Tip Of The Month
A TENNIS MIND. David Sammel.
There have been many books, papers, blogs written about how to be mentally tough on a tennis court. What I aim to do here is to provide a summary of the methods that I have found effective in my 25 years of coaching experience. We behave and act according to the way we think. It is obvious and well documented that our mind-set is directly related to the way we speak to ourselves.
If you interviewed a coach after losing a match to see if he/she was suitable to improve your game and asked the question "What did you think?" and the response was-"Well firstly I was disgusted with your performance. Your serve sucked and quite frankly with a backhand like yours I would probably quit the game. I tell it like it is and quite frankly I'm not satisfied with anything other than winning, and missing like that is unacceptable. You are terrible-the worst, and mentally one of the weakest players I've seen. I will be doing you a favour to work with you because you are pathetic."
Would you hire this coach? Most players would say NO WAY! However these same players would think nothing of speaking to themselves in exactly this manner during a match, and most would add expletives and be even more scathing.
This is the challenge that tennis players face-being able to create a supportive mind-set, a discipline of mind that speaks of challenge and support. The best players are able to look at tough situations and put a positive spin on it. This positive attitude is not blind faith based in non-reality, but rather an acceptance of the situation and then a way of thinking that gives them the best chance of winning or improving. Their thinking does not dwell on past mistakes or misfortune but rather on past success or looking ahead to the next point with enthusiasm.
After Nadal had dropped a 2 set lead and 2 match points in the 2008 Wimbledon final he did not feel sorry for himself but sat on the changeover and thought along these lines "hold serve and it's tough for Roger. I've trained my whole life for this and the opportunity is still so big, I only have one set to win for a Wimbledon title." Similarly Andy Murray went to the bathroom after blowing a 2-0 lead at the US Open and looked in the mirror and said (having lost 4 previous Grand Slam titles) "Not again. This time it's different. I'm fitter and stronger than him and I have to take this title from Novak. He will not give it to me but I'm ready to take it off him."
Neither player dwelled on the dropped leads. Neither player thought how well or badly they were playing. Their focus was on being strong for the fifth set and the fact their chance to win was as great as ever. They accepted the situation factually as 2-2 with all to play for without draining their confidence with panicked statements and recriminations. There are countless methods and tools on improving mind-set so I will not go into this, but I will highlight an area that is highly neglected which is the power and effect of tone.
Tone of voice.
One area where a player can advance rapidly is to focus less on what they say and more on the tone of the voice they use. If the voice in your head or the tone used if spoken out loud is panicked, rapid, or high pitched, then it will have a stressing effect on your game. Think about it-even a negative statement said in a calm reassuring voice will have less of a destructive impact. Try it out loud "YOU ARE THE WORST!" to "you are the worst." I am having increasing success by getting players to monitor the tone of their voice, because even positive statements said in a panicked voice are unhelpful-again try it; "YOU CAN DO THIS!!" in a faster higher pitched voice or "you can do this" in a firm controlled way. One comes out as a desperate plea versus the other that breeds belief and confidence.
Another valuable tool to relaxing and focusing on the process rather than the outcome is the way goals are set. My personal view is to get a player to set an ultimate goal then forget about it. It is about planting a seed and trusting that this will help motivation while understanding that there is a lot of work to be done to have a chance of achieving the goal. In the short term (example 3 months), I encourage players to set a goal and then judge it only at the end of the 3 months, not day by day, match by match or week by week.
In 2011 I sent 4 players to Australia with each having a clear goal. Had they judged the goal week by week they all said that after the first month they would have wanted to come home but the fact that I asked them to trust their games and the improvements that would come from 10 tournaments in 12 weeks would show at some time gave them faith in the project and all achieved their goals in the last 6 weeks.
I'm a strong believer in setting no more than two performance or technical goals at a time (two in total, not four) because it is too difficult to have a laser focus on more than two goals. My mantra is 'One eye and one ear for each goal. See, listen and learn'.
Relax and believe in the process.
If you truly believe that whatever you practice can only get better and don't put a time limit on how quickly it needs to improve then you can relax and just focus on the work. If God came to you and said guaranteed in the next three months you will definitely win two tournaments, how stressed and panicked would you be if you had five first round losses in a row? You would be thinking "wow I must have a great last month!" This is a healthy attitude and enthusiasm for improving a player must have if he/she wants to maximize improvement. This attitude allows a player to relax and focus on the process of improving rather than results. The better you become the better the results will be, but in a game that in 2011 Novak Djokovic only won 57% of his points and the all-time record for tournaments won an the ATP/WTA tours in a year is eight, even the greatest of all time lose more tournaments than they win.
