slams!  How did the hitting partner achieve better results? If you examined what these Hitters did during those earlier training sessions you would find that they learnt to control the ball to specific targets and at specific speeds. They reduced their unforced errors to a minimum and they didn’t have any pressure placed on themselves from the coaching staff. They also had lots of opportunity to get to know their own game, while all the attention was focused on the player at the other side of the net.

THE DRILL
The next time you practice, change your mindset to a “Hitter” mindset.  Focus on providing the ideal ball to your practice partner.  If the ball lands out or you have to run wide just to get the ball back, focus on helping the rally to continue.  If you can truly adopt the mindset of a Hitter a lot of your personal insecurities drop away and this frees you to play your natural game.

Here are some tips for your next practice session:

  1. Adopt a service (to your practice partner) mentality
  2. Strive to “feed” consistent and accurate balls
  3. Adopt the coach’s role during drills by being the player to direct the ball to the designated area
  4. If you make an error apologize to your partner rather than get angry with yourself


These small steps will unlock your game from the perils of being too analytical and self conscious. You will also become a very popular practice partner!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

SAVING ANA IVANOVIC: CURING THE WAYWARD TOSS






ANA IVANOVIC HAS SUFFERED WITH CRONIC TOSS
PROBLEMS THROUGHOUT HER CAREER


DESCRIPTION
The ball toss is one of the most common ailments with many players when serving.  Ana Ivanovic is a player who struggles with her ball toss constantly. 

For many years I have taught the importance of using an intelligent wrist instead of focusing on the ball toss. However the toss is important because the wrist can only operate effectively if the ball is within a reasonable range.  If you have to reach or in some cases step to reach the ball, as Ivanovic does often, your serve will suffer with inconsistency.

The usual cure for a wayward toss is to work on the toss arm so that the ball can be placed in the perfect position for the ball strike.  Ana Ivanovic told me that coaches have been trying to work on her left arm toss for years.  They had tried a variety of drills and gimmicks but the problem still persisted. It was after hearing this that I started looking for an alternative method of creating a more accurate toss.

THE DRILL
The problem with players who have erratic ball tosses like Ivanovic is sometimes not a question of training the toss arm; with Ana it’s actually a coordination issue involving both arms. 

A simple drill I like to use to create coordination between the left and right arms is to have the player close their eyes and serve without the advantage of sight.  Think about what happens without sight.  If you can’t see the ball you are forced to resort to feel and timing to hit the ball.

What begins to happen without the advantage of sight is that the toss arm is forced to "find" the racquet arm.  For a few minutes the player will miss the ball completely.  Initially you will swing too soon or too late. You may also swing either too far to the right or too far to the left. With some feed-back from a coach or a friend standing beside you as to where the mistakes are occurring, you begin to calibrate your toss and your swing. Slowly you begin to make some contact, usually “framing” the ball, but soon you are coordinating the rhythm and placement of the ball instinctively.


Once you can consistently contact the ball with your eyes closed you have created true coordination on your serve. You will soon be hitting most of the unsighted serves into the service-box. 

Stop focusing your efforts on your toss arm and start spending time working on the coordination of both arms.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

IMPROVING SHOT SELECTION, COMPOSURE & FITNESS



HERE'S A DRILL TO HELP DEAL WITH STRESS, CREATE BETTER
SHOT SELECTION & IMPROVE YOUR FITNESS... ALL AT THE SAME TIME


DESCRIPTION
Many players suffer from high levels of stress when competing.  Overcoming the stress and performing to your true potential is sometimes the single most difficult task many players face.

It is a known fact that avoidance of stress is one of our strongest instincts.  Given enough time stress can kill us.

I have noticed on many occassions players willing to endure the continual frustration of missing easy shots to avoid the stress of playing one more ball. They will actually sabotage the point to avoid playing another ball. Do they admit this to themselves, never! This is all going on at a subconscious level and can be extremely frustrating for player's. Here's something that will also surprise you, it happenes at all levels, even at with professional players.

