Is there such a thing as “Perfect Tennis Technique”?

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John Cavill

When a player starts out on their tennis journey, it’s nearby impossible to predict what the final results will look like. Tennis technique doesn’t only relate to what the racket does during the shot but also the body and feet. I believe that the way a tennis player plays is a reflexion of their personality.

For example, someone like Nadal who is intense and a workhorse plays with the same qualities on the court while Federer, a more relaxed person who takes everything in his stride, plays with that same fluidity and efficiency.

In tennis, you will never play exactly the same shot twice in your life! What I mean by this is that there is a next to nothing chance of hitting two shots from exactly the same position, with their body parts in exactly the same position on the same place on the court receiving the ball with exactly the same spin, speed, direction etc., with the ball hitting exactly the same place on the racket strings. Through repetition and practice, certain situations can be improved so that the player can adapt better to perform the technique better.

When mistakes are made, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of the swing of the racket as the cause can be earlier on in the shot production process. As coaches, we have to be very observant and be able to comprehend what a player is doing so that there is an understanding of what needs to be improved. Once you have that clarity, the task of how you improve it is something that the coach and player will need to work together on.

Over the years, tennis has evolved so much and there is no reason to think why it won’t continue. Current players have learned from those in the past plus added improvements with the help of coaches. As one player starts to do something that gains them success, other players will look to change their game to be better, so this is one reason why one technique doesn’t suit all.

There are ranges of acceptability on technique but there will always be players which will step way out of that range and be successful. I don’t know anyone who would teach someone to play a forehand like Alberto Berasategui, the Spanish player who in 1994 got to the final of the French open with an extreme western forehand grip which also enabled him to hit backhands with the same grip.

On the clay courts he was very effective by being able to generate so much power and spin. This is an example of someone who played differently with some success but unfortunately, he retired from tennis with a persistent wrist injury which was probably due to his forehand technique.

Tennis technique applied to a shot is very much dependent on the situation the player is in and the type of ball that they are receiving. The most important elements of tennis that enable us to play well are:

  1. Perception – A player must be able to judging the balland read their opponent. Processing information via the eyes is essential and leads to making all the decisions when coming up with returning a shot. When the player judges the ball, they must be able to read the speed, height, direction, depth, and spin and when reading a player, they must be aware of their body position, how they’ve set the racket, where the ball is in relation to them and draw on previous experience where they recognise that certain responses come from certain cues.
  2. Movement – Movement for the next shot starts immediately after the player has hit the shot before. Their recovery, body position, split step and court position will all play a huge part in getting to the ball for the next shot. Finding the best position will come from the information received in point 1.
  3. Decision making – By recognising the situation you are in, whether offensive, neutral or defensive, what your options are based on – strengths, weakness etc., the earlier the player makes a clear decision on what they want to do with the ball will enable them to set in the correct position to execute the shot.
  4. Timing – Top players have unbelievable timing. They know when to arrive to the ball and how to release the kinetic chain from the ground upwards into the shot. There are so many body parts that make a desired outcome possible that by changing the timing of any segment can alter the outcome.
  5. Contact – How the strings contact the ball will ultimate decide what happens to the ball. The angle of the racket head, path it follows and speed will create the desired effects. Other factors e.g. whether the ball is hit in the middle of the strings, out in front and the height that the ball is struck will also influence the result.

Through practice drills, the shots will develop but during open play, I think it is better that the player focusses on improving the 5 points above. Developing these skills isn’t easy and are a lot harder than mimicking someone’s movements. The average club player doesn’t have all these skills developed to a high enough level, they don’t judge the ball well enough which leads to errors.

For most club players, technique comes further down the priority list of things to improve as you can see some great club players with poor technique but apply the playing skills very well.

Coming back to the title of this article…perfect tennis technique is an idealism which in reality, is something that is consistently unachievable but with improvement on judging the ball, movement, decision making, timing and contact, great technique can be achieved.

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Assessment at a Young Age Could Save Your Child’s Tennis

This article was prompted by an increasing number of parents over the years contacting me for a truthful assessment of their child’s tennis. It is not so easy to receive the truth for some so I am here to give you the truth.

