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The 1st letter below is from Sean Brawley, an Inner Game spokesperson, in response to TennisOne Publisher's Kim Shanley's newsletter, "TheSecret to Happiness." Kim responds below.

TennisOne,

I enjoyed reading Kim's blog article on “Flow-Secret to Happiness.” I found it interesting, well written, and an accurate description of Cziksentmihalyi’s ideas. I really appreciate your love for learning and your passion for advancing the game of tennis, player development and coaching.

I also enjoyed your most recent blog article about which analyzed Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game ideas. I agree with you that the Inner Game approach can lead players to the state of flow. Gallwey provides a simple framework and a proven approach that has helped literally millions of athletes and coaches learn, perform and enjoy what they do more.

However, I found some “fallacies” and gaps in your article and I would like to share my thoughts with you and clarify some Inner Game concepts that I believe you may have misunderstood or misrepresented.

For those readers who don’t know me, I am a former top 150 ATP Tour player who met Gallwey in 1994. I have worked with him for over 20 years. I am the first certified Inner Game coach in the world and I am credited with assisting him with the revisions of the IGOT and IGO Golf books in 1997.

I have worked with hundreds of tennis players worldwide from beginners (just today!) to ATP Tour pros, was Coach Advisor to Pete Carroll for 9 years while he was at USC, and have consulted with the New York Yankee player development group 7 times in the past 13 years. Three years ago I helped Gallwey co-found the Inner Game School of Coaching for experienced business coaches.

So while I am not speaking for Gallwey himself, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the Inner Game.
Also, the source for my comments are the Inner Game of Tennis, its sequel Inner Tennis, all other Inner Game books as well as my own direct experience.

Here are my thoughts:

SELF 1 VS. SELF 2

In your article you stated that “Gallwey labels the conscious mind as Self 1. The goal of mastering "the inner game" is to stop Self 1 from interfering with Self 2, which is the unconscious body.”

This is fundamentally the most basic idea of the Inner Game and I can understand fully why you might believe what you wrote, but it is inaccurate and not the whole picture. Gallwey writes about the “ego-conscious mind” and refers often to allowing the body and the unconscious to play freely, but the entire reason he named Self 1 and Self 2 the way he did was to go beyond that and not concretize it. (In 1972, everything was being blamed on the ego!)

Self 1 is not the conscious mind and Self 2 is not the unconscious mind/body. Self 1 is that part of us which interferes with our potential and Self 2 represents our full potential to learn, perform or enjoy ourselves. Gallwey makes reference to this in the foreword of the 1997 revised version, but unfortunately it was removed in the latest publication. He states it clearly in later IG books.

The conscious thinking mind and the unconscious body/mind can both be used effectively and ineffectively. Our "natural" instincts can be tapped to accelerate learning and performance and they can also interfere. This idea that our conscious, slow thinking mind and our unconscious, fast thinking mind can help to further our aims and intentions and have built in biases which interfere with them is stated succinctly and clearly in the acclaimed book "Thinking-Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman.

That we interfere with ourselves and can be our own worst enemy is still, 43 years after IGOT was first published, mostly overlooked in the “culture of coaching”. The coach who understands how people actually learn, what gets in the way, and how to adeptly navigate the player through this territory will be well on the way to becoming a highly effective coach.
  
DEVELOPING POTENTIAL VS REDUCING INTERFERENCE

I believe you're on the right track when you distinguish between reducing interference and developing potential. At the time Gallwey wrote the book, he found his students gained so much improvement by helping them reduce self-interference that he emphasized it.

But his approach can also improve an athlete’s development in a HUGE way when compared to normal techniques. I have many stories of Pete Carroll, the NY Yankees and current tennis students as evidence of this.

Gallwey created a simple formula to describe this, which appears in Inner Tennis and later IG books, as well as (I think) in the IG articles I wrote for your website. The formula is this: P = p - i, or Performance = potential minus interference.

From this formula one can see clearly that there are two paths to improving performance (or learning and enjoyment): 1) develop our potential skills and talents and 2) reduce interference.