One example of stress avoidance would be a player who is not comfortable at net repeatably missing the approach shot to avoid having to volley the next ball. From the perpspective of someone watching from outside the court it looks like the player has poor technique on their approach shots, but actually it's all about their lack of confidence in their volley!

Some player's will attempt an impossible passing shot rather than defend the point with a lob or put the ball back into court and give the opponent one more shot to play.  This is avoiding stress.

Avoidance of stressful situations is a very strong trait within us.

To overcome the demands of competitive stress I help player's by playing a game called “The No-Winner Game”.

THE DRILL
To play the No-Winner Game you and your practice partner serve and return as in a normal point, however the goal for each player is to move the ball around and force your practise opponent into errors.  Neither player is allowed to hit winners. If you are the player applying pressure in the point, instead of taking pot shots to win points you are now forced to target your opponent’s fitness levels and their ability to defend intelligently.

As the player defending in the rally, your job is to keep getting balls back into safe places.  For example if you are under pressure in a rally and return the next shot half-court your opponent will continue to pressure you on the next ball.  However if you can return the ball deep crosscourt you are back in the point having neutralized your opponent’s advantage in the rally.

In time you start to become more composed, realising that if you can defend the point intelligently you can survive the rally and perhaps turn defense into offense. This is where your composure and shot selection improves.

The time spent in each rally increases dramatically so fitness levels also improve.


By focusing less on ball speed as your means of winning the point you become more comfortable in your ability to exert pressure during the rally and also more confident in your defence by learning to move the ball around safely and intelligently – the same traits displayed by all successful players.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

THE "NOMINATED PLAYER" GAME: Training 3am

WHAT SEPARATES GOOD PLAYERS FROM GREAT PLAYERS AND 
CAN WE TRAIN IT SPECIFICALLY?


DESCRIPTION
For many years I have traveled with some exceptional players.  The very best of these players reached top 10 ATP and top 20 WTA rankings.  It was during these trips that I began to notice a certain quality that distinguished exceptional players from merely very good players.

I began to notice that regardless of the circumstances, these few exceptional players would come on-court, either in practise or for competitive matches and strike the ball cleanly and without error immediately. It would also continue from the first ball until the last ball. This may not sound that unusual but this would happen regardless of time, place, weather, occasion or equipment issues.  

It occurred to me that if I could find a way to develop this ability by a systematic training process I could be training the very essence of what holds back very good players from becoming exceptional players.

I developed a theory called the “3 AM Theory”.  The 3 am Theory assumes that if, say, Federer and Nadal were woken from a deep sleep at 3 am in the morning and instructed to play a tie-break, their reaction to having to play that tie-break and the level they would reach during that tie-break would be very different from the majority of players I work with each day. 

There are two key elements to the 3am Theory. The first element concerns mindset...

While most players would be thinking of the reasons why they would not be able to peak perform at 3am (stiffness, injuries, the need for a longer warm-up, not enough sleep, equipment problems…), Federer and Nadal would be thinking of how to take maximum advantage of the situation (He will not have warmed-up sufficiently, He will miss more 1st serves, He will not respond well to a net rush early in the tie-break, "I must start the tie-break well by hitting a high percentage of 1st serves and eliminate my unforced errors"…). This is a very unique mind-set. It's a mindset of taking responsibility and is empowering.

The 2nd element concerns the technical ability of the player...

Most players would also make a lot of errors at 3am when not physically or technically prepared.  Their timing might be "off". They would perhaps lose points early in the tie-break because of poor technique due to the limited preparation. A whole range of issues including timing, balance and control could contribute to too many errors.

My belief is that "If you can produce your best tennis under any situation you have mastery over your game" and you must obviously understand and be able to execute the elements responsible in making your game function properly. Your ability to recall these critical elements of your game will make you a much better player than you are today.