Tennis is a sport designed for overcoming setbacks, so the enjoyment has to be in learning to deal with all the setbacks and losses in a positive way, a challenge to accept that the journey is a personal pilgrimage to improving your game and mind without ever conquering the game. Match and tournament wins are so sweet because they are few and far between for most players. It is important to have trust and belief in your coach, academy, practice routine or whatever environment/team you have around you that they can help you improve. It is easier to relax when you are positive that you are on the pathway to getting better.
HOW WALL SQUATS CAN PREVENT OVERUSE INJURIES.
Repetitive motions cause injuries. You've probably heard the adage "repetitive motion can cause injuries." According to data compiled by WebMD, repetitive motion injuries make up more than 50 percent of all athletic-related injuries seen by doctors.
However, not all repetition causes injuries. if your joints are stable and functional, and you repeat the same motion over and over, your muscles get tired long before the healthy joint would ever sustain any damage. If your joints are not stable, which means they have lost their kinetic connections and are not moving properly, then the repetitive motions will cause an injury eventually.
Our lifestyle; often lacking ergonomic care; causes small changes in our posture and movement. They are small enough that we don't notice tham at first. Over time they accumulate and the problem can grow and begin to affect your everyday life or athletic performance. Here are a few examples of ergonomically incorrect movements that we do daily:
* sitting at the desk and slouching.
* working in front of computers.
* typing on iPads, iPhones, Kindles and other pads, while the head is forward and shoulders slouched.
* Driving, flying, riding bike, traveling.
* Cooking, cutting vegetables, playing electronic games, painting.
* Sleeping with high pillows, sitting in uncomfortable positions, sitting in the same position for prolonged periods.
* Holding phone between head and shoulder etc.
If you develop pain symptoms of repetitive motions, you need to think about the exercises that stabalize your joints, rather then to sedate yourself and your joints with medications that only mask the underlying problem.
A helpful exercise to re-align your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders is a wall squat. The wall squat will teach your quadriceps muscles they are supposed to support your upper body during activities, instead of letting the hip flexors do all the work. When your quadriceps learn how to support your trunk, you will find that staying low on the tennis court and changing directions wil become much easier and less stressful. The wall squat also strengthens the muscles that extend the hip (gluteus, hamstrings), which often are weak and overpowered by the strong hip flexors.
In the wall squat, the hips, knees, and ankles are under the workload in a position that disables the assistance of the hip flexors.
HOW TO DO A WALL SQUAT
Lean toward the wall and keep a 90-degree angle in your hips, knees, and ankles. Walk your feet away from the wall so your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your feet hip-width apart and parallel with each other. The knees should be over the ankles, not the toes, and in line with the feet. Don't let them move in or outward. Maintain your ankles, knees, and hips in one line and symmetrical. Press your lower and mid back against the wall and feel how your quadriceps muscles are working on the top part of your thighs.
Focus on working (and feeling) both your quadriceps evenly; always remember the balance. Hold the position for 2 minutes. It can be a struggle initially and you may need to start with 1 minute only and work yourself up to 3-5 minutes over time. When the wall squat gets easy, you know your body is becoming more balanced and functional. In addition to feeling better in your daily activities, you will notice that your movement on the court will be quicker and your tennis game will improve. (Suzanna McGee).
RELAXATION = POWER.
Go to almost any local junior tournament and you'll probably see a 70 pound 9 or 10-year-old boy or girl cracking forehands with so much power that you'll shake your head and ask yourself," How the heck can he or she hit so hard?" You wonder because you can't do it. As if to add insult to in jury, you're over six feet tall, can bench press 300 pounds, and played football in high school and college.
Where does her power come from? First we have to realize that racquet speed at contact is the primary source of power in tennis. Of course, incoming ball speed can have some effect, but not much except perhaps when volleying against hard hit balls. You see, whatever the incoming ball speed, it is cut by about 50% after the ball bounces due to the court surface friction absorbing its pace. This explains why you can block hard balls at the net and volley with good pace but, on the baseline, racquet head speed is the primary source of power.
In this discussion, we will cover how to get increased racquet head speed on groundstrokes and serves and then offer some tips on how to measure your own speed, with the use of radar guns and without.
WHERE DOES RACQUET HEAD SPEED COME FROM?
A door can swing either fast or slow on its hinges. Think of the door as your shoulder facilitating your arm to hit a forehand groundstroke. But, unlike a hinge, your shoulder has a complex system of muscles holding that joint in place. And, if you tighten any part of your arm, including squeezing your grip, those muscles tighten up. The result of a "tight" arm is a slow moving shoulder joint hinge. The result of a "relaxed" arm is a fast moving joint and faster racquet head speeds.
But the shoulder joint is not the only one working. In the arm alone, the key "hinges" in play to swing a racquet are the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Yes, a relaxed wrist, coming from a relaxed grip, is very important part of creating racquet head speed.