As you can see, if you reduce interference you achieve immediate improvements in performance whereas, as you mentioned, developing potential can take a long time. This applies to physical skills as well as mental and emotional skills.

Many players have written Gallwey and shared how they have used his IG ideas to learn, perform and enjoy their tennis more. But I also many others who felt frustrated because they used an IG tool like “bounce-hit” or counting merely as a Band-Aid for their current ailment, rather than in a process of continuous improvement. After a while they became bored with it, forgot its value, and stopped using it. Same with many coaches.

The way I interpreted your article, though, was that it was an either-or proposition. Inner Game is ONLY used to reduce self-interference and has little or no role in learning and development. You state that Gallwey cites mainly examples of working with beginners. I believe this is inaccurate.

In fact, Gallwey clearly states how to apply the Inner Game with a player at any level in the chapter titled “Natural Learning.”

One personal example: When I first met Gallwey, he offered to coach me on learning the Inner Game approach. I asked him if he was busy the following Saturday. He asked Why. I said I didn’t know how to teach the Inner Game way and wanted to get the “how-to” manual from him. He laughed and asked me when my next lesson was. I said the next day. He told me that was when my Inner Game training would begin. He was going to help me rediscover how to learn from my own experience. My students would teach me most of what I needed to learn about coaching effectively.

It is the greatest gift I have ever received.

Further, I disagree with your interpretation of the IG's counting (bouce-hit, 1-2, etc) as only helping to reduce interference and "taking the pressure off."

First, “bounce-hit” or counting when the ball bounces and a player hits not only reduces self-interference, it greatly improves a player’s natural ability to track the ball and “read” it. (A double whammy according to the formula above!)

This is now seen as a critical skill in “receiving” the ball. It works not only in tennis. I used "pitch-hit" and other focus exercises to help the NY Yankees player development program go from #23 to #1 in one year back in 2001 and stay in the top 5 for nearly 10 years. I have also used it effectively with the German Davis Cup team. (You can see a short video of me and then-captain Patrick Kuhnen on YouTube)

So the Inner Game is not just effective with beginners.

Second, in my opinion, there is a HUGE difference between "taking the pressure off" and "reducing interference". I believe "taking the pressure off" is part of the story but only a small part. Learning how to relax, focus, trust, let go, create clear intentions, commitment, etc are other aspects of this whole.

Developing these inner skills doesn’t take the pressure off—it helps us deal with pressure in a more effective way. In the Baghavad Gita, a nearly 3000 year old book from India, it is stated over 40 times that we need to "let go of the fruits of our actions" and "not be attached to our results". Krishna helps Arjuna quickly develop the mental attitude and skills necessary to do this.So clearly we as human beings have been dealing with this for a long time!

You referenced The Road to Exellence by Erickson. Erickson writes that purposeful, deliberate practice is one of the critical factors for achieving mastery and sustainable high performance. I think my contribution to the Inner Game has been to put it into a clear developmental model.

I have come up with what I call Mindful Practice, which I believe is a superior approach to the current way we practice and train. I have applied it to tennis, golf and baseball and it has proven highly effective in accelerating learning and achieving high levels of performance that can be sustained over time.

NATURAL MAN VS NATURAL LEARNING

In your letter, you state that “Gallwey's approach represents a deep streak of romanticism, the belief that the natural man, once liberated by the hyper-critical, nature-denying pressures of society, can evolve into a higher version of humanity.

All I can say is, “well, um, yeah!” :) I have found in my own experience that if I remove my self-interference, everything flows beautifully. The trick is always to get out of our own way—of our performance, our learning or our happiness.

You state that “In contrast to Gallwey’s celebration of the innate coordination and effectiveness of the “natural man,” three of the greatest thinkers on human movement, F.M. Alexander, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Joseph Pilates, think the “natural man” is naturally inept.”

