Importance of Practice Matches

Importance of Practice Matches

How many times have you seen a junior with perfect strokes losing to someone who has less than perfect technique? I have been in tennis for over 25 years as both a player and coach and if I had a dollar for every time I saw a good “hitter” lose a match to a good “player” I would be a rich man. The difference between the two usually comes down to practice matches.


During the past 12 months I have attended most of the big U12 tournaments in the U.S. and I keep seeing the same thing. The kids with perfect technique are usually not the ones in the later stages of the tournament. While I was at the Easter bowl I watched the first seed, a boy who at first glance you would never in a million years think was the first seed beat a boy who was faster, more athletic and had much better strokes.

I spoke briefly with his father about how the boy practiced and the response I got was unsurprising, “He plays a ton of matches”. He said that when the boy was starting out he would play with everyone and anyone at the local park. It didn’t matter if they were young, old, beginners or accomplished players and that he learned how to construct points even before he learned how to hold the racket properly.

This fact is incredibly important for coaches, parents and player’s to take notice of. Let your kids play! So many times you see kid’s that don’t use their brains while they play. Problem solving on court is the single most important aspect to becoming a great tennis player at any level. What you are blessed with physically you can change to a point but you can never turn someone like Kei Nishikori into a 6’7” ace machine like John Isner. What you can do is help someone become a more cognitive and proficient player on the court by forcing them to work through obstacles.

The more you can put junior players into situations where they are uncomfortable on the court both in practice and tournaments, the better equipped they will be to deal with those situations. If we can agree that this is true then the answer is simple; play more matches. I started working with a top U12 junior about 14 months ago who for the better part of the previous year played only 3 tournaments and rarely ever played practice matches.

He drilled and trained 5 times a week but was never put into a real match situation and thus would freeze whenever the counting of points was introduced into the practices. I immediately put him in a tournament and needless to say the boy had no confidence and no idea how to create a point.

In order to create a solid player there has to be a balance. I’m not saying that all that is necessary is to play matches, of course that’s false. What I am saying is that no one can learn how to go from game plan “A” to game plan “B” or “C” or even “D”, if they are never forced to do so. No player always has his or her “A” game. How many times have we all witnessed Serena early in a tournament not have her best stuff but somehow find a way to win the match anyway. That’s why she is consistently in the semis and finals of the Slams instead of some of the other women’s players.

The same is true of players at lower level’s and juniors. In that match at the Easter Bowl the first seed out thought the other boy. He drove him nuts with short balls, deep balls, and changing up the pace constantly keeping him off balance. It was beautiful to watch even if it wasn’t beautiful technically.

I believe that coaches and parents need to make sure that their kids along with drilling and working on technique learn how to construct points and problem solve through match play. Let them go out there by themselves and try “crazy” and “stupid” shot’s let them make mistakes and hit drop shots from behind the baseline. Give them the opportunities to learn what works and what doesn’t and don’t feel the need to correct every tiny mistake they make.

In the end if a player put’s the time and effort in by the time they are 17 and 18 year olds most will have sufficient strokes, but the ones that have learned to think properly as well, will be in a much better position to be successful.

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The Right Coach, at the Right Time  

Coach CvetkovicThere are many moments in a junior tennis player’s career that are of vital importance. The transition between under 12’s and under 14’s is one of those. During this period there are many obstacles that need to be overcome if the player is to succeed. Some factors that immediately come to mind are things like a great work ethic, dedication, the physical/mental maturation of the individual and a willingness to compete.

At this point choosing the right coach becomes pivotal. This is where correct habits and routines are most easily built and the child’s game should be worked on from both a technical and psychological standpoint. The coaches most important job is to balance expectations, both parental and from the player themselves while keeping the junior engaged, eager to work and on the right progression.

I grew up playing tennis in Vancouver, Canada. I was a solid junior in the 12’s but never at the top of the rankings due to the fact that I had an aggressive nature and thus adopted that game style as well. As most young juniors with a game style they have not grown into yet I lost many matches to players who were steadier than I was. I had many doubts as to whether I was moving in the right direction with my game. I remember the transition from 12’s to 14’s as being the most difficult one as far as juniors are concerned. There were lots of kids who had matured physically much earlier than me and were already a foot and a half taller.

With my lanky stature and less than overwhelming power the 14s seemed daunting at best. My parents, both smart individuals, saw the struggles I was having and decided that perhaps a coaching change would be good for me. I switched coaches a few times the year I turned 13 but it was difficult to find the right fit. Each time it seemed as if the same issues surfaced; the coaches didn’t really care if I got better and the practices seemed arduous.