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Todd Widom

Many parents get very excited when their 12 or 14 year old is obtaining excellent results. Does it mean that the child will go on to do great things in tennis? Maybe, but in many cases the real answer is no.

The strategy of spending money is easy, because as long as your child is winning everyone is happy. However, you may not be so happy in the later stages of your child’s junior career when they need to peak to get into a great school.

The essence of what I am getting at is if you think your child is having great results, be prepared that you are going to keep investing in his or her playing career. The issue is that you want your child to peak when he or she is 16 to 18 years old and what you must face is the reality that your child is going to require the necessary tools to attend a great university or maybe play professional tennis.

Just because your child is winning, does not mean that they have the necessary foundation and tools to play great tennis in their last couple of years of junior tennis, which is when it matters most.

The younger divisions of junior tennis are for learning and developing your game for when you are older. What parents must understand, is that your child should be learning how to train, compete, construct points, have a great attitude, and be mentally prepared. There is no time to be trying various strategies, or going from academy to academy. You will lose precious time and no child has that luxury. Certainly, if an academy or coach is not working out then a change is required, but due diligence and research is required to find the right coach.

When a person gets an opinion from a doctor that they need surgery, they should get a second opinion. The same holds true in tennis.

When a student is looking for a new coach or to improve on something in their game, they should interview coaches, obtain a second opinion, and select the one they feel like will get them to the best place in their game.

In addition, when your child is figuring out what college they would like to attend, they should have a list of schools, research them and visit them. I counsel many kids and their parents on these issues. You are making a financial investment in your child’s tennis, and your child is making a commitment to tennis. In addition, the coach is making an investment in your child and their tennis career.

What I keep seeing over and over again are junior tennis players not peaking from sixteen to eighteen years old and this is not only a very significant problem, but this is also a costly mistake the parents absorb financially and the player absorbs physically, mentally and educationally. Even though each case is different, what I can tell you is that the majority of kids do not have the solid foundation required to play at higher levels of tennis.

As a coach, mentor, friend, and teacher to my students, I make sure that all aspects of what creates a strong and solid foundation are set into motion from day one. This is the only way I know how to do it, and I am not merely a coach.

My business actually started this way as parents were panicking that they have spent all this time, effort and money, and at the most important juncture of their child’s junior tennis career, their child is faltering, their foundation is cracking and their dreams are quickly dissolving into thin air.

Do yourself a favor and get your child assessed by someone experienced so that you will save yourself major headaches in the upcoming years.

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Our Kids Need More Opportunities to Play    

This week I saw an article that stated that 32% of college scholarships go to foreign students, when I saw that I can’t hide that anger was my first reaction.

Picture of Javier Palenque

Javier Palenque

How can that be? We have fewer kids playing tennis here, attrition rates that are atrocious (double digits), a great market for continued play at the college level and 1/3 of the slots go to people who don’t live here in our country?

Image our normal Miami neighborhood, great city warm weather all year, sunny almost every day for every 10000 kids that we have only 200 play tennis, of the 200 after a few years we will lose 75% of them due to the cost and tennis structure of the game that means we will have only 50 kids left. Of the 50 left the odds of them playing DI or DII tennis are 2.4% (see stats). Ok from our original 200 pool of kids only 5 will play college tennis? In essence we lose 195 out of 200. For those interested in the math we lose 97.5% of our kids to go to the college level.

This seems unreal, how can we lose 97.5% of our kids and foreigners get to take 32% of the college slots?

That in essence means that for every 4.5 men’s college scholarship 1.5 goes to someone overseas and for the women of the 8 available approximately 3 go to someone foreign. This is madness, at this rate the sport will cease to exist.
Now, let’s look at the scholarships:

As you can see only DI and DII offer scholarships yet there are plenty of DIII opportunities to grow the game: 

From my point of view as a dad and defacto coach, losing 2800 college spots (DI and DII) to foreigners is unacceptable.

As throughout the years we know many kids that could have easily earned one of those slots and quit the game in the process. Another way to look at the 2800 lost slots is split them in age groups 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U (2800/4 =700) that would mean 700 slots per age groups that we are giving up.