I apologize, but I strongly disagree with this interpretation of their ideas. First, they do not believe that we are naturally inept. Far from it. As your heading says, they believe, like Gallwey, that we are conditioned. We learn and develop bad habits and many times, instead of learning something new, we simply need to “unlearn” them. They strongly believe in the natural, creative intelligence and wholeness of a person. In fact, this is precisely how Alexander discovered his method. He noticed how the conditioned, poor use of his voice caused his own hoarseness.

Furthermore, they are all in agreement as to the “antidote’ to this conditioned self: greater self-awareness and self-responsibility. Non-judgmental awareness often times is curative. Self-responsibility keeps the focus on us as the cause of our own suffering or problems and stops us from blaming others.

Helping a player become more aware of what they are doing while they are doing it is perhaps the single most important skill we can teach our students and the single most powerful coaching tool in our tool kit.

By becoming more non-judgmentally aware of what we are doing we can learn easier and faster, reduce in interference, and "un-learn" our bad habits and conditioning.

What IS very natural about us, and I feel is often completely overlooked because of the way we teach and are taught, is this: we have a simple, powerful, NATURAL learning system that already knows how to learn. We had it as children and we still have it as adults. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, writes about this in his book Focus: the hidden driver of excellence published in 2014.

I believe TRUSTING in our natural ability to learn is one of the most important thing for coaches and players to understand. Otherwise, we may wrongly believe that only coaching and teaching and feedback from the outside will lead to learning.

Your belief that we are "unnatural" is really a cultural belief. This belief also leads to the idea that tennis is hard to learn. In my corporate workshops I teach total beginners how to have a 5-6 ball rally over the net with me in about 7 minutes without giving any technical instruction. By creating an environment that is safe and challenging the person appropriately in a progressive way, they learn the fundamentals of tracking the ball, movement, and footwork and solid contact very quickly. I also am constantly on the lookout for how they get in their own way and interrupt that tendency.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts. Keep up the great work you are doing!
Sean@seanbrawley.com

Hi Sean,

I appreciate your note and thank you for your gracious and generous comments. Given that I had just criticized some of the Inner Game ideas, I truly mean it when I say “gracious.”

Thank you for taking me and the readers through the Inner Game idea more thoroughly from your perspective. That said, we continue to be in disagreement on some major ideas here.  Let me respond to a few major points that you made objecting to my “Road to Flow” essay.

Self 1 and Self 2

You say my characterization of Gallwey’s Self 1 and Self 2 ideas are inaccurate and not the whole picture.  Perhaps they’re not the whole picture, as I didn’t intend to cover that, but I do believe they were accurate. 

In the “Inner Game,” Gallwey only defines Self 1 and Self 2 in a general way, and leaves quite a bit to the mind of the reader to interpret exactly what they stand for.  But if you (or are readers will read most of any of the thoughtful blogs on Gallwey’s book, I believe you’ll see that my characterization was accurate.  For example, here’s one from Buzzfeed:


“With chapter titles like “The Discovery of the Two Selves,” “Quieting Self,” and “Trusting Self,” it should come as little surprise that the book is about the self. Specifically how one self can get in the way of another self, all within the same self. These are Self 1 and Self 2. To summarize, Self 1 is the brain, while Self 2 is the body. Self 1 instructs, Self 2 acts. We get into trouble when Self 1 tries to tell Self 2 how to do something the latter already knows how to do — when we try too hard.”

or

Leave me alone, Self 1!

The Inner Game of Tennis is a fascinating study of the mind, and the struggle between what Gallwey refers to as the two selves: Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1, the “conscious teller” is the part of the brain that gives instructions to the Self 2, which is the part of the brain that translates our knowledge of technique into physical action.

These two characterizations of Self 1 and Self 2 match my own. 


