Monday, May 22, 2017

WHAT ARE THE TENNIS FUNDAMENTALS?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

SHOT SELECTION MADE EASY

CORRECT SHOT SELECTION GIVES YOUR GAME COHESION AND MEANING

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


Monday, April 17, 2017

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




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

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

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

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


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


So what do I replace the cosmetic mindset with? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what to do now...

Avoid the golfers "cosmetic" mindset at all costs!

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


Sunday, July 5, 2015

JUNIOR DEVELOPMENT SERIES #1: CLAY V'S WOOD

Many players reach a very high ranking with huge deficiencies in their games.  It seems that it comes down to whether you opt for doing "A few things really well" or "Many things OK". But it doesn't have to be that way.


Women's tennis is full of players who have solid, dependable  groundstrokes, no serve, no net game, but have still reached the top 100 on the WTA ranking list.

In the men's game its less obvious but there are still players with a limited range of strokes and who depend on a very conservative game plan to win matches.

This limited range of strokes and conservative approach to points often comes from a players time in the juniors, especially if the player was successful. often players, coaches and parents are not willing to expand the game and take on new initiatives. Pete Sampras is famous for deciding to change from a two-handed backhand to a one-handed backhand as a junior, only to lose early in tournaments for the next twelve months.  

Therefore it has been possible to create a successful career based on the "limited" approach to player development in contrast to an "expansive" approach. What I believe however is that today its getting more and more difficult to reach the top with a smaller skill-set than in the past.

As tennis develops the day of the the multi-skilled, multi-faceted player has arrived. players must be able to not only attack the point at a high level but also defend the point at a high level through a range of strokes and shot selection options.

If we decide our goal is to develop a player with a broad range of skills so that their long term prospects are enhanced, how exactly do we go about doing this day to day?

The best description I have ever heard to explain this task is this...

"THE GOAL IS TO DEVELOP A PLAYER WHO IS OFFENSIVELY EXCELLENT ON CLAY, AND DEFENSIVELY EXCELLENT ON WOOD"

Think about that for a moment. Being offensively excellent on clay (perhaps the slowest surface we play on) means giving that player the instinct and weapons to excel on the slowest, and therefore the most difficult surface in which to do so. Creating a player who can excel defensively on wood (once quite a common surface for the early travelling professional players, and an extremely fast surface) means giving that player the tools to do so.


It now becomes the responsibility of the coach early in a players career to introduce elements of the Clay V's Wood philosophy in practice on a daily basis. This philosophy opens up a whole range of topics re the Serve, Return, the Groundstroke Rally, Net Play etc which I would be happy to help the reader with if you would like to contact me in the comments below.

The days of the conservative approach to player development are numbered. As more players reach the top based on expansive, well rounded games, coaches will be required to develop these players from the very start.






Saturday, June 27, 2015

MAKING YOUR SERVE IMPOSSIBLE TO BREAK

The serve is a unique shot in tennis because its the only "closed skill" shot we hit, meaning we control all the elements from start to finish. All other shots are "open skilled" which means we must react and adapt to what our opponent sends our way.


I believe a big part of serving well is the attitude you bring to serving. If you feel the serve is merely a way to start points then your serve will never be a true weapon. I believe that the serve is your premier weapon and the best opportunity to win points quickly and consistently. You should maintain an aggressive and confident mindset regarding the serve.

Having a more positive, aggressive mindset over time also creates "instinct" that helps you maintain control of your service games, maintain momentum with your service games and the ability to get yourself out of those tricky break point situations that come along sometimes. 

In order to create instinctive service shot selection when a player doesn't have it a coach can introduce key components of service shot selection and the required service mindset by giving the player "tasks" to perform during service games in a match.

These tasks should be introduced during real competition matches to be most effective but can be practiced before tournaments on the practice court also.