Never once did any of them come to watch tournament matches on the weekends or show interest in seeing what level the competition was playing at so as to have a better idea of what I needed to be working on. If things had stayed the same my tennis career would most likely have ended soon after that year.

Luckily for me they did not stay the same. A Russian by the name of Vadim Korkh had moved to Vancouver a few months earlier and had some success working with boys in the 16 and 18’s division. He was the only coach who showed up regularly to tournament’s and when my mother approached him to ask if he would take me on as his student he reluctantly agreed to give me a trial period. Reluctantly because he currently wasn’t and didn’t want to work with younger juniors.

This was a turning point for me for a number of reasons. First of all he instilled a great work ethic in me but at the same time made it fun and kept me interested by incorporating many different games and point situations. He understood that at 12,13 or 14 years of age working only one on one with a coach can become mundane and monotonous for even the most steadfast and dedicated young athlete.

So instead of just drilling 15 hours per week he would incorporate two weekly semi-private training sessions that would create motivation through competition. We worked on building a solid foundation for an aggressive game in the future and didn’t worry too much about loses and wins and thus didn’t forego playing tournaments because of the chance of a bad loss.

In short there was a plan for the development of my game as a whole. One of the greatest joys any young player can feel is seeing themselves work hard and improve. I improved quickly. I ended up winning many national singles and doubles titles in Canada and eventually earned a full scholarship to the University of Southern California. Today I work with a top ranked U12 boy in Florida who is currently going through this very same transition.

As a coach you must understand that every individual is different and that what worked for you may not necessarily work someone else. Any good teacher needs to have the ability to be flexible when it comes to junior players, especially in the 12-14 range. I’m hoping that some of the same principles that helped in my development as a player will work for the boy I’m working with today. At the same time if it doesn’t, I know that I am prepared to switch it up.

Every great player has some universal traits but not every player acquired them in the same way. Hard work, dedication and grit are all characteristics that can be taught, but not every player responds to a drill sergeant. Keep this in mind when choosing who will work with your little phenom.

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How Do You Learn?

One thing that is very important as a coach or teacher, is to understand how your pupils, students or players learn best. If I was to go back to my early days as a coach, I would never teach anyone the same way as I did then. When you are inexperienced and have just passed your first qualification, you very much rely on what you have been shown to teach others. But what a qualification or course doesn’t teach you is the range of adaptability and the understanding as to when you should change coaching techniques based on the individuals or groups you are working with.

I think the first thing we have to understand about a player is how they learn best and this can be determined via many forms. I like to ask questions. I will ask lots of them, trying to find out what the player knows, how tactically advanced they are, how observant they are and whether they are prepared to challenge something that they are not sure about or think is wrong. I also believe it takes about 2 years to really understand your player as that time allows you to predict their actions and thought patterns better through observing previous experiences. Knowing the player is more important than knowing how to hit a forehand, as the levels of trust and belief needed between the player and coach are pinnacle.


There are many different learning styles and techniques and each person has different preferences. Some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning, with far less use of the other styles while others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances. There is no right mix nor are your styles fixed. You can develop ability in less dominant styles, as well as further develop styles that you already use well.

Using multiple learning styles and multiple intelligence for learning is a relatively new approach. This approach is one that educators have only recently started to recognize as traditional schooling used (and continues to use) mainly linguistic and logical teaching methods. It also uses a limited range of learning and teaching techniques.

Many schools still rely on classroom and book-based teaching, much repetition, and pressured exams for reinforcement and review. The results are that we often label those who use these learning styles and techniques as bright and those who use less favored learning styles often find themselves in lower classes, with various not-so-complimentary labels and sometimes lower quality teaching. This can create positive and negative spirals that reinforce the belief that one is “smart” or “dumb”.

I have met some very smart tennis players over the years but their academic levels and general use of language would suggest otherwise. This is why it is important as a coach to look beyond the covers and be inquisitive about finding out how someone works. One of the children I taught who had massive temper tantrums on court, was always a the last to understand a joke and scrapped by in the bottom sets in school. He stumbled into playing chess and went on to travel Europe competing in Chess competitions in his age group! How his brain processed the information was amazing and I’m sure he was much smarter than all of us in this capacity.

By recognizing and understanding your players learning styles, you can use techniques better suited to them. This improves the speed and quality of your learning. There are Seven Learning Styles:

Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.

Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.

Physical (kinaesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.

Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.

Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.

Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

Coaches should be able to apply the various learning styles above into their coaching, but it is important to note what reactions you get from this. The other thing to note is that sometimes a certain way may take a lot longer for the player to comprehend and understand but once they have absorbed the information then it’s there for the long term.