Some readers may have spilled their coffee because of the conflict created between this statement and the many tennis lessons they may have taken where they were told to firm up their wrist. But, even if your teaching pro has advised a firm wrist on groundstrokes, there may be a little common ground to make everyone "right" on this question of a firm or loose wrist. Certainly, no one should "slap" sloppily at a tennis ball if their intent is to hit a ball consistently into the court. But, if you are fairly consistent and need a little more zip, consider allowing all three hinges of the arm to work more fluidly by not tightening up the muscles that hold these joints (hinges) in place.
How tight or loose do the best players grip their racquets? Divide the forehand groundstroke (or backhand or serve) into three parts: Before contact, at contact, and after contact. Then assign a number on a 1-10 scale for each part. I've been asking this question to teaching pros, college players, and tour players (ranked above 100) for several years. Unfortunately, I don't have Roger Federer's cell phone number, but if you do, please ask him as well!
What do the best players answer? You may want to set down your cup of coffee before reading further. The best answers I have gotten out of about 100 players are 0-2-0 or 1-3-1. If you've ever heard the instruction to grip your racquet like you are holding a little bird, you are probably nodding in agreement. The "grip like you are holding a bird" instruction is to hold the bird firm enough so it won't fly away, but not so firm that it may be injured.
TIPS TO EXPERIMENT WITH FASTER SWING SPEEDS.
In this section we will share some quick and easy ways to experiment with a looser and more fluid swing to see firsthand if a relaxed swing results in faster ball speeds.
Tip #1: Drop some fingers- One way to gain a quick feel for a looser and more fluid swing is to drop one or more fingers off the bottom of your grip. When you have nothing to squeeze, your arm muscles will inevitably relax. The result of this relaxation is that the hinges in your arm (wrist, elbow, and shoulder) will function more fluidly, which in turn will increase your potential for faster swing speeds.
Tip #2: Make the wind noise- Try this little experiment in your backyard or next time you are on the court. Swing your racquet without hitting a ball and listen for a swooshing "wind noise" created by your strings and racquet frame passing through the air. Experiment by trying to swing quickly while gripping firmly and then with fingers off the grip as described in Tip #1. The faster your swing speed, the more you will hear the "wind noise" from your practice swings.
Tip #3: Use a swing speed radar gun- If you like training aids, here's one to consider for under $100. It clips to a fence or stands on a tripod and you can actually measure your swing speed and therefore calculate your ball speed.
Lets finish this article by thinking about top level athletes of many different sports and the extent to which they look relaxed or tense when performing. There are many examples that point to the same conclusion. Namely, that relaxation results in more power.
1. Golf-pro golfers seem effortless and smooth in their golf swings. Ask any of them if they are gripping tightly or loosely and you'll get the same answer we are offering for tennis in this article.
2. Baseball batters-although strong, the best hitters have the fastest bats. Yes, they are relaxed when they swing.
3. Baseball pitchers-do you think baseball pitchers are gripping the ball tightly as they prepare to try and throw fast balls? Clearly not.
4. Basketball-watch the hands of the best free throwers and you will see very loose arm hinges, making the shot seem effortless.
5. Boxing-if you've ever watched a seemingly muscle-bound professional boxer throw quick jabs and combination punches, you can observe the looseness of their arms to throw those punches that are in quick succession.
6. Football-in football, place kickers and punters come to mind. If their leg hinges were not loose and quick, how far would they be able to kick a football? Not very far.
The conclusion is quite clear. A loose and relaxed swing in tennis comes largely from a relaxed grip and the result of that looser swing will be faster racquet head speeds and therefore faster ball speeds. The bottom line? If you want to hit with more power, just relax.
NOTE #1: This article focused entirely on the arm and the forehand groundstroke. It is important to note that many knowledgeable coaches may emphasize the legs as the primary source of power. Others would argue that the kinetic chain is the key to racquet speed, of which the legs start the sequence. Most would agree that utilizing the entire kinetic chain (including the hinges of the arm) would be ideal. However, in reality, we are often hitting on the run and off balance and the arm is, after all, what swings the racquet. Therefore, yes, when possible try to get on balance and use your entire body to help accelerate your arm and then your racquet. But, in all situations, whether on full balance, partial balance, or off-balance, a relaxed arm will help any player swing faster.
NOTE #2: You may find that you lose some ball control while experimenting with faster racquet head speeds. This is normal. Your accuracy and consistency will improve with consistent relaxed practice. No doubt about it. In fact, your hitting can actually get more consistent if you just aim for larger target zones. After all, if you are hitting harder and heavier balls, your opponents will have more trouble returning your shots than ever, allowing you to increase your margin for error and not try to hit so close to the lines. (Joe Dinoffer)
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE PROS.