I like to give players five tasks, one for each service game. The player focuses on his/her task for one complete service game. The player completes each of the five tasks in rotation, returning to task #1 after they complete task #5.  I make sure that each service task, if done well, will almost certainly set-up a strong service game that should win that game.

Here are 5 examples of service game tasks:

  1. Attempt 2 service aces in this game
  2. Win the 1st and 3rd points of this game
  3. Win 75% of your service points in this game
  4. Win the 1st and 2nd points of this game
  5. Don't commit two consecutive errors in this game

The coach should monitor the players performance during the match and do a post match review of the tasks. Soon the player will begin to think instinctively, adopting the aggressive, confident and smarter persona you were looking to develop.




Tuesday, January 6, 2015

THE 2 MUST HAVE SERVICE TECHNIQUES

Everyone wants a better serve because a better serve almost certainly means that your game will rise to a higher level. The serve is the single most important shot in the game.

E


The serve can only improve in 4 ways
  1. Accuracy 
  2. Power
  3. Consistency
  4. Variety
Luckily there are two easy to learn techniques that if mastered, will give you all four of these desired outcomes.

1. The front foot

The front foot for a right-handed player is the left foot, and it's the right foot for a left-handed player. 

The function of the front foot is to become the "bridge" for weight transfer from the back to the front. Think of the weight transfer during the serve as an action involving three points. (1) Weight on the back leg/foot (2) weight transitioning to the front foot, and (3) the finish position after contact, which is forward and inside the court.

The important middle phase, phase 2, between the back leg/foot position and landing forward into the court after completing the serve is your front foot. It acts as a "bridge", staying stable as the weight transfers from behind to the forward position, and it supplies energy to thrust the body up and forward to hit the ball.

The front foot also performs several other important jobs. The timing for your serve will come from your front foot and you should place your awareness there during the service motion. If you develop feel out of the toe of the front foot you will be able to time the ball perfectly every time because toe awareness allows you to fine tune the serve and achieve that effortless "pop" on the ball that all advanced players have.

Lastly, the front foot creates a powerful interaction with the ground similar to the final foot plant of a high jumper, building tremendous ground forces that transfer through the body and into the arm and wrist and eventually the ball. Power for the serve comes out of your front foot.

The final "must have" service technique is...

2. The Wrist

If you can maintain a loose wrist at the end of the service action you can use it to direct the ball (left or right) and achieve depth accuracy (deep or short) and the degree of spin you desire ( excessive spin or relatively flat).

Here are the things you need to be aware of for accuracy, direction and spin.

Accuracy
You can achieve a deeper serve by hitting the ball later in the contact zone. Hitting late means the racquet face will be open on contact, which will send the ball longer.

By creating early wrist you achieve the opposite, this time the racquet face strikes the ball early, sending the ball short.

Direction
Direction means degrees of the left to right axis. By bringing the wrist through to the left or right you can archive simple direction variations. Practice enough and you can soon target the lines of the service box easily.

Make sure there is no racquet-head contamination as you follow-through. Avoid squeezing the grip prematurely, simply allow the weight of the racquet head to dominate the follow through completely.

Spin
The methods spin is taught on the serve has been far to complicated. To achieve spin on the serve simply finish your racquet-head above the contact point. Less spin means finishing slightly above contact. Increasing spin means finishing well above contact. It's that simple.

You can finish above contact either by means of the elbow (be careful to never extend the elbow completely straight as this creates tennis elbow), the wrist, the legs or a combination of all these methods.

With spin you can achieve increased consistency and variety. When you focus on spin, as with a 2nd serve, become more aware of what the ball is doing in the air, meaning the flight of the ball and where the 2nd bounce will finish. The 2nd bounce tells you where the returner will have to position themselves to hit the ball and your preferred 2nd bounce target will be mostly outside the doubles sidelines and/or high and deep.

So you can see that by developing the front foot and the wrist you can open up a new world of serve potential.