Natural Man vs Un-Natural Man

You objected to my view that there is no such thing as “a natural man” and expressed the view that I had mis-interpreted the work of Alexander, Feldenkrais and Pilates.  I think we’re getting tangled up in the meaning of words.  All these thinkers developed their techniques to counter what they believed as the poor state most adults arrive at as conditioned beings.  Yes, humans have certain basic biological urges and instincts, such as hunger, pain, sex, but in the view of these thinkers (and others), these basic instincts become warped during society’s conditioning process.  And every human being is conditioned!  As a result, using Alexander’s term, for the conditioned man (almost everyone without proper awareness and training), “what feels right is wrong.”  And this gets to the crux of our debate.  The Inner Game idea seems to be to “turn over” learning to this “natural man” or “natural system of learning,” and then we’ll improve and generally flourish.   But all these thinkers would say, you can’t leave it to untrained individual to determine the best technique….for again, for the conditioned person, “what feels right is wrong.”  In tennis terms, as I outlined in m piece, for the untrained beginner in tennis, serving with a pancake grip facing the net “feels right.”  Almost every beginner will revert to these poor techniques “that feel right” or “strong.”  The whole point of technique is to replace these ineffective instinctual techniques with proper techniques.  Eventually, what at first feels “unnatural” to the beginner becomes to feel “natural” to the advanced player.

Inner Game as a Development Model

You felt I was wrong in saying Gallwey only cites improvement on simple drills with beginning students in his book.  I had just read it again, for the 10th time, and I am quite sure that my characterization is accurate.  Yes, Gallwey says his method can be applied to all skill levels, but it’s just an assertion, without any evidence to back it up.

I think what I’m looking for to be proven wrong on this point is scientific studies that show that Inner Game principles can develop students from beginners to experts.  Professor Anders Ericsson, in his book “The Road to Excellence,” which I provide the link to in my essay, cites hundreds of scientific studies to back his assertion that there is a 10 year path to developing expert skills in any domain.  So respectfully, I would ask for some scientific studies (non-anecdotal evidence) to support your view that Inner Game principles represent a major pathway for developing expert skills.

We do agree that the “inner game” is of tremendous importance, and we do agree that Gallwey and you, have been leaders getting coaches to focus more in this area. We also agree that Gallwey’s ideas to help increase players focus and awareness are very important—and definitely do play a role in improving performance.  I appreciate your efforts and your contributions, and I’m sure our readers feel the same.  Keep up the good work, and we’ll continue to debate these ideas. 

Regards,
KIm

TennisOne,

Great read. Self two cannot teach itself. Only through repetitive drills can the two learn. If my students are not somewhat frustrated they have not had a deep practice. Hence, a wasted hour. Happiness has nothing to do with learning. A flow comes after hours of training. The modern game does not come naturally. Otherwise we would all be playing like my Mother with the hammer grip for everything. Long term correct motion. Most young players and their parents chase the next best thing. I think stats would show the top players stayed with a coach that had a history of developing players.  Thx for your efforts!

Randy, Teaching Pro

Hi Randy,

Thanks for your note and comments. Your experience is certainly consistent with the 10 year rule of deliberate practice to achieve higher levels of skill and performance, what the experts call “deep practice.”  It is typically stressful to train this way, and that’s why Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson calls it “work.”  Keep up the good work.

Regards,
Kim

TennisOne,

I've really enjoyed reading this (Kim's newsletter) article, it's so true!! As I recently wrote to you, I've spent a week in Slovenia, training with coach Tomasz, from Feeltennis.net. He said one line to me that backs up what you just said: MUSCLES ARE STUPID — you have to train and retrain them correctly! As a veteran player, I'm unlearning to learn, it's not easy but it's fun! Now days we have no more excuses, we have all the information we need to improve, we just have to put in the hours of deliberate practice. So thank you for your amazing contribution to my learning journey!!

Cheers,
Charlie, from sunny London Sent from my iPhone

Hi Charles,

Thanks for your note.  I laughed at your coach’s comment, “muscles are stupid.”  That does summarize my references to the fact that there is nothing “natural” about man, and that as you say, first we must unlearn our conditioning, and then learn correctly.  Thanks again for joining the conversation.

Regards,
Kim


Kim

TennisOne,

I’ve been a Tennis One member for quite a while and I enjoy many of the articles included monthly on the site. 