More and more top level tennis is broadcast on television than ever before. And, if there's a smaller event that is not on cable, it's often on the Internet through live streaming technology. It's a great time for those who love watching tennis. In contrast, not that long ago, tennis used to be televised only four times during the Grand Slams plus perhaps during the occasional Davis Cup or Fed Cup match. That was it. Yes, times have changed. And it's all good for tennis.
Unfortunately, most tennis players watch pro tennis for entertainment and a little general inspiration, but not much more. Few tennis players actually watch tennis to also learn and improve.
Top professional tennis players have an entourage of supporters, ranging from coaches to hitting partners to fitness trainers to managers. One of the primary responsibilities of each of these team members is to ensure consistency in all aspects of the life of their player. Many of these patterns become grounding rituals that stabilize the player and help them improve. Rituals can provide the foundation on which a player can stand tall, much like a public speaker standing on a solid stage.
Consistency in rituals breeds consistency in real play. Easy to say, hard to execute. In the context of this discussion, we will discuss rituals, which are defined as any behaviour pattern that helps a player's performance.
At the professional level, the team members' responsibilities start when the player wakes up in the morning all the way through the quality of their sleep at night. Of course, non-professional players like us cannot dedicate 24 hours a day to playing tennis. The question for the recreational player is which rituals are the most important and reasonably easy to implement.
In this article, we will cover two types of rituals. One will be on-court and the other will be off-court. You may be surprised that many of the basic rituals embraced by professional players are easy enought to replicate for us mere mortals. Please note that each one of these rituals could be explained in much greater length , and we are sharing just a few ideas to get you started.
Practice like you want to play-Consider just two things on this topic. Intensity level and style of play. Decide on a desired level of intensity that includes focus and movement. Then practice that way. Every time. This will help you play as you practice. And, if you're a steady baseliner, practice with drilling patterns that you want to use in real play. Likewise, if you mainly play recreational doubles, then practice patterns to help your doubles, working mainly on serve, return of serve, volleys, lobs, and overheads.
Serve Rituals- This is an easy one to see and learn from on television. Top tennis professionals perform the exact same ritual every time they walk up to the baseline to serve. Starting position, relaxation, ball bounce, breathing, etc. Since the serve is the most frequently hit shot in tennis, it makes sense that it needs to be among the most dependable shots in your arsenal.
Return of serve rituals-What is the second most frequently hit shot in tennis? No doubt about it. The return of serve. The problem is that it is also among those least practiced. Rituals for returning serve include a starting position (that can be adjusted to each server you face), balance, planning, having intended targets, etc. What is one of Roger Federer's rituals each and every single time he gets ready to return serve? He twirls his racquet. Is it a nervous habit or is there a purpose behind that fidgety looking ritual? Try it yourself. If you fall into the trap of gripping your racquet too tight, you may benefit from this ritual. Just be sure to breathe while you twirl and then swing away.
You're only as good as your second serve- While some of the top ladies have their bad serve days, most players can't get away with more than just a couple of double faults in a match. Remember that for each free point you give away, you have to win one point just to make up for it. If an average two-set match contains 120 points, then giving up a handful of extra points by double faulting can make all the difference in the world. The answer is to work hard at developing a second serve. It is arguably one of the most important shots in tennis.
You are what you eat-This sounds so cliche, but it is all too true. Our body is an energy system and tennis requires energy to be played. There is an abundance of helpful information available to players on what to eat and when (both before a match and after). The slight adjustments for many of us to perform better are often surprisingly simple. It's worth investigating and is a topic that has undoubtedly been covered in more detail on Tennis One in the past.
You are what you drink-If you've ever felt really thirsty, this tip is for you. You see, by the time you are really thirsty, it is usually too late to expect optimal performance as you are undoubtedly partially dehydrated or you wouldn't feel that thirsty. Keep in mind that on particularly hot days, just drinking water is not enough. Mixing water with some type of decaffeinated sports drink may be called for you. But, just like diet, best is to consult with your doctor and do your own research to find the right balance for your own particular needs.
Warm-up off the court-Growing older has its benefits, but unfortunately, staying injury free is not one of them. One proven way to help minimize the risk of injuries is to warm up gradually off the court. To many, the thought of warming up sounds boring, but think of the option. Science tells us that if you increase your core body temperature by just a little bit, you are significantly reducing your chance of injury. Take a few minutes to get a little sweat going and you will improve the quality of your movement and therefore your performance as well.
After play-We've all felt stiff or slightly sore a few hours after play. If you would like to minimize the amount of soreness, it's really not that difficult. Invest 10 minutes and do some light stretching. Not only will a little added flexibility help your performance and make you feel better, it will also help you minimize your overall risk of injury. Other simple yet sage advice is to eat a light snack shortly after strenuous exercise and be sure to rehydrate.