THE 5 TENNIS MYTHS THAT WILL HURT YOUR GAME

There are a lot of tennis myths out there that have been circulating for years. The longer they circulate the more credibility they gather. Many of them can actually hurt your game, particularly if you are trying to play at an advanced level. Here is my list of the 5 most damaging tennis myths...



  • Bend your Knees
If you are trying to bend your knees on groundstrokes you could be making a big mistake. Without understanding the reason why we bend our knees the danger is that the important 2nd step will be missing.

What is the important 2nd step? It's straightening the legs again after that initial bend. This straightening action transfers the ground forces that the bent knees have prepared. Therefore in reality bending knees is only the preparation phase, while straightening the legs creates the all important interaction with the ground which sends a chain reaction through the body to assist your swing with timing and power.         

Therefore if you're running around the court bending your knees and keeping your knees bent throughout the groundstroke as many players do, you're not going to be timing the ball well or hitting with optimum power

The bottom line:: The correct phrase should be "Transfer Ground Energy to the Ball"

  • Spend  Time with a fitness trainer
      Fitness trainers are fine if you want to get fit or lose weight but be very careful using a fitness trainer to help your tennis.

      What happens often is that the exercises given to you by the 
      fitness trainer work against correct tennis bio-mechanics, creating problems with timing and balance.

      Make sure that the fitness expert that you go to knows tennis 
      technique, particularly how a tennis player uses the ground to supply energy to the stroke and how a tennis player achieves dynamic balance while moving and hitting on-court

      The bottom line: Your fitness trainer must know tennis technique and bio-mechanics


      • Punch your Volleys
        The whole idea of "punching" your volleys is that your volleys 
        become solid and crisp. The problem with this myth is that often when a player thinks "punch" they meet the ball well out in front of their optimum contact zone. Where is the 
        optimum contact zone? It's beside your body, not in front of 
        your body. When you volley beside your body you creat natural underspin control, which gives you feel for depth.


        Hitting volleys well out in front can also effect the angle of 
        your racquet face, making it flatten on contact with the ball. 
           

        Hitting volleys with a flat racquet face means there is a danger of hitting too long and over the baseline or not getting enough elevation on a low volley and hitting the top of the net. Both mistakes come from a general lack of feel which is the main problem with the "punch your volley"myth.

        The bottom line: "Catch" your volleys later in the contact zone for underspin and greater control of depth

        • Move your Feet
          You hear players being told all the time to "Move" their feet but what exactly does that mean? The usual response from players hearing this command is to giggle up and down more until they either lose focus or get tired, after which time they go back to their usual footwork routine.


          Moving your feet more does not mean better footwork, and 
          certainly does not mean you play better tennis.  You need to have been taught correct footwork and how to use footwork to the betterment of your tennis. With a knowledge of correct footwork and their proper function during the point a player will gladly move their feet all day because it's helping them coordinate better and time the ball smoothly. 

          Moving your feet simply for appearances will never last long , in fact it's distracting to a player because they have to take their focus off other more important tasks during the point.

          The bottom line is: Be specific with what you want your feet to do. "moving" is non-specific. Balance, timing, creating ground inertia, balance and agility are all specific tasks for 
          which the feet can be trained to perform on demand.

          • Watch the Ball
            Watching the ball is fine if you are simply keeping a rally going with a friend but if you are competing in a match it's going to hurt your game. Opponent awareness is one of the most important tasks you undertake in a match. Opponent awareness helps you know where your opponent is positioned, where they are moving to and what shot to expect from them next.

            These skills develop over time as we play more and more and play at a higher level. We develop a sense for the options that could come our way based on observational experience. With these newly developed skills of anticipation we are able to devote more time to opponent and court awareness.

            Beginners simply have enough trouble hitting the ball cleanly. They must devote most of their focus on moving and coordinating the ball and racquet. As we get better opponent and court awareness develops along with peripheral vision.

            The bottom line: it may be time to stop watching the ball so much. If you are already striking the ball well start to develop more opponent and court awareness to progress your game.