If you know me, then you may have heard that I’m somewhat obsessed with golf. What has been interesting to me is how my journeys toward improvement in both golf and tennis have mirrored each other over the years. My progress in golf has been slower, but I find the paths I’m choosing toward meeting my goals with golf, are similar to those I had with tennis. Learning a different sport has reminded me of this process and how much fun it can be when a goal is met and a skill is finally realized. In both sports, I’ve found that I enjoy practicing as much as playing. My golf learning experience has also made me a better tennis coach because I can relate to what my students are going through.
Learning any new skill as an adult can be both challenging and discouraging at times, but you’re to be applauded for trying. The first lesson one has to remember is that tennis is a difficult sport and there are no easy answers or short cuts to becoming a skilled player. I mentioned how much I enjoy the process of learning new golf skills; this should be the foundation of your development. An unfortunate element of learning a new sport as an adult, compared to a child, is the shortage of repetitions. Finding enough time to get the reps you need can be a big challenge. Most adults are lucky if they get to play once or twice a week. You can expect progress to take longer and come in smaller steps as you work your way up the NTRP ladder. You can expect larger jumps in your game as a 2.5 level player, but as you move in to 3.5, 4.0 and beyond, it may take a year or two before you realize a change in your rating. Remain patient with yourself and keep chipping away at improving those areas of weakness!
Realizing that finding the time to practice can be a challenge, make sure the time you have is used wisely. The quality of your practice becomes more important than the quantity. It was said that Jimmy Connor’s practice sessions were so intense that he would get more out of a single hour than most pros could in three. This requires good planning and intense concentration. For starters, one must have clear goals in mind for every practice session. The change of seasons can be a great time for reviewing and establishing goals for the months ahead. All journeys require a clear pathway for getting from point A to point B. Start with a realistic main destination goal, such as becoming a 4.0 player. The next step is to evaluate your current skills and determine what you must develop to get to that level. This may involve developing technical, tactical and mental skills. Progress should not be measured against wins and loses. The goal may have been to get 60% of your first serves in. If you lost the match, but achieved your first serve percentage goal, then check it off as mission accomplished and be happy regardless of the score outcome. Your improved first serve percentage is a great building block for the future. Typically, your goals during the winter months will be different than the summer months. Working on a technical problem during the summer when you’re playing tournaments and league matches is usually not a good idea. This is a time to grow tactically and mentally. The winter months are perfect for repairing those technical flaws.
Finally, there must be balance in your development. Depending on the season, your time should be divided between lessons, drills, hitting and match play. Overdoing any one facet can slow progress in other areas. If you spend all of your time playing, you may be weak technically. Conversely, if you only take lessons, you may lack some of the creativity of point construction and important mental skills for competing. Remember, “failing to plan is a plan for failure.” Have a plan for every practice session and match you play and measure your progress against your plan. Good luck! I look forward to seeing you on the courts!
As those summer months get closer, now is the perfect opportunity to head into our Pilates studio and improve your tennis game by working on strengthening your body, improving your balance, enhancing your flexibility and building your core strength. Whether you have tried Pilates before, or are interested in it for the first time, our upcoming Pilates for Tennis six-week workshop is the perfect opportunity for you to boost your tennis techniques off the court. Pilates programs are always ongoing and available for you to take and improve your tennis game.
Under the guidance of our talented instructor Erica Bruenton, you will use the six principles of Pilates as a foundation for drawing connections between the fundamentals of both Pilates and tennis.
Concentration: Pilates is contingent on developing the connection between the mind and the body. Just like in tennis, you are never focusing on one thing at a time. It is particularly important to learn how to focus on your body’s powerhouse, the transverse/oblique/rectus abdominis, as well as the inner thighs and glutes. A big piece of bringing that together is the ability to concentrate and think about how the different muscles of your body are working together. You are engaging in similar activities on the tennis court, such as concentrating on multiple areas including stroke mechanics, swing speed, follow through, and recovering back to a ready position after you return the ball.
Centering:In Pilates we initiate movement from our powerhouse–all movement comes from the center. The core is equally important in tennis. If you visualize yourself on the court, there is a lot of rotational movement. Pilates encourages you to think about the kinetic chain of movement, where you are transferring energy from the ground, through your legs, core, and then into your shoulder, arm, wrist, which ultimately results in racquet head speed. Finding your center, as well as learning how to move it efficiently, will help increase your technique for generating power on the tennis court.
Control: Pilates helps strengthen your understanding of how to coordinate the movement of your body. For example, various Pilates exercises work on moving your legs and arms while keeping your abs engaged and pelvis stable. Control is equally important in tennis. On the tennis court, you utilize the split step to feel in control of your body as you get ready to take your next shot.