IS "RACQUET BACK!" STILL RELEVANT?"
The one time joke on tennis pros used to be, "Racquet back, bend your knees, that"ll be twenty dollars please." At least in the old days, this was more or less the standard of teaching tennis. After all, it worked quite well for millions of players in the 1960's and 1970's, didn't it?
The "old school" recommended a swing pattern for groundstrokes that was simple and easy to understand: Use your hitting arm to take your racquet straight back as quickly as possible to the back fence and then folow through by finishing with the racquet tip pointing at the opposite fence. Boy, a lot has changed in the last quarter of a century.
I'm often asked whether the racquet back position still takes place in today's game, only faster? Well, not exactly. For efficient and powerful hitting in today's game, a very different swing pattern has evolved. Nowadays, players only take a quick partial turn of the shoulders and hips to allow them to move quickly to the ball. This is commonly called the "unit turn."
Still, they say, doesn't the racquet eventually have to be taken all the way back and paused before swinging at the ball? Yes and no. Yes, the racquet takes a full backswing. No, it does not pause in the full backswing position. From the partial turn and set-up, better players today perform one fluid and explosive motion through contact and continue with an extended follow through.
And the days of the back fence to front fence swing is a thing of the past. The length of the swing of the tip of the racquet is actually three times longer than in "old school" tennis. The modern player now starts with the racquet tip pointing forwards, then loops it back, drops it in a somewhat circular path under the ball to create the "brush up" needed for topspin, and finally finishes with the tip pointing at the player's own back fence or even further, not across the net.
This increased relaxation and swing length maximizes racquet head speed. The opposite would be a short swing and tight grip-more or less like driving a car with the emergency brake on. Of course there are other contributing forces at work. Angular or rotational forces are generated from the circular motion of the swing, and ground or linear forces are created by bending the knees to load energy and then thrusting smoothly upwards with the hit. On top of all that, the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints should be relaxed to creat a controlled but whip-like swing that extends forwards through the area of contact as well as around in a circle.
Furthermore, squeezing the grip as tight as possible is not a very efficient way to generate power nor is overall strength a necessity (although if used efficiently it could be a contributing factor). Surprisingly enough, there are many 8-year-old girls hitting harder than some 250-pound recreational male players! Simply put, relaxation increases fluidity. And the more fluid your swing is, the more potential you have for your racquet head to accelerate and hit powerful shots. This concept holds true for many other sports as well. Relaxed and fluid motions that are also quick are needed to properly throw a baseball or football, as well as swing a golf club.
So just how relaxed should the grip actually be? As relaxed as possible. Just keep two criteria in mind. First, you obviously don't want to be so loose that you literally throw the racquet over the net when you hit the ball. And, second, you eventually need to be consistent. Most coaches who look at long-term skill development will say relax first, and with patient repetition, ball control and consistency will follow. The overall idea is that in order to hit as efficiently as possible, relaxation and fluidity are essential.
JUNE/JULY 2012-TENNIS STRINGS FOR JUNIOR PLAYERS.
HOW TO PREVENT INJURIES OF TENNIS PLAYERS.
Some tennis players and specialists are wary of poly tennis strings. There are articles and opinions that poly strings are injurious to junior arms, and strings' manufacturers advise lower tensions. It is always more usful to get an independent expert's opinion on this topic.
Strings today have become as important as the racquet itself to the point that they have taken the spotlight in the industry. The big attention has been directed at the ever changing poly strings. They have gone from being just round and harsh to becoming softer and more forgiving and having "sides" or "edges" to better grab the ball.
The reason the professional players like the poly string so much is that it is basically "dead". To make that easier to understand; they are very unlively. This allows a player to swing with a lot of speed and energy and the ball won't travel as far nor as wildly leading to greater control and increased power and spin. The thing that makes the poly great for professionals is the same thing that will hurt junior players arms; the deadness and lack of life in the string.
Because the poly is a "dead" material, it provides little energy that is returned to the ball. The second piece about poly is that it is very unforgiving; meaning that if you hit the ball off centre or away from the sweet spot, you get a harsh message in your arm that you missed in the form of a jolt or more simply put a shock. If the string were soft and forgiving, you would still receive the same message but in a kinder, gentler manner; like a "love tap".
Because of the jolt you receive, it has been recommended that players string down at lower tensions to minimize the trauma that can be caused by the poly and cushion the "blow". As this pertains to juniors; it is important to protect their arms and give their bodies and musculature a chance to develop before consistent and persistent trauma is applied. Damage that can be done could cause many different maladies including tennis elbow and these injuries could be chronic keeping them out of tennis for long periods of time if not permanently.
