Have you ever been working on a player's forehand and thought "they're just not getting it". And instead of talking the player's ear off with detailed mechanics or trying every cue in the book, you decide to get them to throw a med ball.
All of a sudden, after just 1 or 2 cues - something like “thrust your rear hip” or “turn your torso, then release the ball” - they found the correct movement. You then return to hitting forehands and voila, they finally ‘get it’.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a step-by-step recipe when it came to building the ultimate tennis champ? Just add 10 years of skill training, a half-decade of physical development and a sprinkle of mental skills...and voila, a world-class player, just like that!
Jokes aside, the topic of ‘what it takes to get to the top’, is eternally interesting. Whether you’re a coach, parent or athlete, achieving high levels of success in your chosen sport, is often a lifelong dream. The odds, however, are stacked against us all.
By this point, I think we’re beyond prescribing tennis players to run long and slow (at least I hope we are). If you want to understand why this is the case, I urge you to read through this post, as I outline how the energy systems work and interact with one another.
Yet we still need players to be able to endure tough points, tight sets and long matches. No question about it. So how do we do this?
When beginners first start playing tennis, their movements are rather mechanical. While many coaches appear frustrated, this process is totally normal. Why so? Early on, a beginner uses a lot of conscious effort in order to complete a task. But with exposure (and hopefully proper instruction), their movements begin to stabilize...and eventually, after considerable time, they don’t even have to think about their actions, they simply ‘do it’.
If you’re involved in tennis at any level, you’re like me, constantly searching for ways to help players learn and improve.
At the base, though, what is it that we’re trying to improve? From my perspective, it’s skills - the more skilled a player is, in theory, the better they’ll perform (although even skilled performers can underperform...but that’s a whole other topic).
The serve is arguably the most important stroke in tennis - and the one in which players have the most control over. In today’s game, speed is a primary factor for players aiming to develop a potent service weapon. While I personally don’t believe speed is the only strategy of choice on the serve, it’s hard not to see value in gaining velocity on this stroke.
When looking at increasing serve speed, we should consider what it is that enables players to add considerable miles per hour. In other words, what qualities does serve speed (we’re talking first serve here), consist of? Is it strength? Flexibility? Balance?
For those of you who weren’t aware, my wife and I spent the last 2 years in Munich, Germany. It was a refreshing experience - especially considering that Munich is regarded as one of the nicest cities in Europe. But besides that, I’m eager to share some details about the tennis system in Germany, especially considering I was able to experience it firsthand
My aim is to give you an inside look at what competitive tennis in Germany is all about (based on my perspective) - from the club structure, to the elaborate ranking system and more. Overall, my experiences were quite positive - and I feel that the tennis world in North America can learn a few things from the German system.
Here's the typical trainer's concern; it's believed that players outside of the top 100 have worries that a guy like Federer doesn't - i.e. travel expenses, points to defend and so on. Many of these players perform a concentrated physical prep block for 4-6 weeks in Dec/Jan (just prior to the start of the new season) and then a number of 1-2 week blocks during the course of the year. These same trainers will also agree that this isn't enough - performing one 4-6 week block along with 2-3 smaller blocks during the year is an insufficient amount of time to develop a quality like explosive power, for instance.
There was a time, not too long ago, that everyone was advocating the use of sports drinks to aid hydration, electrolyte replenishment and overall sporting performance. I saw it with my own eyes. As a performance coach in an academy setting, I would travel the junior circuit, going from tournament to tournament. Youngsters would be gulping down neon coloured Gatorades yet could barely see over the net.
But then, a wave of anti-sugar marketing ads began coming to light. And all of a sudden, sugar-free sports drinks became the norm (if you were seen with a ‘regular’ Gatorade, you’d receive a long, evil stare from coaches, parents and other players).
Imagine this scenario. An amateur player takes a lesson from a coach with the hopes of hitting a forehand like Roger Federer.
Let’s say the coach plays along. He/she presents a sequence of images to the amateur in order to see exactly the various phases of Roger’s forehand. Next, the amateur performs shadow swings, going through each position as carefully as possible. The coach then feeds the amateur a few balls, providing feedback ONLY on how close the stroke looks to Roger’s.
Coordination training is an often misunderstood and at times haphazardly delivered element of physical preparation. As with everything in coaching, context is king. A simple search of coordination training can lead you to a whole host of elaborate and dynamic drills. A well-meaning coach sees these drills and looks to implement them in their next practice – again I’m not suggesting that this is malpractice, but, more often than not, the context for including that exercise is missing.
