A few weeks back, I had the privilege of working alongside coach Marcel du Coudray. We were coaching his pupil - ATP player Marc Polmans - at the Rogers Cup in my hometown of Montreal. Marc was accepted as the last entry into qualifying and got his first top 50 win against Andrey Rublev where he came back from 3-5 down in the 3rd set and save 3 match points at 3-6 down in the breaker (Rublev was ranked #49 in the world at the time of the match).
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In last week’s post, we introduced the main physical training components that tennis players likely should focus on during the off-season. To get the best out of this week’s article, I suggest reviewing part 1 of this series first.
In this post, I’d like to tackle a couple key points. First, I’ll outline what a typical training week in the off-season might look like and how the overall cycle takes shape. Next, I’ll take a stab at commenting on the interplay and subsequent management of on-court and off-court training loads. Lastly, I will then offer some feedback - in other words, why it's my belief that training the various qualities outlined in last week’s article shouldn’t stop once the off-season cycle ends.
This is a 2-part post. In today's article, we’ll take a brief look at the most important physical qualities a player should focus on during the off-season and how to best train them. Part 2 will then focus on the application - how a microcycle might be organized, how it fits into the overall training cycle and the interplay between on and off court training.
Have you ever wondered what separates athletes that ‘make it’ from those who don’t? Are physical skills the key determinant? While at times it may be the case, I’ve seen many players in tennis settings with superior physical abilities get outperformed...so fitness alone isn't the answer. It must be technical and tactical abilities, right? While critical, I’ve also witnessed supreme skill, coupled with a sound game plan, get beaten time and again. So what is it then? All of these factors play a massive role in who succeeds and who doesn’t, I’m sure of it, but in my books, one factor seems to outweigh the rest - by at least a hair. The psychological component.
In last week’s post, we took a closer look at the principle of progressive loading and offered several ways in which we can effectively ‘progress’ a player both on and off the tennis court. To reiterate last week's point, it’s critical that we look at progressions from a long-term macro perspective. Why so? Well, progress is rarely (if ever) linear. Further to that, each of the biomotor qualities that we spoke briefly about last week (speed, strength, stamina, suppleness, skill), improve and regress, depending on which we give greater attention to (i.e. more training stimuli).
While there was a lot of positive feedback from last week’s post on blocked vs. random practice, there was also a bit of confusion. I suppose the term ‘random’ can be a bit misleading. To clear the air, this week’s post will attempt to clarify the supposed dichotomy between blocked and random practice and offer a slightly different perspective to the argument. Furthermore, there are 2 other forms of practice - called ‘variable practice’ and ‘constant practice’, which can be influenced by both block and random approaches. Lastly, several examples of each practice type will be offered and described, along with the 'why' behind their use.
Many experts in the field of motor learning believe that the way a coach interacts with an athlete, bears a tremendous impact on the improvements that athlete makes. These same experts, however, would argue that the organization of a practice is perhaps even more important than what a coach says to his/her athlete. Let’s assume that to be true for a moment. As a coach, would that change the way you look at your practices? As a player, would it affect your perspective when attempting to improve serve accuracy, for example?
Are you familiar with the ‘10,000 hour rule’? Many of you probably are. If you’re read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘Outliers’, then you definitely are. The premise goes like this; practice something a lot - 10,000 hours, or about 10 years - and you’ll develop expertise in that particular domain. It sounds simple doesn’t it. But is it truly so? Many of us, or our students, have played tennis for well over 10 years, but I wouldn’t necessarily start calling ourselves ‘experts’. Now we might be pretty good, but expertise, as defined by researchers in this field, means far more than just ‘pretty good’ or even ‘really good’.
If you’re anything like me, you may often marvel at the game’s best players. As an observer, I often ask myself, "how do they make it look so easy?" Many of us probably wonder if it's possible for anyone to play at that level. Or if you’re a coach, you wonder if you can ever get an athlete to that level. Just for the record, I don’t believe in talent. Even considering the dominance (and brilliance) of players like Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters. They all practiced (and practiced and practiced). This isn’t just opinion based, rather, it’s derived from a new-ish branch of motor learning called 'the science of expertise'.
Most tennis players spend hours on the practice courts. And for good reason - tennis is darn tough. The question is, are these hours on court productive hours or redundant? How can we know? To assess whether our training is effective (and that it'll transfer to matchplay) we must first understand the demands of elite tennis.
In this post, we’ll review a study by Pereira et al (2016) that dives into the movement details of professional tennis. Other studies have previously analyzed movement characteristics; but, those studies replaced tournament matches with simulated matchplay. The present study observed movement characteristics via official ITF sanctioned matches.
For many in the tennis world, this time of the year means tournaments, and lots of them. Players from all over are either preparing or competing in ITF Futures events, open tournaments and club matches. With that in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at a typical training week for players competing in weekend events/matches. Good news is, Dariusz Lipka (former 1000 ranked ATP player) was in town this past week to train & compete in an open event - a mini preparation block for his upcoming Futures circuit this summer.
A fairly recent retrospective study from Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach analyzed serve volume in professional and junior tennis players. The researchers sought out to find how many serves are hit in a set (and match) by pros and juniors. The aim of the study was to use this serve data to develop an interval serve & groundstroke training program for elite tennis players. Although others have attempted to devise this type of program for tennis players, this is the first to my knowledge that has looked at more recent serve data while at the same time developing a program that took into account intensity (as a % of max speed) rather than just volume (i.e. number of serves).
I’m constantly trying to bridge the gap between how players should train off the tennis court and how they should train on the tennis court. It’s important to look at on-court tennis training through a physical lens as much as a technical or tactical one as these qualities are all interrelated. Let's look at an example to illustrate this point. Say you're working on retrieving tough wide balls on the backhand side. Not only is technique targeted (attempting to refine open stance backhands, for example), tactics (being able to send the ball back high/deep and with plenty of spin for example) along with the specific movement qualities (explosiveness, acceleration, deceleration) are also being trained. As you can see, it’s very difficult to separate one quality from another as they are all in some way related.
Today's post is a bit of a change up from previous articles. It's a Q&A with WTA pro tennis coach Sarah Stone. If you haven't heard of Sarah, it's probably because you've been living under a rock. She currently coaches american Alexa Glatch and is the founder of the Women's Tennis Coaching Association (WTCA).
The WTCA is an organization with a primary aim of helping coaches learn to work with female athletes. They also coach several WTA & ITF players and regularly share extremely educational training content - no fluff here.
Sarah previously coached former world no. 4, Sam Stosur along with other WTA & ITF female players. She has a wealth of tennis knowledge both as a coach and a player so when she agreed to do the Q&A, I was pretty excited. Here it is, enjoy!
Not enough is written about female athletes. They’ve got charisma, class and most of all, they’re damn good at sport. In tennis, the women’s game is constantly improving. Not only are women hitting the cover off the ball, but more and more feel & touch are becoming a part of their arsenal. Many believe the women’s game is still one-dimensional - but in the past several years, different types of game styles have emerged. Look at Radwanska, Halep and even Kerber - they’ve got variety. Not to mention the level of women's tennis has strenghtened - you just never know who’s gonna make it deep into a slam anymore. Sure Serena’s had some streaks where she’s dominated the women’s game but recently, the draws are more open.
Over the years I’ve coached many female tennis players...and I’ve learned a lot. From the tennis court to the weight room and everything in between. I’ll share my experiences in this article…and hopefully shed some light on female players.