I would recommend that juniors play with multi-filament strings that offer some "compassion" for their arms and give them some touch and feel for the ball on their strings. This will also help them developmentally as players so that they can learn about different parts of the game and develop better skills. As players mature and age up into the 16's and 18's poly may be an option but better would be a co-poly which is kinder and gentler than the pure poly, but still has many traits of the poly. I would also suggest strongly that a blend of strings (very common today) be used by juniors. An example of this would be using poly in the main strings and a good multi-filament in the crosses.
MAY 2012 A DIFFERENT TYPE OF PERCENTAGE PLAY.
I'm constantly amazed when I see a player win the pre-match spin and almost reflexively elect to serve. When I ask these players why they make this choice, they think for a moment and then say,"It's an advantage to serve first.....isn't it?" The pros almost always elect to serve first. The serve is the most important shot in the game and most professionals have a good one, so for them the decision is usually a no-brainer. However, if you're like me, you're not receiving a check for your match results on the tennis court so the subject requires a bit more thought.
Serving first is the right choice because serving is an advantage isn't it? Well, theoretically, yes. But realistically is it the correct decision? At the club level, most of the time, probably not! Serving at the recreational level is often a disadvantage for the simple fact that many recreational players do not have particularly good serves. To anyone insulted by that statement, I apologize but, hey, we're talking competitive tennis here and, more often than not, serving first does not provide an advantage.
The pros tend to hold serve (win their service games) about 85% of the time. At recreational levels I estimate the percentages as follows:
As you can see, until you reach the 4.5-5.0 level serving tends to be a risky affair at best. That is why I suggest you choose to receive if you win the opening spin of the racquet. Here are a few reasons why:
1. You'll catch your opponent cold. Like most recreational players, they've probably hit three or four serves and then boldly proclaim they're ready to go. Believe me, they're not! They'll undoubtedly still be a bit stiff as well as suffering from opening game jitters. Plus, at the recreational levels, there's often the old "first ball in" (FBI) rule in effect (especially among women) meaning that on the first point the server gets to keep hitting serves until one goes in. This concept was invented for one reason: so that the players don't have to waste valuable court time on something as insignificant as warming up their serves.
So what happens? The player serving first takes no warm-up serves, says "FBI" and away they go. Many times in "FBI" games the first ball actually does go in and then the server's really in trouble. The server now has to serve the rest of the game with what amounts to one warm-up serve. A quick point here: if you do get caught in one of those "first ball in games" be certain to intentionally miss your first 10-15 serves so that you can loosen your arm up. By doing so, you'll not only warm your arm up, you'll most probably annoy your opponents to the point where they'll agree to a proper service warm-up before beginning the match.
2. You'll have more time to warm-up, relax and get into the match. In addition, you'll be looser when it's your turn to serve.
3. Again, most players below the 5.0 level simply don't have very good serves. Sorry, but it's true. Many players at the club level find practicing their serve boring so they let it slide. As a result, they adopt the old "boom" and "plop" strategy that is so prevalent today. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. If you have confidence in your serve, and I don't mean the "I have a great serve when it goes in" type of confidence, then you should serve first. Also, if your opponent truly has a great serve you may want to serve first. However, keep in mind that even a great server is a bit stiff and jittery serving for the first time, so it may be a good time to go for an early service break.
MARCH/APRIL 2012-4 EASY WAYS TO IMPROVE
Everyone takes tennis lessons, whether privates or clinics, for a purpose. That purpose is to improve and become more accomplished as a tennis player. Following are four easy steps to use.
1. WATCH THE BALL: I bet that everyone has heard their Pro say this at least once, some maybe more than once. By watching the ball you are able to track it off your opponents racquet and therefore your preparation becomes that much earlier and better. Remember also when hitting the ball to watch the contact as you already know where you are going to hit it, so you do not need to look there.
2. MOVEMENT OFF THE BALL: This is very important as it allows you to get into a good position with your recovery to receive the next ball, and also enables you to get into a better position to execute your next shot. Together with watching the ball, your movement off the ball will greatly improve your preparation and the execution of your shot.
3.LISTEN TO YOUR PRO: Listening to what your Tennis Pro says is of vital importance. Remember that he/she is probably a Tennis Pro due to their playing/coaching experience. You need to step onto the court for each lesson or clinic willing to listen and learn.
4. WATCH OTHER PLAYERS IN YOUR LESSON OR CLINIC: Watching other players in your group is also a good way to improve. Not only can you learn from their strengths, but you can also learn from their weaknesses. We can all learn from watching no matter what it is and as long as we are willing to put in the effort we will benefit from it.