Based on some of my previous posts, many believe I’m not a fan of running. That, however, is not true at all! I’m a huge believer in running activities - but not the ones that have traditionally been prescribed in tennis books and in many tennis related research papers. A typical ‘old school’ prescription is to get players running long slow distances (LSD) in the off-season or during preparatory periods. The rationale is - ‘let’s build an aerobic base’. Hmm. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll do it again - energy system development is not that simple. You can NEVER truly isolate one energy system and completely disregard the others. You can bias one over the other, but there’s an interplay between the 3 (anaerobic, anaerobic-Lactic, aerobic).
I recently heard that periodization is dead. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it can be defined as the division of training & competition into various phases throughout the calendar year (this is of course a simplified definition - articles, books etc have been written on the topic but for our purposes, that’s all you need to know for the moment).
Before we tackle the statement from above, let me provide the background story. There was a once a time when athletes - primarily those competing in the Olympics - only had to (truly) peak once every 4 years.
Coaches, players, parents...even your aunt Judie know the importance of the serve in today’s modern game. More specifically, the first serve. The first serve is so critical that the top 10 servers on the ATP, year after year, win over 77% of their first serve points! And it’s not just on the men’s side. The top 10 women on the WTA win between 69%-79% of first serve points.
Want more proof? Look at Table 1 - in 2016, the top serving men won over 3/4 of their first serve points. On the other hand, when these top pros missed their first serves, they only won between 52% and 55% of their points.
I’ve been asked countless times - from tennis coaches to players and even parents - 'how can I get more leg drive on my forehand?' 'Or more jump from the legs on my serve?' 'Or more explosiveness when moving laterally?' There’s no simple answer. It truly depends on a number of factors, including your strength levels, coordination, training age, biological age, training history, genetics and more. But if I absolutely had to boil my answer down to one form of training, I’d have to look towards plyometrics.
There are many terms to describe plyometrics including plyometric training, plyos, jump training, shock training (that’s what Soviets used to call it) & ballistic training. I may use some of these terms interchangeably throughout this article but they all refer to plyometrics. Whatever you call it, it’s general premise is to increase power output.
This is the third part of this 3-part series on mobility & flexibility training for tennis. The first post was an introductory post that defined what mobility truly is (read that here) and highlighted some of the problem areas for tennis players - with a special emphasis on the hip and shoulder. The second part went into more specifics regarding the science of stretching and it's role in the overall development of flexibility (we also dispelled the myth that flexibility is only attainable by the special few). And it included detailed info on how to improve both range of motion (ROM) and strength while presenting a shoulder internal rotation stretch example. You can read that article here.
In this post, we'll primarily be looking at the differences between dynamic and static stretching. More specifically, we'll outline what role dynamic stretching (DS) and static stretching (SS) play in the warm-up of the tennis player and how to effectively implement each type of stretching into your pre-match/practice routine. Let's go!
In a previous post, we introduced mobility and how it’s not just a passive process but an active one - and it requires both flexibility AND strength (read that post here). I've studied joint mobility and flexibility considerably. From research articles, seminars, workshops to practical experience. Based on my studies, I am convinced that we can ALL improve joint function, flexibility and active range of motion (ROM). This may come as a surprise to many (often I hear coaches and players saying that "they've never been flexible" or that they were "born stiff"). The truth is, like any training quality, achieving more active and passive ROM is simply of matter of deliberately providing the desired tissues with a training stimulus, allowing time for recovery and adaptation and repeating this process.
As coaches, what do we do when young juniors misbehave? Or what about when they don't complete an intended drill? I’ve been around the game for a long time now. From academy settings, junior circuits, the pro tour and everything in between. And what kills me more than anything is players getting punished, either for poor behaviour or not achieving a specific task. Coaches yell, make players run, do push-ups, or suffer some other form of physical punishment. Is this really the best approach?
It was a hot, muggy summer’s day in 2010. After winning the 2nd set, the momentum was on my side going into the 3rd. I had never beaten my opponent, ‘Stan the Man’ as we called him (no not Wawrinka...but a very good player nonetheless). But I felt confident. I was moving well, dictating play...and I continued the good play until 4-1 in the 3rd. And then, after hitting an attacking forehand, I felt my right leg completely seize. I hit the ground, gasping for air, trying not to scream. But the pain was too much. My opponent came rushing over to my side of the court, along with fellow players and spectators...I knew what it was though, this wasn’t the first time I had experienced this sort of pain….it was a cramp.
When teaching various tactical scenarios to players, I often ask them the following question: “what do you think is the most common rally length in tennis”? Less experienced players jump to answers like 7 or 9 while those that have been playing for many years reply with 3, 4 or 5. Do YOU know what it is? When it comes to professional tennis, according to Brain Game Tennis, it’s 1. Can you believe that? The most common rally length (called the mode, in statistics) is 1! That’s a service ace or a service winner (i.e. the returner makes an error off the serve). This happens about 30% of the time. The next most common rally length is 3 - that’s a serve, return and one more shot.