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"TennisOne Tune-Up: The Serve"
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Solve your serve problems with this new FREE 2-disk DVD. The window to order this is now narrowing--just 9 days left. Please don't miss out if you're at all interested.
Click here for a complete description and to place your order.
Limited time offer. This is a limited-time offer, ending at midnight (Pacific) on May 11th.
Who can order this: Everyone (no membership required).
Who is this for: Players and teaching pros.
Why? Why is TennisOne giving away a $100 2-disk DVD to its friends? Simple. We want more friends. Tell one of yours about us. .
Past DVDs If you ordered our "Serve and Volley" DVD last month, that was shipped on April 21 (as we noted), so should be there or getting to any day in U.S. (longer for international).
Kim Shanley, Publisher, TennisOne
Tennis Warehouse – New Products –Men's Apparel - Quicksilver - Spring Polo, Thrive Crew, Relay Longsleeve, Vital Jacket, Spaced Sleeveless
The Proper Role of Teaching Tools
Dave W Smith
Sports like tennis and golf are chock-full of various teaching aids – from devices that fit on our person, designed to help players develop optimal racquet position, or swing patterns to hitting devices that provide a semblance of hitting a tennis ball without really hitting a tennis ball. Then there are hitting walls and ball machines tools that help players develop balance within their swings, all designed to help satisfy our insatiable desire to improve our game.
However, every hitting or teaching tool is limited in its application and in its intention. Certainly each device usually focuses on one element of the game. But even within this limited application, any aid can be as detrimental as it can be beneficial if not used and understood correctly.
The point of this article is to make sure players understand this concept and learn how to recognize whether they are using a learning aid in ways that will indeed help them progress further or will it in fact be detrimental to such progress.
Any device that allows a player to actively repeat a swing or stroke pattern, can be as dangerous as it can be beneficial. Repetitive devices include hitting walls, ball machines, PracticeHit device, and even teaching pros.
Obviously, hitting or swinging the racquet over and over will develop what we call “Muscle Memory.” The actual memory is not established in the muscles. (It is a combination of the sensory or nervous system that develops the memory which is then integrated within muscle coordination that includes both autonomic reflex or unconscious mechanics as well as conscious muscular contractions done with intent.)
Repetition in any specific pattern will help a player to replicate that patterns more dependably as well as with minimal conscious thought. This is indeed, the ultimate goal of any player: To rely on reactions instead of having to think through every individual element of the swing. We often hear that phrase: “Paralysis by Analysis” that often describes players who constantly and overly think while playing. Tim Gallwey’s book, Inner Game of Tennis, was one of the first books to address this phenomenon for the masses as well as give readers a way to understand when the mind can get in the way of performance.
However, one must understand that a repetitive device can be hurtful to long-term performance while making the player think he or she is improving towards this goal. Allow me to explain.
The nature of any activity which elicits repetitive motion is subject to the “quality” of that motion. Understand that nearly anyone can figure out the timing of a swing, adjust the aim to accommodate necessary height requirements for a ball to clear the net, and the necessary speed; that is enough speed to clear the net and yet not so much speed so that gravity or spin can bring the ball into the court.
The problem lies in the false sense of improvement when a player, through simple repetition can control a tennis ball within certain parameters, so that they can keep a ball in play. Most methods of hitting a ball in this way won’t lead to more effective play later on. This is where so many parents and pros alike fail students. Many parents and pros believe that simply tossing tens of thousands of balls to little kids will somehow, eventually, develop them into skilled players. Not only is this just the opposite of what will happen, but this procedure often integrates such poor habits that change later on is exponentially more difficult than if the student had never tried to hit a tennis ball before having a proper lesson.
For a player to hit harder, with better aim, and thus, more effectiveness, that player must do two things: 1) Create a repeatable, reliable swing path, and 2) create a stroke that can be hit with opportunistic spin so that the player can control the ball despite using greater and greater swing speeds.
Without specific understanding of stroke patterns (including grips and footwork) that will allow for more prolific stroke mechanics that incorporate spin (topspin, proper underspin, slice or kick spins on serves, etc), then simply experimenting with gravity reliant swing patterns will cause nearly every single practitioner of this learning ‘style’ to fail to reach their potential.
One problem players encounter when they use tools that offer repetition is the concept of aim. If a player is consciously working on more desirable swing patterns or mechanics and they have targets on the court, human nature forces the player to use more familiar patterns that the student is comfortable with. This is because when we are consciously trying to hit a target, we feel more confident in such execution when we use patterns we are most comfortable with. This is especially true when students are in a clinic and they are trying to aim at targets in a group setting. Most students will want to hit the target so badly they will sacrifice better form, (if they are working on new form), for confident form. Thus, they revert back to their most comfortable swing pattern.
There is a device I’ve used for years that I like not necessarily because of the hitting design of the device, but what it allows players to focus on. The device is cleverly simple: a foam ball on top of a fiberglass shaft that is connected to a base in which the ball can be hit and the shaft then swings to and fro like a metronome. This allows the student to do several things…all things that every student should focus on anytime they are practicing for improvement:
- It gives the student a target ball to hit in the strike zone
- The oscillating ball helps beginners to time the swing of an incoming ball
- Because the ball doesn’t go anywhere (except back and forth on the shaft connected to the base), the student is not encouraged to use more comfortable form in attempt to send a ball towards a specific target.