FEBRUARY 2012-4 WAYS TO MAINTAIN A HIGH LEVEL MATCH
Has any of these scenarios happened to you?
1. At the beginning of each set, you fall behind early and points are quick. You make several unforced errors within the first few games and the slow start has led to you being down a break. Eventually, you finally find your shots and raise the level of play, but it will take extra effort to claw back.
2. In the first set, after a great start, you find yourself in a slump. Your forehands are falling short into the net and the groove of the point and feel of the ball has escaped you. Unforced errors continue to rise and your opponent is closing the gap. The lead you built early is slipping away and your play continues to suffer as a result. Fortunately, before the end of the first set you are able to catch yourself and climb back into the match.
Slow starts and inconsistent performances are two common issues among players at all levels. Even professional players can be pinpointed as slow starters ( Lleyton Hewitt, Janko Tipsarevic, Roger Federer) or inconsistent performers (Amelie Mauresmo, Marat Safin, David Nalbandian).
What typically separates elite players and medoicre players is the ability to compete at a high level consistently. This includes eliminating slow starts and performing at higher levels from start to finish. Slow starters are often those players that have the early jitters in matches or take a long time to truly warm up their strokes. For a slow starter, the initial sluggish performance can typically be traced to a mostly external focus (talent level of the opponent, crowd, weather). Inconsistent performers are players who may easily get distracted or fade away, especially if the score is lopsided in their favour. For the inconsistent performer, footwork and stroke production/consistencey wax and wane throughout the match. These players may hit a string of winners but then go off on an unforced error bonanza.
So what if you are the player who falls into one of these categories? What strategies can you implement to work on these areas of your game? The following will offer a few easy solutions to assist in overcoming or improving these issues.
DOUBLE YOUR FOOTWORK.
Slow starters and peak-and-valley players have difficulty in maintaining a vital and basic aspect of the game: footwork! Simply telling yourself to double your footwrok, or forcing yourself to take extra steps to the ball is one of the most effective methods of overcoming early jitters, tightness, or inconsistent play. While this is a simple tool to employ, it will not be effective unless players are self-aware when competing. Once you feel/sense as though your intensity is not where it needs to be, this is where your conscious efforts come into play.
Increasing footwork should not be implemented during points, but maybe even more importantly in between points and immediately after changeovers. Bounce around, jump up and down...whatever it takes. The prematch sprint Nadal has made famous is a perfect example of activating the body before competition begins.
If you are a slow starter, own it. Even though all teams warm up before matches and you get a brief warm up with your opponent at the beginning of the match, this may not be enough. Taking extra time to hit, especially before your match begins is part of your responsibility as a player, which is related to the old saying: "know thyself".
If it is not possible to get in an extra hit, running, doing some quick ladder footwork, or shadow strokes may work. Try different approaches to your pre-match warm up to find what works best for you. Before each match, you should feel ready to compete physically and mentally. If you are not ready physically, you will not be ready mentally and your performance will reflect it.
REMEMBER THE GAME PLAN.
Re-focusing on the strategy or game plan throughout the match is another easy method of getting back on track. Focusing on the game plan you and coach have outlined offers a distraction from previous points/games/sets and gives you a future oriented task to move forward with. Too often, players are so hopped up on previous events that they forget about what they set out to do. If it helps, write down the strategy or performance reminders on a note card and check it every changeover.
GET BACK TO BASICS.
If the match has become stagnant or the air has begun to empty out of your balloon, remember the bread and butter aspects of your game. Hit the shots you feel most confident with at the time and commit yourself to the competition. As an athlete, competing is a basic instinct, but our minds often distract us from getting back to what we know best. If you catch yourself getting hung up on previous points, fall into a string of unforced errors, or if you feel tight, assess what patterns are working and stick to them.
If your forehand crosscourt has been reliable all day, hit a few more balls in that direction to get into a rhythm and then take the next shot that looks good. You will find your other shots will get better and your confidence will continue to grow. You might notice one common thread among all these suggestions: each is a controllable factor. Tennis is full of uncontrollable areas, but performance and effort is not one of them. Ultimately, you are the one to decide how to respond to situations on the court.
So, with this in mind, continue to monitor your matches to see if you can figure out any common themes that need improvement (slow starts, inconsistent play when holding a lead). It will take a level of accountability and deliberate effort to notice when you are falling into your old habits, but fortunately once they are identified you can begin to right the ship.
DECEMBER 2011-TENNIS ELBOW
Tennis elbow is localized pain over the bony prominence called the lateral epicondylitis. It is a common tendinitis that affects participants of racquet sports. It also affects people who perform repetitive wrist extension (wrist bent away from palm) and forearm rotation. It is caused by repetitive stress on the muscles connected to the lateral epicondylitis. Too much stress on these muscles can lead to microtearing, causing pain that is usually centralized in the muscles' origin in the outer elbow.