As background I’m in my early 60’s, have been playing tennis for the last 20 years or so and I’m a reasonably strong 4.0 player.  For the most part I play singles (from the baseline primarily), but have recently been focusing my energy on doubles.  As you’d expect this has been an interesting transition for me which is why I’ve gone through most of the doubles material you provide with emphasis on the volley.

The depth of material available has been both a positive and negative.  To be honest you can find all kinds of contradictory advice if you go back through the many articles.  I’ve tried to narrow down the data and I particularly like Dave Smith’s advice on all parts of the game as well as Jorge Capestany’s.  Which brings me to the point of this e-mail.

1) Jorge has a good You Tube video on the backhand volley, in which he uses footage of Roger Federer as an example of “best practice”.  You will note in the video that RF’s take back has anything but a straight arm which Dave advocates in this latest article. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mllaCYJfpcg

Personally my backhand volley is better than my forehand volley but still very inconsistent.  I tried to employ Jorge’s advice which has been helpful when I have time to execute, but I struggle if I’m short on time because I tend to take the racquet back too far as I do on a backhand slice groundstroke.

2) There’s a lot of material available on the correct volley grip, with most “experts” recommending the continental as do both Dave and Jorge.  If you look a little further however you’ll find footage and commentary that shows Mike Bryan using a slightly eastern grip (who volleys better than Mike) as well as Roger Federer.  I bring this up because I’m particularly struggling with this shot.  I’m much more comfortable with a slightly eastern grip on the forehand volley because I feel I can square the racquet up to the ball and court if (as a right hander) I want to volley straight ahead or toward my right (inside out).  With a pure continental grip volleying on an angle to my left is much more straightforward.  In experimenting with this I noticed that I in fact use a slightly eastern forehand grip on my slice backhand groundstroke but a pure continental on my serve. I’ve been slicing the backhand for so long I didn’t notice that the grip was off pure continental until I started to work on the volley.  In Dave’s recent article he shows a variety of drills but with the forehand volley they primarily deal with a cross court ball, rather than inside out or straight back at the opposing player. 

I recognize that it’s impossible for you guys to provide any personalized feedback without actually seeing my strokes.  The point of this note is not to ask for that kind of input.  But I do have two suggestions that would make the site more useful at least for me.

1)  Maybe I missed it in Dave’s case, but it would be useful if contributors provided contact data so questions could be posed to them directly.  I don’t know if they could do much in responding but it would be helpful to get his feedback on Jorge’s video as well as my difficulty in squaring the racquet face on the forehand volley.

2)  with new racquets, strings and the evolution of the game coaching advice has changed significantly in the last five to ten years.  I think it would be helpful if you took another look at the material on the site to determine if it is still relevant and useful.  While there will always be differences of opinion identifying what you feel is “best practice” in an area would make it easier for the user to narrow down to a select group of articles and advice. If at a minimum the articles in the Lesson Library we dated we could work backwards, starting with the latest thinking on a subject. Obviously this would require a process and regular updating, but wading through dozens of articles with outdated video or comments is not especially helpful.

Sorry for the long e-mail, but as I said at the outset I really enjoy TennisOne and believe it could be a better tool for the tennis enthusiast.

David Mayhew

Hi David,
 
Thank you for writing in with some very good questions. Obviously, as you are making the transition to more doubles play, the net game, you have recognized, becomes more involved. Any weaknesses in volley technique will be revealed in doubles as we are faced with far more situations to hit volleys than in most singles matches.
 
In regard to Jorge Capestany's video on Youtube and how it may be somewhat different in terms of offered technique is this:
 
1. At the pro level, (or any higher skilled level), you will find subtle variations on the foundation in which tennis may have been taught. Thus, you will often see pros, like Federer, execute a backhand volley that doesn't follow the basic advanced foundation principles that I advocate. HOWEVER, even as Jorge sees Federer's arm not straight, he fails to recognize that the arm gets almost dead straight prior to contact and then is maintained after contact. This subtle difference in Federer's backhand does in fact mimic my advice. He does get his arm nearly straight and then maintains this arm position through contact.
 
