"There are many ways to hit that ball"
Wimbledon 2002, absolute first row, center court, exactly behind the baseline, courtesy my great and good friend Bill Rapp the tournament director of the San Jose Siebel Open. I am watching a first round match between Pete Sampras and Martin Lee, an English lefty. Lee serves well but not at all like Sampras (but then again who did?).
There are many ways to hit that ball but few did it like Sampras
Sitting next to me is world renowned coach Dennis Van der Meer. Looking for some insight from this legend, I ask him about the serves we are seeing. One of my hobbies is studying the serve, its mechanics, rhythm, whippiness, and so forth, and on this afternoon there was a pronounced difference in the service deliveries. So I engage Dennis as to what he sees (and what I can learn) and he smiles, “Well, there are many ways to hit that ball.”
And truthfully there are many ways to hit that ball. Powerfully, softly, with spin, angled, with effort, without effort. Equally there are so many ways to win points. With unerring defense, with moon balls, with piercing approaches, with hammered or finessed volleys, with tactics, without tactics, with determination, guile, you name it. Somehow each of us embraces something unique in our style of play, unique in our approach to the game, and unique in how we feel about tennis both from a cognitive as well as an emotional perspective.
So how does a student of the game sift through all the divergent tips, playing styles, and teaching strategies presented to them? Well let me tell you, it is not easy. In my neck of the woods I believe in, and refer students to, only one coach among many gifted colleagues, this man has (to my mind) both a keen appreciation for the fundamentals as well as a rock solid belief in his abilities to teach those fundamentals. Once I introduced him at a USPTA conference in Santa Rosa and he mentioned (with typical nonchalance) that he was the only coach in Northern California to have produced a Wimbledon champion.
But now it gets interesting. His views on the game, his thoughts on tactics, when to move forward, when to play defense, and how to mix up the grips, styles, and ultimately the game played - DO NOT COINCIDE with the views held by all of his colleagues. Is he right and the others wrong? Not necessarily. Is he off base and his colleague's right? Again not necessarily. It has to do with whether his views can fit within your perspective or whether you can adopt his perspective, whether his influence helps, and whether you can feel the things he is teaching.
It's All About Perspective
At this same USPTA conference in Santa Rosa I presented a video tape of a 3.5 female server. The attendees (all professional coaches) compared their observations, and the interventions they would employ. Interestingly, they did not agree on what they saw. They did not agree on what they would do. From a student/clients perspective, it was scary to see such divergence on such a relatively simple issue. Said another way, how you can be sure you have connected with the best teacher in your area. Or, how can you be sure you have connected with a teacher that can speak to your own unique perspective?
Perhaps I can help tie things together. As a player, as a student of the game, and as a faithful reader of TennisOne material, I believe it is YOUR responsibility to continually examine the unexamined path. If indeed there are many ways to hit that ball, then equally there are many approaches to learning the game. That is, be open to new explanations and approaches. Be willing to experiment with unusual ideas. Try something new from time to time, just to see whether anything good comes from it. Similarly, take the time to sort through articles in TennisOne that appear to (or in fact do) contradict one another. We make no conscious effort to endorse one approach, or to recommend one coach over others. We believe you will be served by your own efforts here to reconcile explanations and techniques that question, or even challenge some of your long held assumptions.
In my own tennis world, I have gone down a few new paths in the last few years. I have spent a lot of time on an 8-board, and in dialogue with Jack Broudy and Paul Mayberry. Their concepts and "feels" were initially new but in time they came to be familiar, helpful, and have opened up new doors in both hitting and teaching. And while on this topic, I have tried to introduce the 8-board to other colleagues, sometimes they are intrigued and curious, other times they are closed minded (and I am personally troubled by teaching colleagues who have lost their own curiosity). I have gotten to know Gary Adelman of Alexander training background, he has written a number of excellent articles for TennisOne, and on his advice I have begun Alexander lessons, which have led me to new physical insights on court, again both as a player and a teacher. Finally, I am now trying to incorporate some of Doug King's insight into the power pocket, and though the terminology was initially unfamiliar, I am now getting a feel for why some hits feel way better than others. In the end, each new path sometimes sheds new light, and in that search lies the fun.
Tennis is a game for a lifetime. And on that long journey I wish for you continued growth along with gentle prodding from TennisOne.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
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