Breathing: Do you ever find yourself holding your breath when you play tennis, as you hit the ball or react to get in position for a shot? This is a common issue among many tennis players, and an area in which taking Pilates can be extremely beneficial. Pilates teaches you to link your breath with movement. As a tennis player, this teaches you to incorporate breathing techniques to enhance fluidity in your movement on the court.
Precision: As a tennis player, when you hit the ball you visualize where you want your shot to go. Similarly, in Pilates we build on concentration and control to achieve precision in movement. Pilates teaches you to engage your abdominals to stabilize your pelvis. Achieving stability and mobility that allows your joints to move through a healthy range of motion is very important, not just on the tennis court, but in your everyday activities.
Flowing Movement: Perhaps one of the most important aspects of tennis is being able to put all of your techniques together. In a tennis lesson or in drill, this might mean transitioning from baseline groundstroke, to a down the line approach shot, to a cross court volley to finish the point. When it comes to a match, you have to be able to put everything together to get the win. The concept of flowing movement within Pilates is the ability to move through a repertoire of exercises with fluidity. In Pilates, this is achieved through transition exercises, like teaser and the roll up, where you build strength while continuing to flow between different exercises.
(These images feature a progression series, where Tennis Professional Suzette Riddle is using the reformer’s straps to work through a progression of exercises that work on concentration, centering and control).
In the Pilates for Tennis class, the majority of your exercises on the reformer, which is the spring-loaded apparatus. The color coordinated springs represent the different amounts of tension that are used during the workout.
On the apparatus itself, you will be moving through a variety of positions. The videos below, featuring Tennis Professional Suzette Riddle, show different exercises that can be performed on the reformer that will help you build strength and coordination both on and off the court.
What is the proper follow-through for a forehand or backhand? What should I be doing with my footwork? What is the best grip at the net? Each of these questions is like asking a golfer, which club should I be using? Don’t feel bad, I see these same questions being debated throughout the coaching world as well. Having a variety of shots available to pull out in a variety of tactical situations is where the real advantage lies.
It seems everyone is looking for that one magic technical pill to unlock the mysteries of tennis, but the answer is…it depends. You have to understand that tennis is an “open skilled sport” meaning that the conditions out on the court are constantly changing, such as the height of the ball, the speed, the spin, the trajectory and where you are on the court. Pigeonholing your game into simple compartments like a follow-through or a backswing, stalls your development and puts you at a distinct disadvantage.
I think the best answer to helping us sort all of this out came in a simple comment by an Aussie friend of mine named Brett Hobden. “The key to player development is in finding technical solutions to tactical problems”. In other words, rather than spending all of your time trying to groove that optimal forehand follow-through, which will only work a small percentage of the time anyway, learn shots that will advance you tactically and learn how to do it from a variety of ball types and positions on the court. Getting back to my golf analogy, golfers can have up to 14 clubs in their bag to help them with a variety of situations they’ll encounter out on the course, such as a driver for hitting long distances and a putter for shorter strokes on the greens. It may help to
think of your tennis game as a giant toolbox. Sit down and do an honest evaluation of where you are with your game and try to determine what tools or shots you’re missing. Begin with the most important tools like a consistent and reliable serve and work out from there. Singles players often require slightly different tools than doubles players and if you’re struggling to figure that out we have several expert Tennis Professionals on hand who would be happy to assist you!
Tennis is a complex game, but if you understand what is happening at your level and can look ahead to the next level and the skills those players possess, you can begin to see what tools are most important in taking your game to the next level.
I look forward to seeing you on the courts!
Ron Steege, Director of Tennis
Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club
You finally get that long-awaited short ball opportunity which allows you to attack the net and really apply some pressure to your opponent except for one thing, your opponent is the dreaded lobber! What are your options? To start with, nothing says lobbing is a bad idea to your opponent better than cracking an overhead for a winner! So let’s talk about how you can better prepare for this shot.
1. In one move, immediately raise both hands up plus align your shoulders and feet sideways to the ball and your intended target. This doesn’t always mean you should be perpendicular to the net, sometimes you’ll find yourself slightly open to the net and occasionally you may discover that you need to turn as much as 45 degrees past perpendicular to the point where your back is exposed to the net. Where you are on the court and your target area determines shoulder and stance alignment.
2. I think most players are familiar with these technical elements but I find perhaps the most important element in gaining confidence and making solid contact on the overhead is having a wide base. By a wide base I mean wider than the width of your shoulders. In doing so, this should also create knee bend and drop your center of gravity. This is important because just the mere fact that you’re looking up, you’ll find yourself a little off balance, so widening your base will make you feel more comfortable adjusting to the ball and more confident.