My advice to players wanting to improve their backhand volley is two fold: I KNOW from over 35 years of teaching experience, that players who bend the elbow on the backswing or the turn of a backhand volley will tend to do two things: 1) they will take the racquet back too far; and 2) They often will hit the ball with the arm straightening at contact, not before contact as we see Fed do. I can show you countless videos of pro players who keep the arm dead straight as soon as they turn and after contact. Also, there are some pros, (Patrick Rafter comes to mind), who actually had a bent elbow on the backhand volley, BUT, he kept it bent through the entire backhand volley. (Thus, the arm acted as if it were indeed straight in that the arm didn't extend from this bent elbow position.)
 
The other aspect of improving your backhand volley is to error on the side of better technique, not worse. Keeping your elbow straight will help prevent over swinging, give you more leverage, (because you are hitting the backhand volley from your entire arm moving through the volley not just the forearm straightening if you bent it and then extended it at contact), and help prevent tennis elbow. (The number one cause of tennis elbow is hitting backhands late.)
 
In this regard, I highly disagree with Capestany's label of "Best Practice" because in my 35 years teaching, the bent elbow is the number one cause in players not having a solid, dependable, effective  backhand volley. I like his video and other bits of advice. However, this one criteria is often misconstrued by players and even tennis teaching pros alike. 
 
While I like to use pros to emphasize certain fundamentals, this is one aspect I personally would not use to teach an advanced foundation backhand volley to players who want to really have a great volley. As I mentioned there are other countless pros who use a much straighter arm to hit a backhand volley with. I prefer this volley example among pros to foster learning. (That is not to say Fed doesn't have a great backhand volley...he does. However, as I pointed out, his fluid backhand arm position gets nearly straight prior to contact and is maintained. Thus he technically uses my advice, just executes it later within the stroke.)
 
In regards to the forehand volley and grips: Again, I error on the side of more advanced foundation principles. While you will certainly see some pros, (like Mike Bryan), move slightly towards an eastern forehand grip for some forehand volleys. When players learn with the continental grip, there often times will be slight embellishments of this grip to suit a player's feel and strength. That said, when players are FIRST introduced to the volley using eastern grips, several things create problems: 1) the eastern grips are technically topspin grips. Players who have been taught groundstrokes will often and unconsciously hit topspin volleys even when they are trying to slice the volley. 2) The eastern grips make getting lower and harder hit, dipping topspin shots back as the grip makes it tougher to get under the ball. 3) The eastern grips definitely make players take their racquet back too far and it usually prohibits the ability to "set and hold" on the volley. 4) The eastern grips makes hitting severe angle volleys, touch volleys, and volley lobs nearly impossible as the player always has to swing to square the racquet to the angle or target.
 
Yet, I've seen many top players have a slight turn towards the eastern forehand volley but by using their wrist correctly, they can emulate the racquet positions that would be more associated with the continental grip. Players who are taught the eastern forehand grip first have a very difficult time moving more towards continental. Thus, I again error on the side of the more advanced grip, the continental.
 
I hope this helps. Thanks for the additional advice you mentioned. We will certainly take it under consideration!
 
Best to you!
 
David W. Smith
Senior Editor, TennisOne
Dunlop Master Professional

Dear readers,

We received many responses to Kim Shanley's tribute to Vic Braden in our November 8 newsletter I've posted a few below.. Thanks for your generous notes and for sharing your memories. We all owe a lot to Vic, and share in your admiration for him and what his life was all about.

Best,
Kim

TennisOne,

It is so important for us as tennis instructors to learn from Vic's wisdom. Too many "know it all" pros that take the laughter and joy out of the game. Being bossy and arrogant is too common and humble and curious too rare.