You mean to tell me that if you are among the 700 kids in each age group we as a country lose you and those spots go to foreigners? Why do we lose you again? To even further top that off, DIII can offer 2288 slots for further college play that go to foreigners, why do we accept this?

SO MANY KIDS CAN GO to DIII sports if they stuck to tennis. Imagine a 512 draw in each category (12’, 14…) each one of those kids should be on a path to a scholarship and still have plenty of room for the foreigners. Fact is there is never a 512 person draw in any category. Why do we lose them?

For coaches: How can we accept that we lose so many kids? Those kids are your customers, those kids children will be your customers. GROWING THE GAME HAS TO BE PRIORITY #1.

For kids: Demand more playing opportunities through your parents, tennis is supposed to be FUN, not a bore. It has to be where you compete daily and weekly and have fun in weekends and play and play.

For parents: Educate yourselves, learn what mistakes to avoid, follow blogs, talk to other parents, start thinking in terms of a TEAM not your kid alone.

For USTA and its leadership you cannot look at these numbers year after year and continue with the same competitive structure that reduces the pool of people? We are losing our kids, our playing opportunities, our game. Am I the only one that sees this? Then we wonder why we don’t have kids that exceed at the sport at a world class level?. I will tell you why:

  1. Because we do not work together, parents, kids, coaches and the USTA
  2. Parents education for the sport is nonexistent, yet USTA has no programs for them.
  3. Coaches education is random at best. FIX IT!!!
  4. USTA tournament structure is from the past not adjusted to the reality ( remember Blockbuster video?)
  5. USTA fails to understand who its customer is? it is the parents ALL parents not those small number who believe their kids will be pros. They will not and you know it.
  6. It is simply too expensive.
  7. USTA player development #1 mission should be to grow the game for ALL, not search for the next FEDERER. Simply because champions are built with small family TEAMS. No federation can build a top player. NONE.
  8. Tennis is a team sport played individually, why don’t people understand this?

As more tennis programs in college will be cut given these numbers, then the playing opportunities will further decline. Accepting this outlook for our sport and our kids without doing something is insane, irresponsible and malpractice to our sport, our youth and their opportunities.

We need to grow the game for our kids, their youth and our country. USTA where are you? Where is the vision for the future. Key Biscayne has 26 courts, 2 red clay, 4 green clay, 18 hard courts, it used to be the USTA training center a few years back. Most of the courts are empty most of the time.

Having built in Orlando a facility 4 times bigger or 100 courts in Orlando that are used 15% of the time or less sounds good if you can make it work with 85% of the time being empty. I am sorry, I rather have more kids playing day in and day out at every park, school and weekend tournament.

I want the USTA to call for a summit to save tennis where parents, coaches and the leadership can LISTEN what other ideas are needed. Personally I rather see more kids not quitting the sport, and certainly want to see more US kids playing college tennis.

Who reading this does not agree with that?

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Athletes: Don’t Be a Comfort Seeker!

Definition: A comfort seeker is an athlete/player who would rather be guided/coached by someone who tells them what they WANT to hear, instead of what they NEED to hear.

Picture of Allistair McCaw

Allistair McCaw

They fear hard work. They fear the truth. They seek the ‘easy’ coaches, and avoid the ones who will challenge them and push them to do better.

It’s also easy to tell who the comfort seekers are. They’re the ones who make excuses and complain when you demand excellence from them. They play the victim. They will blame and often keep changing coaches. You will also hear them go on about how unfair life is. They will complain about the results they didn’t get – The same ones they didn’t work hard enough for!

Athletes, a few words of advice here:

Find a coach who tells you the truth and tells you what you NEED to hear. Build some grit, learn how to accept the hard criticism and get yourself disciplined. Stop seeking ‘easy’.

Stop looking for the ‘short cuts’. The world is full of ‘Yes people’. Avoid them! Because they won’t get you to where you want to go.

If your coach is hard (but fair) on you – then stick with it. Lucky you! – It means they actually care about you.

Believe me, you will thank them one day! These people don’t come around very often in life. Endure it, build some grit.

