If you like my work, consider checking out my NEW resource, Beyond the Swing - An Unconventional Approach to Tennis Mastery. It just came out the other day and is currently discounted (plus, use promo code 30LOVE to get an additional 30% off!). It’s not what you’d expect from an instructional resource on tennis.
There are 5 sections in Beyond the Swing. They are:
The Mental Game
Fitness, Nutrition and Lifestyle
Within each section, I cover 5-6 different topics - each is backed by either scientific or anecdotal evidence and all topics are presented in a very practical way. This includes drills, tips or recommendations that coaches and players can implement immediately.
Below is the intro from the ‘Tennis Basics’ section. Enjoy!
Many in tennis are fanatical about technique. Everything from a player’s grip, to their elbow placement on the forehand, to the degree of knee bend on the serve and everything in between. Some coaches take it to the point where you need a ruler, a protractor (and perhaps a PhD) just to analyze a basic groundstroke.
While I too believe that technique and mechanics play a vital role when it comes to playing high calibre tennis, we must respect the uniqueness of each individual. Take any 2 players on tour and compare them side by side, you’ll notice that variations exist - even when attempting to execute the same shot! There are some players who use a semi-western grip (Rafa and Serena) while others who use a full western grip (like Novak). Some have a straight arm at contact (Federer) while others have a bent-arm (Murray and Osaka).
We could provide countless other examples, but that’s not the point. Here’s the point - irrespective of these differences, all great tennis players possess commonalities. I call these commonalities ‘tennis basics’ . The consistent application of these attributes separates elite players from their sub-elite counterparts. The tennis basics that we’ll outline in this section are simple in principle, but implementing them consistently, that’s a whole other story.
Before we tackle the nuts and bolts of this section, there’s something you, the reader and avid tennis aficionado, must become aware of. Skill and technique are not the same thing. Technique is related to mechanics - the position of the elbow during the set-up phase of the serve, proper joint sequencing on groundstrokes, grip placement & pressure on volleys.
Skill, on the other hand, deals with the execution of a movement to reach a desired goal. For instance, being able to hit a certain target requires skill - the skill of accuracy in this case. Now, technique and skill are closely related - if I have better, more efficient mechanics, I will likely have a better chance at hitting my desired target, with greater repeatability, more power and so on.
Again, recall that no two players are created equal. We all have different limb lengths, strength levels, range of motion (ROM) allowances and restrictions, coordinative abilities and the rest. And no two players will strike the ball in the exact same manner.
Given this, skill building is fundamental. If a player doesn’t possess the ability to hit quality shots in varying conditions, environments and against different opponents - no amount of technical efficiency, power or tactical prowess will overcome this deficiency.
Lastly, greater proficiency with fundamentals - in other words, the skills outlined herein - will actually have a positive influence on mechanics! This concept is based on what motor learning research calls ‘Dynamic Systems Theory’ (DST).
DST is based on the premise that constraints can lead to changes in biological systems. This might sound complicated but it’s not. Basically, there are 3 types of constraints that can be applied to a biological system (or in our case, a tennis player). They are as follows:
Environmental constraints - playing indoors vs outdoors, playing with green dot balls vs regular balls, adjusting the size of court, etc.
Task constraints - placing targets that a player must aim to hit, restricting a player by allowing only slice backhands to be hit during a particular drill, etc.
Organism (body) constraints - directing a player to start every serve with their elbow in a certain position, getting a player to hold the throat of the racquet when preparing for a groundstroke to facilitate a shoulder turn, etc.
Here’s what you need to know about DST - when you implement a constraint, the system (body) adapts to meet the desired goal/outcome. For instance, let’s say I want a player to achieve more depth on their groundstrokes. To achieve this goal, I choose to manipulate the task - or in this case, the drill. One way I can manipulate the task is by telling the player they must hit 30 balls past the service line (a task constraint). Their focus shifts from just hitting the ball to aiming to hit into a specific area of the court.
This is a simple example that can be tweaked in a number of ways depending on whether the player is achieving the task or not (i.e. we can add other constraints to make it easier or more difficult). For example, let’s say the player is making a lot of mistakes into the net - the common cue is to swing from low to high or to hit higher. But that may not be helpful for every player. Another option is to manipulate the environment by adding a rope which sits a few feet above the net and asking the player to hit above the pseudo net (image below).
Implementing this type of constraint will often instantly change a player’s technique - no excessive cueing required.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe there’s a time and place to work on technique and mechanics, in more of a closed environment. In today’s developmental settings, however, the ratio of time spent on technique vs skills is uneven. The game is filled with excessive instruction, and not enough practice, exploration and self-learning. Because as we’ll see later in this resource, to learn, it’s impossible to absorb 50 pieces of feedback coming from every angle and on every ball. Learning requires time (sometimes that means time alone).
In this section, we will outline 5 basic tennis skills while providing drills to facilitate their development. As you’ll see, these drills are based on DST constraints - working through these drills will improve skills directly and mechanics indirectly.
Note, DST isn’t a new concept, but it may be new to many in tennis - and it sets the stage for what’s to come.
Also, we are mainly tackling the basics as they refer to groundstrokes - similar principles can be applied to other strokes. Nuances do exist, however; which I hope to tackle in future resources.
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