Thank you for shining some light on Vic. I love his books,

Scott

TennisOne,

If you began playing tennis, as I did, in the 1970's, and had zero money for lessons, Vic's "Tennis For The Future" was all we had.and, with it, I beat a lot of guys who were taking lessons.

Ron

TennisOne,

I never met the man. I never knew anything about his tennis career or life. And I certainly will never attain the insight he had as a true lifetime student of the game.

But, he did inspire me from a book I read back in the 80's entitled "Teaching Children Tennis the Vic Braden Way (©1980). As I glanced back at this book upon his passing, written in collaboration with Bill Bruns, I realized how much of an influence he had on my teaching mantra for now over 30 years.

Vic Braden gems of wisdom:

  • Regard the court as a mistake center
  • Teach adult strokes right from the start
  • Help kids gain a warm affection for the game regardless of their talent
  • Having fun together(coach with students and parents with their kids) can yield many rewards both on and off the court

And perhaps my favorite that I have quoted many times: "If you can walk to the drinking fountain without falling over, then you have the physical ability to play the game well."

Thank you Vic Braden. I have listened, I have learned, and the world is a better place because you were in it.

Ron

TennisOne,

I read Vic’s books and still refer to them whenever my games heads south. I was always intrigued by his application of science to hitting tennis balls. I remember in one of his books something like a three foot high ball hit with a horizontal swing from the baseline ends up in the bottom of the net and you could clear the net by X feet if the changed the swing path from horizontal to a 30 degree angle from the horizontal. I still think about this lesson every time one of my baseline drives hits the net. I also remember a high ball toss on your serve results in your hitting a ball that is moving at x feet per second. He loved Roscoe Tanner’s ball toss and serve.

Well, I said to myself. I got to meet this guy. So I went to a tennis clinic that Vic conducted in Stowe, Vermont a number of years ago. At that time, I was a gung ho tennis player who just wanted to hit balls. I sat next to Vic during the clinic (he wasn’t moving around too well at that time) and just listened to him for two days. He would tell stories about the old days. I sucked up everything he said. I remember his trying to teach me a top spin serve. I remember his teaching me how to retrieve a deep lob over your head- run like hell till you hear the ball bounce and then track the ball.

I also remember his wit and remember how warm and friendly he was when I met him. I often think of him and agree with you that he did his numerous experiments & tests to satisfy his desire to learn more about the game. I will miss him.

Mike

TennisOne,

Vic's shows were often funny and informative, and I always looked forward to his "shorts" when watching tennis on PBS back in the 1970s. I wish that I would have been able to attend one of his tennis camps when I was younger, but doing so was not within my means.

I remember one of Vic's shows where he spoke about the use of high speed cameras and computers, in conjunction with the work of Dr. Gideon Ariel.  Great stuff!

FK

TennisOne,

Loved your stories on Vic Braden.  We met Vic many times over the years and helped take care of him during some of his Australian visits.  His stories are legendary and it is a great way to teach players through story-telling.

Vic was passionate about tennis, people and life.   He was an inspiring man and he touched many hearts over the years.  He will be sadly missed.

Lyn Price

TennisOne,

What string type and what tension is best for spin?

Best regards,
Terry

Terry,
 
There are many factors that create spin; string type and gauge, tension, string pattern, and obviously swing path and speed are the major contributors.
 
As far as tension, the type of swing you have will have a lot to do with how tight you will want to string your racquet to maximize spin. If you have a generally flatter stroke, a lower tension will tend to produce more spin. If you have a very pronounced high-to-low topspin swing path, tighter tensions will allow the ball to interact with the strings more rather than sitting in the string bed longer. (Dwell time.) Thinner strings produce more spin as well.

With the advent of poly strings today, some players, myself included, use 18 gauge string. Polys tend to last much longer than synthetic conventional strings, (multifilament or monofilament), so you can get almost the same longevity with 17 and 18 gauge strings that you would get out of conventional 16 gauge string and get more spin/control in the process. 