The PracticeHit device can be found at www.practicehit.com and among various tennis shops on-line.
Priorities and Targets
When a player is concerned first with targets, neglecting desired swing mechanics, that player will get better at coming close or hitting the targets within whatever form they are using. This provides what I consider a false sense of accomplishment, making the student feel he is getting better. Well, if the form being used is suspect, then the student is only getting better at perfecting poor form.
Let’s face it; there are hundreds of ways to hit a ball over the net and towards a target. It only takes a trip to the public courts to see the vast differences among lower level players. Yet, take a close look at pros, top college players, top club players, or top juniors, and nearly every single observer will not only see a striking difference from these skilled players to that of the recreational player, but looking even closer, one will see the clear foundation among all the skilled players that have nearly identical components. While there will always be idiosyncrasies and player differences within this foundation, not only can these differences be attributed to personalities and such, but the differences are seldom, detrimental to the foundation elements.
You can teach 1000 players the exact same foundation and yet no two players will play exactly alike. Personalities and perceptions play such a huge role in student evolution that every single player will evolve idiosyncrasies that are as unique as each individual but still (usually) done within the advanced foundation that the player was trained in.
The use of targets becomes a very powerful tool ONLY if the stroke pattern has been clearly defined and mastered. If a player changes a particular form (consciously or otherwise), moving away from the more skilled – but often less comfortable – form, in an effort to hit a target, then the targets are detrimental. If a player remains true to the foundation he is trying to develop, then he can and will begin to master aim. And, if the foundation being developed is truly within the bounds of what I call an “Advanced Foundation” then not only will aim improve, but he will begin to hit harder successfully (almost without trying), and create improved aim in the process within these more dynamic strokes.
You can maximize your use of hitting tools by doing several things.
- Clearly identify the swing pattern you want to emulate
- Make sure you are creating these desired swing patterns in balanced positions. (Imbalance will almost always change the swing mechanics.)
- Don’t use targets to judge success; use targets to adjust timing, position, and aim, but not swing pattern.
- After consistency in recreating desired swing paths, then add targets, movement, and then speed
When I train anyone of any age, I explain that I don’t care if the student completely misses the ball. Because I don’t judge success based on hitting a target – or even hitting a ball – I often will tell a student that he did something beautifully…even if he missed the ball altogether! That is because I’m looking at stroke development, not rudimentary aim.
This is where I believe a lot of pros fail their students: They often judge (or reward students) for hitting targets even with form that is nowhere near the desired swing pattern. Thus, the student (and the pro) are reinforcing something that will eventually have to change if the student wants to master more skilled form. And the student that is, without question, the most difficult to train is the student who has already had some “success” in using inferior form. That student will want to go back to that comfortable and relatively successful form because in his mind, it led to some success.
There are many training aids that can be equally helpful or detrimental to player-development. Use the guidelines here that I’ve discussed for each one, and you will be insured of maximizing that aid. So use those practice tools but use them in ways that will allow you to continue to improve and progressively play better and better tennis!
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
The Speed/Feel Method
As competitive tennis players, we are always trying to copy the best players in the world. We want to move like them, play like them, and most of all, hit like them. Hitting like a professional tennis player takes more than hours on the court and hitting thousands of tennis balls. There are some definite commonalities between top 100 players on the tour, and in this article, Brandon Fallon shows you how the pros develop two of them, feel and racquet head speed.
Tennis and the Figure 8
TennisOne contributer, Jack Broudy, has talked extensively on the figure 8 and its role in tennis. Here, Doug King adds his own spin on the figure 8 which he perceives as an iconic movement in sports in general and tennis in particular. Want to add more power to your game but not necessarily more muscle? See how this rolling, turning motion can make you a smoother, more fluid, and more efficient player.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Jurgen Melzer's Serve & Net Game
This 29 year old Austrian journeyman is having something of a late career Renaissance. He is presently ranked 9th on the ATP world tour and to reach his career best ranking he holds wins in 2010 and 2011 over Gilles Simon, Marcos Baghdatis, Rafael Nadal (Shanghai World Tour Masters) Juan Carlos Ferrero, Feliciano Lopez and Novak Djokovic (Roland Garros). Left handed, nothing flashy, he just goes about his business on court. Jurgen has amassed over $6 million dollars in prize money in a 12 year career. New this issue, Melzer's Serve & Net Game.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "All-Court Game and the Volley: Keys to Modern Tennis Technique," by Doug King Public – Members
- "TennisOne's Stroke Secrets: Keys to Better Groundstrokes," Public; Members
- "Building Your Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Underspin Backhand - Weapon," Jim McLennan Members Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King Members Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills, and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- Click here to see all the benefits of a TennisOne Membership.
- Click here to sign up for a risk-free, TennisOne 30 day free trial membership.
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