An example of this was when I was working on changing the technique of an 11-year-old boy’s forehand as I felt he was too far round the grip (western grip) which was not allowing him to hit flatter shots and effectively deal with low balls. He could have jumped off a cliff when we started making the changes, as his physical learning isn’t advanced and he was so frustrated with not being able to just learn the technique immediately.

By showing him examples of the benefits of the change through video or observing others at tournaments, he was more engaged and also understood that if he is to compete with the best in the county he needed to take his game to another level. Through visual and verbal learning, the boy was able to make progress, but like with many things in tennis…you have to be patient as it all takes time.

I hope this article provokes thought around some of your players and maybe if you feel you are not progressing with a player then try a different approach.

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Top Tennis Gadgets to Improve Your Game

Gadgets are permeating every sector and tennis is no different. We’re not talking gadgets simply for gadget’s sake. Rather, pieces of tech which can help you to improve your performance. Just as with any other process, recording stats, finding trends and adjusting accordingly can help you to raise the bar. If you’re looking to step up your performance, then turning to tech could be the way forward.

Gadgets have revolutionised many sectors. Just look at mobile e-commerce in the retail sector or the increase in mobile bingo? Retailers like Macy’s or sites such as certainly haven’t hurt themselves by embracing new tech. Whilst recreational sport is by definition supposed to be fun, who says that it’s not more fun when you win? To do this, you may need to think in a more analytical way, or let these gadgets do it for you.

Babolat Play Connected

Babolat have developed tennis rackets with sensors inside the handle. The sensor tracks metrics, which you can then view by downloading their specially developed app. There’s even a community section, which allows you to share your progress with other members. This kind of tech is no longer just for the professionals!


You can expect a host of stats at your fingertips when using this piece of kit. These include longest rally, length of time that a ball in in play, an estimation of the energy spent and shots per minute. It’ll even give you info on individual shots.

 Zepp Tennis Swing Analyser

Players have a choice of two different mounts when opting to use this motion sensor training system. It’ll attach to any tennis racket using the racket mount. Or, if you plan on using it for a single racket then go for the pro mount. Players can track different types of strokes and the power generated during each. You can also track power generated during the whole game. However, in our opinion, this gadget is all about the 3D serving feature which provides you with a rendering of your serve.

Sony Smart Tennis Sensor

This Sony sensor can be fixed to the bottom of your tennis racket. The Bluetooth device will then track your performance, which you can view on the accompanying app. Wilson and Yonex were included in the design process, along with several other big names to ensure that the sensor is a secure fit. Sony has compiled a list of compatible rackets. The sensor can pick up multiple different swing types and will give you access to detailed data about each. The Smart Tennis Sensor includes a live video feature where your records become video footage.

The technology available to help players improve their tennis game is extremely impressive. Each of the above has its own merits, with all three boasting at least one unique feature. You’ll receive a host of intricate, yet easy to read data on your performance from each of these devices. In fact, these gadgets may even have you wondering how you ever got along without them.

Where the Real Reward and Payback Is in Coaching

I often get asked from coaches and trainers about how they can get into working with professional athletes in sport. A lot of coaches seem to regard working with professional athletes or teams as the highest level and pinnacle in coaching. Their perception is that If you work with the best athletes, then you are regarded as a great coach. Well, that’s not quite true.


I believe that some of the best coaches and teachers out there are people that you and I will never hear about, read about or ever see.

I have also always believed that the best coaches are the one’s who develop athletes, the one’s that do all the hard work BEFORE the athlete has reached a certain level of elite or professional.

In my experience, working with professionals is more about person management and planning, as where working with younger athletes is more about development, guidance and nurturing the individual.

My advice to young coaches who want to work with the top is to first take care of who’s in front of them right now.

So where should the REAL reward then be for us as coaches?

After 22 years in the game of athlete performance training and coaching, let me tell you where the most reward is.

The reward is in the individual, regardless of their status, level, age or ability. The reward is in the privilege we have been trusted and given to change peoples lives.

I would much rather work with someone who WANTS to be at practice, than someone who feels they need to be there.

The reward and payback is from the Joe Blog’s of this world who get up at 4.30am to be at your 5am class. That is a champion right there.

The reward is in seeing that kid who started with you and had 0.5% talent, reach his first entry level orange ball tournament or complete his first fun run. That’s a champion right there.

The reward is in seeing that guy who holds down a 9-5 job and has a family, reach his first marathon or Ironman from the early morning and late nights training sessions. That’s a champion right there.

Coaches, please don’t think that happiness and success is found when you get to coach the elite in our sport, it’s not. The real success, achievement and reward is found in working with those who truly VALUE your time and effort, those who LOVE and can’t wait to get to your practice session.

The one’s that WANT and LONG to be there, not the one’s who just NEED to be there.

Because that’s where the REAL payback and reward is.

Coaching success!