THE DRILL
One of the ways I train “3 am” is by using the Nominated Player Game.

Before you start the drill decide what aspects you want to improve.  Go back and analyse your recent matches. What parts failed you during these matches. Be brutally honest! Some ideas could include:

  • Finishing the point better from the mid-court
  • Gaining a more confidend 2nd serve
  • Creating a more effective 1st serve
  • More consistent returns
  • Constructing the point better
  • Defending better
  • Being more offensive
  • Approaching the net more
(The options are really endless)

The drill requires two players to play points.  Our student of the 3 am Theory sits in a chair in the corner watching!  As the two “Player’s” play points, the coach waits for the opportunity to send the 3am student in to play a selected point “cold”.  

Imagine how you would feel coming in to play the points cold after sitting in the corner of the court for 5 minutes, and have to execute the very skill that you struggle with in matches.  Very tough. If you are asked to win points from the chair multiple times you begin to understand the most important element(s) necessary to achieve success with a particular skill, whether it's mental or technical. Recall that important element enough times and it becomes instinctive.


The crucial part is that you have to play points “cold”, without warming into your task. It will be the most productive time you ever spent sitting down!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

SERVING DRILL TO ENCOURAGE FORWARD MOVEMENT



CREATING MOVEMENT INTO THE COURT AFTER THE SERVE DEMONSTRATES THAT ENERGY IS FLOWING IN THE CORRECT DIRECTION

DESCRIPTION
In both men’s and women’s tennis the serve has become an extremely offensive weapon.  In today’s game if you can’t win free points with your serve you will struggle to win matches against the best players. 

The most noticeable change has been within the women’s game where the top women players now have extremely offensive serves compared to only 5 years ago.

When you attempt to hit bigger serves you need to propel your whole body forward and into the shot through the use of the legs.  

I have noticed that when players practice out of a basket they nearly always position the basket behind them at the baseline.  This makes sense if you don’t want to walk far to get the next ball.  However it can also create a bad habit of serving and stopping the forward momentum after hitting the ball. The player will limit the forward movement after serving because their next task is to collect a ball from the basket behind them.

Here is a simple trick to promote forward movement into the court after hitting the serve

THE DRILL
When practicing the serve, position the basket 2 meters in front of you, in a line towards your target service box.  After each serve, continue the flow of the serve and walk forward toward the basket on the follow-through.  Pick another ball (one ball only) out of the basket and walk back to the baseline to hit the next serve.


Once you have hit several serves you begin to “cheat” by walking directly over the baseline and towards the basket without hesitation.  This is the habit you were looking for, a forward movement into the court after serving.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

LEARNING TO HALF VOLLEY DEEP BALLS ON THE BASELINE



Deep balls are unavoidable so better to learn how to handle them when they come

DESCRIPTION:
For some, perhaps one of the most difficult ground-strokes is the deep ball that lands on or near the baseline.

Martina Hingis was very good at taking the ball off the bounce, often choosing to stand her ground on deep balls and return the ball with excellent timing.  I asked her once how she learnt to hit this type of ball so well.  She told me that as a youngster her mother would sprinkle objects just behind the baseline, making it almost impossible to step back for deep balls.  This had developed her ability to coordinate this very difficult ball. 

THE DRILL
If you are having trouble with balls that land deep and that give you little time to move back, try a similar drill to the one that helped Martina Hingis.

I’m sure you spend a lot of time hitting from the baseline during practice.  Next time you practice, spend some of your baseline practice keeping your feet on or inside the baseline.  If the ball lands deep, resist the temptation to move back, instead keep your heels inside the baseline and take the ball where you stand.

You will find that you begin to automatically shorten your backswing on both the forehand and backhand sides, and your knowledge of the racquet-face angles needed for each shot becomes much more instinctive in no time.


This simple drill will give you many more opportunities to practice the half volley on the baseline and will increase your confidence when you have to play this shot in a match.