Stop looking for the next comfort seeker coach! – Man up (or woman up!)

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Injury – Catastrophe or Blessing?

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Marcin Bieniek

Sport is beautiful. Every person who participates in sport can confirm that. Hundreds of hours spent on being better than our yesterday’s version, tens of spectacular wins, many sad evenings after tough losses and several moments when in doubts according to our athletic future. Tennis has it all. Beautiful moments and depressing situations. One of the things than is included in all tennis players’ careers is injury. For some it is a catastrophe, for others it is a blessing.

Injury. Nightmare of many athletes. We know a lot of examples from the history of sport when injury was responsible for the end of promising career. We are also aware of numerous examples of people who become injured and didn’t achieve their potential.

The easiest example from tennis world is Rafael Nadal. Who knows what he could achieve if he couldn’t have serious problems with his feet and knees? Serena Williams is next. Accident with broken glass and hidden sickness were reasons why she had to stop her glorious career. Eugenie Bouchard? Slippery floor and serious problems that were dangerous not only for her athletic path but more importantly for her life. Looking at these examples we can see that all athletes are prone to get injured so it is important to know what to do when it happens to us.

You can do a lot to prevent injuries but you can’t be sure that you won’t get it. There are a lot of reasons why athletes have forced breaks. Some of the reasons are totally dependent on player’s actions while others can be categorized as „bad luck” situations. Learning from others’ accidents, analyzing own activities and thinking ahead are actions that serious players should consider to make own career injury-free as much as possible.

If you have car accident and the other driver is responsible for the crash there is nothing you can do about it. Just a bad luck. On the other hand if you run near the outdoor pool and you slip then injury is 100% your fault. That is why it is crucial to teach players how to be responsible for own actions and make them aware that one little moment of carelessness can ruin all the work and put your dreams on hold.

As the title of this article says injury can be catastrophe or blessing. It all depends on your approach. If you know how to deal with this situation and use this time to your advantage you will be thankful for that. Yes that’s true. A lot of people come stronger after injury and achieve much better results than before the break. On the other hand if all you do while being injured is to be sad and complain how unlucky you are I can guarantee that injury will be catastrophe that can make you closer to give up and end athletic career.

The ways to deal with injury as champions do:

 1. Understand why you get injured

There are two types of injuries: chronic and acute. Chronic injuries happen over long period of time and are caused of many micro injuries. For example if you practice too many hours at the young age and your body is not strong enough to deal with these workloads after few years you can get injured. On the other hand if you run to the drop shot and your foot stops immediately during the run you can twist or even break your ankle.

That is a typical example of an acute injury. To make injury a blessing you have to understand the reason of your current situation and make conscious changes in the future. Experienced players learn from their injuries and change volume of practice sessions, eating habits or put more effort into fitness workouts to make sure that injury doesn’t happen again.

 2. Improve others areas (not less important)

Competitive athletes don’t have much time for themselves. If they want to be the best they can they have to put a lot of work every day. Typical day for a serious tennis player looks like this:

Wake up – Breakfast – Morning tennis practice – Gym session – Lunch – 2-3 hours break – Afternoon tennis practice – Stretching session/Massage – Dinner – Bed time

It is not difficult to see that there is no much time left. That is why when player gets injured   he has a lot of time to accommodate and it is necessary to use it effectively. We all know that tennis is a mental sport but still we don’t practice enough mental skills to improve our results and get advantage over opponents.

Few sets of visualization is a great move while not being able to hit balls for several days or weeks. Watching tennis matches is another example. A lot of juniors want to become professionals but they don’t learn from them. If you stay all day at your home make sure you watch tennis matches and take as many lessons   from it as you can.

 3. Rest

Recovery is as important as work. Many athletes and coaches forget about this. Tennis players have tough live because there is really no off-season for them. 12 months of constant rivalry make it possible only for 7-14 days of vacation to charge your battery and come back to the race for points.

When you get injured make sure you get some improvement but don’t do too much to yourself. Passive time is great for your body and mind to get some fresh feeling and come back after injury with double motivation and more positive approach.

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