There is an argument that an open string pattern, (16 x 20) grips the ball more than a closed string pattern, (18 x 21). I've found that this may or may not be true as a closed string pattern also creates more friction as more strings interact with the ball. So the jury is still out in my research! My suggestion is to try a thin gauge string at a couple different tensions to find which combination provides you with the desired spin based on your swing type.
 
Good luck!  
David W. Smith

TennisOne,

I play USTA, Men's Nationals, 65's. I notice several of the top players use extra large heads. Maybe 125 to 137 square inches ...the Big a Bubba, etc.

What are the advantages.  What are the disadvantages

Thank you,
Bob Begelman

Bob,
 
As we get older several factors often favor larger head racquets for players. The advantages include a larger hitting area, greater power with less swing speed, and generally, a little easier on the arm.
 
Because large head racquets elongate the string bed in the hitting zone, players find that they get more zip on the ball producing more power. These large head racquets are usually designed to give players who have short strokes, more power. (Not necessarily more control, however!)
 
The best advice I can offer is to try out several of these larger head racquets and see how they feel and respond to your game and swing type. You may find, as you have seen among your peers, that you indeed can benefit from moving into one of these larger head frames.
 
Good luck! 
David W. Smith

TennisOne,

Good to see Jim McLennan is getting back to those serving essentials. Apart from yourself and Doug (King) there’s only one other coach who showed me how. My 12 year old grandson bought me an hour’s tennis tune up with Gilles Elseneer (highest ATP rating 97) for my birthday. Easy, here’s how it’s done said Gilles. And he threw the ball up at the ceiling with a baseball style throwing motion. A 2 second serve lesson.

Your last video. Why do guys find it easier to use this throwing motion than gals? And before that, whatever happened to the Trophy Position in your continuous serving motion? Another myth?

Best,
Terry

Terry,

Great question and one I will soon do a article about. What follows is a hunch. First, tennis coaches should all specialize so that there are serving coaches forehand coaches and more such that if a developing player has an excellent coach at some aspects but not on the serve that suggests an issue.

Second, the serve is very difficult to teach and truly, master coaches do not agree on methods or technique though this same group would agree across the board on the forehand.

Third, many of the women who would become professionals appear so at a very early age when it is easier to hit groundies than develop rhythm on the serve and then it may become overlooked.

Finally, and this may apply to Europe more than the US, in soccer dominated cultures the overhand throwing motion is not as readily learned or picked up. Some many years ago in a meeting with Martina Navratilova in San Francisco after she had finished practicing with two female all americans from Stanford 2 on 1, she warmed down with some football tossing and it was fascinating to see how poorly the two girls threw.

A template I use when teaching throwing — I begin by asking players to throw a few and then I ask, "Does it feel like pushing or pulling? Nearly all the poor throwers respond, "pushing."

Jim

TennisOne,

I liked your article on the importance of the toss to the quality of a player's serve (Low Toss, High Toss, What difference Does it Make?).  Just a couple points I wanted to add.  

  1. First of all, the bio-mechanics gurus seem to say that the toss is most effectively tossed approximately 18 inches to 2 feet above the contact point.  However, I tend to agree with you that this aspect of the serve is largely stylistic as opposed to being a fundamental element of the serve. Again, I think you are quite right in comparing it to the serve stance a player uses.  Clearly, throughout history, players have produced high quality serves with platform and pinpoint stances as  well as with low, medium and high tosses.
  1. When working with beginning and intermediate players, I have found it to be less problematic for the players when they avoid extremes in the toss, which tend to create timing issues that should not be the focus of their practice at this stage of development.  Likewise, learning to serve using a slide step and a pinpoint stance creates an unnecessary balance issue that new players simply do not need at this stage of development.
  1. As a stylistic element, I think it makes sense to allow players to experiment with these elements once they have a sound foundation with the serve.  Although stylistic elements of the serve do not prevent a player from developing an elite stroke, different players will find one or the other of these options more conducive to their long-term development.  I know I always think the low toss, quick twitch motion Dolgopolov employs is a perfect fit for his style and personality.   

Anyway, keep up the good work,
Michael

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