Confidence plays a major role in having a good overhead. Learn to love them and you’ll have a great one! And remember, as Meghan Trainor says, “It’s all about that base.”
Yes, I twisted her words slightly.
For help with your overhead and more, check out GATC’s programs, drills, clinics, leagues and more!
Has your tennis development stalled? Do you struggle against certain types of players? Chances are that you may be looking at your strokes and tactics through the same colored glasses. There’s probably a lot more that you can do than you realize. Let’s start by understanding that tennis is an open-skilled sport. What this means is that the conditions and environment you are facing are constantly changing. Your position on the court, the height, spin and speed of the incoming ball all changes with nearly every shot. With this in mind, what’s interesting is when you watch most tennis players during practice they’re generally concerned about grooving only one or two strokes and are basically practicing in a controlled environment. It doesn’t matter if they’re on the baseline or service line or receiving a fast ball or slow ball, it’s all the same! It’s important to understand that with this approach you are severely limiting your potential for improvement. You must recognize that one size does not fit all in tennis. Thinking about golf, most of you probably know that you have an entire bag full of clubs, each club serving a different purpose. The driver for example is designed to provide power and distance and basically just get the ball a long ways down the fairway. This is the complete opposite of a wedge which is designed to provide control on shorter shots around the green where distance is not a concern and control is at a premium. We have this in tennis as well; there are at least seven different topspin variations on the forehand alone, each is designed to answer a specific situation that you may encounter. You have your power and control shots but the where, when and how can vary considerably. So instead of practicing how you send a ball with that same old repetitive forehand, try to pay more attention to the type of ball you’re receiving. Then ask yourself, what would be the best answer or method for returning that ball? There is likely more than one answer. This is how you begin to develop your style and you begin to think about various spins, placements and the speed in which you want to play this shot. In other words, you are now developing shot types. The more shot types you possess in your arsenal, the better you will answer any challenges your opponent will send your way.
Often a student will come to me and say something along the lines of “my forehand really stinks, can you help me fix it?” My traditional answer to this is- which one? Usually, mechanics are not the problem. Typically a player has difficulties handling a certain type of ball that an opponent is giving them or they are placing the ball poorly, so I work with them on how to hit the desired location or work with them on the mechanics necessary to handle a particular shot type. Are we worried about a high ball? Short ball? Soft ball? Where are we on the court? All of this must be considered to achieve your desired results. So the next time you’re practicing on the ball machine or with a hitting partner, work on executing the most appropriate shot and pay less attention to grooving a stroke. If you need help sorting this out, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our many terrific USPTA certified Tennis Professionals that we have on staff here at Greenwood. We’re all happy to help! Good luck and I look forward to seeing you on the courts!
Recently, I invited some of our top junior tennis players to perform their best impersonation of several well-known professionals on tour. It was remarkable how good the kids were at this and everyone could easily recognize who they were portraying. What the kids were imitating were these player’s rituals, everyone has seen these routines so many times they become as recognizable as a face or a voice. Often when you bring up the topic of rituals in sports, the discussion transforms to a dialog of athletic superstitions such as wearing the same pair of socks you wore for your first state championship! I point out the way the Broncos season ended last year as a case in point. Most certainly that loss had something to do with the way I put on my Manning jersey or what I had to eat that day, but I’ll be sure to correct these mistakes by next season!
Why do tennis professionals practice pre- and post-match rituals? The brain craves routine. Surprise and spontaneity cause excitement and sometimes stress. A consistent routine makes us feel comfortable and allows our brain to prepare for the task at hand and to focus. During the match, between point rituals basically serve as a reset. The goal is to process everything that happened on the previous point and make a clear plan for the next point. During game change overs, you should review on a broader scale what worked and what didn’t during the previous two games and form a plan for the next two games. Dr. Jim Loehr, a well-known sports psychologist, states that “rituals serve to deepen concentration and raise intensity levels prior to the start of a point.” I hear players talking about “mental toughness,” or the lack thereof, almost on a daily basis. Dr. Loehr says that “mental toughness is really tied to your ability to control a very precise way of feeling. It is a process of emotional fine tuning.” Rituals serve us in managing our feelings and prepare us for what lies ahead. The good news is that mental toughness really is a skill that you can train for; you can learn to be mentally tough! A great place to start is by developing specific pre-serve and return rituals. By becoming more organized and developing a specific plan for what you are about to face, you will naturally begin to develop better tools and become more mentally tough.
It’s common and understandable to focus your attention on things such as groundstrokes, doubles strategy and a serve. Try bringing rituals into the picture. Your practices will become more effective and learning will accelerate.