Analogies to Enhance your Tennis
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
As a tennis professional for over 30 years, I have used many analogies within my teaching programs to drive home a particular concept or stress a technical component to my students. Obviously, analogies are only helpful if the student can relate to the correlation offered, so it is important for any good tennis professional to have a wide range of analogies to meet the variety of students a pro might encounter.
Using other sports to connect a student’s understanding of a particular stroke element or swing path is a common theme. Examples of these include the more typical analogies of throwing a football for the overhand service motion or simply catching a ball to simulate the blocking aspect of a basic forehand volley. Other analogies include “brushing the side of the ball to make it spin like the earth on its north-south axis” (for a slice serve), or “imagine turning a door knob” to facilitate the wiper motion of a topspin forehand.
After earning a Bachelors’ degree in Physical Education and a minor in Science, those experiences have offered an even broader range of analogies to share with students. Relating the physics of leverage, angular momentum, and inertia comes in handy when discussing technical aspects of certain tennis mechanics with some students.
The laws of motion are applicable to tennis as much as any sport. But students can often relate to other sports to gain an understanding of the relationship of high level skills that transcend across different sporting activities. I have used bowling, volleyball, softball, badminton, karate, golf, and even croquet when associating specific tennis elements. While not all tennis players have experienced these other sports, most have seen someone play them on television or in person to have a general association with the movements that skilled practitioners use in playing them well.
I have two favorite analogies that I’ve used many times to get a point across to students of all ages. These are actually fictional stories that I found in two different Reader’s Digests. The first one deals with doubles strategies that I think is humorous but has meaning to players also:
One day at the golf club, the resident hacker challenged the head pro to a golf match. “Hey, let’s make this interesting,” the hacker said to the pro. “Let’s play for a thousand dollars.”
The Pro chuckled, “Ok, how many strokes do you want me to give you?” he asked the hacker expecting an unrealistic handicap.
“Oh, I don’t want any strokes,” said the hacker. “All I want are two things.”
The pro eyed the hacker quizzically. “Ok, what two things are you talking about?”
“I can’t tell you,” the hacker replied. The pro, thinking what two things could this duffer possibly want that could possibly affect the outcome of the match, agreed.
Standing on the first tee, the pro was addressing his ball for his opening drive. Standing off to the side, the hacker, in the middle of the pro’s swing, screamed at the top of his lungs “CHOKE!” making the pro flinch and completely duff the drive. The pro, incredulously turned to the hacker and yelled at him, “What the heck was that?!”
The hacker smiled and said, “That’s one.” The entire rest of the round, the pro, not knowing just when the next screaming “CHOKE” would come, could hardly swing at a ball and lost to the hacker the $1000 dollar bet.
The Tennis Relationship
My father used to tell me to hit at least one shot at the net man in one of the first games of a set in doubles. The reason he told me this was to send a signal to the net opponent, letting him or her know that you might hit that same shot again at some point in the match. This possibility can make any net player have second thoughts about poaching your return of serve.
There is a reciprocal action that a net player can do too: poach on one of the first returns made by a receiver. By poaching very early, it sends a similar message to a returning player: you don’t know if—or when—I’m going to poach again. While these actions could make you lose a point when employed, you might end up winning a number of points later in the match as a result.
My second favorite analogy has nothing to do with strokes or strategies. It is more about an overall state of mind. Occasionally, one of my students will hit a terrific overhead, passing shot, or volley winner. Immediately after such a shot, the student will make a guttural “Yeah!” followed by a Lleyton Hewitt fist pump or a high-five to his partner…sometimes followed by an “in-your-face” glare at the opponent. My second analogy has to do with this rather flamboyant display of emotion and ego:
After scoring a touchdown, the football player jumped up and down, did a little jig in the end zone, followed by a spike of the ball and a round of high-fives to his teammates. He finally made it over to the sidelines and bounded up to his coach who was standing there looking over a clipboard. After a moment the coach looked up at his players and calmly said, “Son, next time you score a touchdown, act like you’ve done it before.”
As a former high school coach for 28 seasons of boy’s and girl’s tennis teams, it was not rare to have players get all pumped up in the middle of a match only to have the wind taken out of their sails later in the match and end up losing. There is a phenomenon that exists in many sporting events: the further ahead a team or players are, and the more hyped up they are, the faster they can lose their momentum and spiral down the tubes. The reason for this is that it is impossible to maintain such a high level of energy and emotion. In tennis, even if you hit several great shots or win several games in a row, all players are bound to eventually miss a shot.
Pros like Federer and Mauresmo remain calm and under control during big matches. They save their outpouring of emotions for after when they have finally won.
One of the most dramatic examples of this was when I was coaching in Arizona and my doubles team was playing the top team in the state, a team that had not dropped a game in their previous three rounds of the regional playoffs and had won the state doubles title the previous year. Walking onto the court, these opponents said out loud for all to hear, “Looks like another 6-0, 6-0 match,” as they took to the court passing the spectators and my doubles team, their opponents. And, according to their arrogant prediction, they indeed won the first set 6-0. Up 2-0 in the second set with their huge, left-handed server serving, a strange thing happened: my players blocked a couple booming serves back, hit a couple nice volleys and ended up breaking the seemingly impenetrable server. Suddenly, the prediction was wrong and my team ended up holding serve, breaking their opponents again and came away with a 0-6, 7-6, 6-3 win.
It might be difficult to prove that this one, arrogant remark made the upset possible, but it certainly was in the mind of everyone watching…and very likely on the minds of those two boys who ended up not only losing, but they also ended up losing in the first round of the state playoffs the following week.
Like the football player, whose coach stressed the value of emotional control, in tennis, we often can become emotional zealots, losing our mental balance and focus, and end up losing a match that was seemingly in the bag.
Remember to save some emotions for after the match. If you watch pros like Federer, Sharapova, the William sisters, Blake and others, very often you see them remain composed and reserved during the match, only to see an outpouring of emotions when they have finally won. While it is hard for everyone to contain emotions, training yourself to maintain composure can help you keep a handle on any given match. Certainly, sometimes a strong expression of accomplishment within a match can help turn a losing match around, changing the momentum. (These are called “Momentum Shifts”, something I will talk about next month!)
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's new book Coaching Mastery. Over 400 pages, including over 75 drills, 50 by Master Pro Ken DeHart.)
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