Treatment of tennis elbow includes modification of exercise, use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, ice treatment and total rest. Alternative treatments include acupuncture, splinting and various types of herbal remedy for it. Before any treatment you need to identify the cause of the problem. To do this you need to have your coach evaluate your game, particularly your backhand, as this is the stroke mostly responsible for tennis elbow pain. If your technique is poor, your coach will guide you in making the necessary changes. Remember though, these changes will require persistence and determination as you are essentially changing a habit formed over your tennis career.
If your doctor or physical therapist has given you the all clear to play, it is essential that you do everything possible to alleviate any discomfort. Make sure you incorporate a good stretch into your warm-up routine. Flexing your wrist (towards the palm) while keeping your elbow straight is a good one. As muscles stretch more when they are warm, and are therefore less prone to injury, it is a good idea to wear an elbow brace or sleeve.
If it's not your technique, chances are that your equipment is the problem. The more "yes's" you give to the questions in the following checklist, the greater the chances that your equipment is to blame.
*use a racquet that is light, but head heavy?
*use a racquet with a very small or very large grip?
*use a racquet that is exceptionally stiff?
*have your racquets strung exceptionally tight?
*use strings that are hard and unforgiving?
*use a racquet with a very small sweet spot?
*forget to use a vibration dampener?
*use heavy balls?
If you answered yes to some of the above questions, it is likely that you could derive tremendous benefit from an equipment change. Your coach or tennis equipment supplier will be able to advise you on the most arm-friendly racquets and strings. Remember though to always warm up your arm and wrist before you play, and to always use ice after you play if you are playing with tennis elbow or have just gotten over tennis elbow.
If you would like to learn to play tennis or reach a higher level at a quicker rate you must understand that stroke production is based on a feel of a particuler stroke, not mechanics. Conventional methods would lead you to believe that strokes are all mechanics, but it simply is not true.
The truth is all pros have developed a feel of a given stroke by many hours of repetition. Either by having someone feed them balls or just having fun as a child playing day in and day out. As they develop a feel for a given shot then the mechanics work correctly. The feel of a stroke allows the mechanics to function properly. The mechanics themselves do not make the stroke function correctly. An example of this would be a player who has the perfect mechanics and looks good, but cannot keep the ball in the court with any consistency. He has painstakingly forced himself to do the mechanics correctly, but has developed no feel of the stroke through repetition.
What do we mean by feel? To feel is an identification with a stroke as a whole unit, not its individual parts. By the way, this is true for all sports. If you think Michael Jordan was one of the all time greatest basketball players beacause he had the best mechanics you would be dead wrong. His feel of the game, shots, and situations were beyond most players in the history of the game. He developed that feel from long hours of repetition when most would become bored. The same is true in tennis. Develop a feel of a shot and that feel will make the mechanics work correctly. Try it and see for yourself.
Go out and practice any one of your shots for one month, just one half hour a week or more and watch what begins to happen. Use a ball machine or a partner that will simply feed you balls. Hit for ten minutes; then rest by practicing another stroke for three minutes; then come back to the same stroke for ten more minutes. Do this for as long as you like each week for a month and watch the different feel that develops for that particular shot. Even if you are not doing everything perfectly you will still improve. Why? The magic of the lost art of repetition.
Most players nowadays want the pro to tell them what they technically did wrong so they can correct it and then they think everything is fine. Only one problem;if that is all there were to it everyone would be a pro. Everyone seems to forget repetition. Repetition is so powerful that many times you do not even have to be technically correct and you will still improve. Besides with a little guidance and a lot of repetition many of the mistakes you are making will disappear on their own. Why? Because most of the mistakes players make are based on incorrect balance, timing, judgement, and undeveloped muscle. All four can be developed by repetition, not by forcing yourself to do a host of technical things.
This is the same problem a child is having when he/she learns to walk. He/she lacks the balance, the timing, the judgement, and has undeveloped muscle. How does a child solve this problem? With the same principle you should use to develop your game: Repetition.
Repetition develops balance, timing, judgement, and undeveloped muscle which in turn leads to a feel for any given stroke and that feel makes the mechanics work properly. This is exactly how repetition taught you a feel for walking as a child and eventually a feel for the advanced skill of running. Learning tennis is based on developing a feel for the whole stroke through repetition, not on learning each and every intricate mechanical movement.
AUGUST 2011-DON'T THINK.
In tennis, too much attention to detail is a recipe for disaster.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, U.S. gymnast Alicia Sacramone stepped up to compete on the balance beam. The U.S. and Chinese teams were vying for the gold in the all-around team finals, and the pressure was on for Alicia to nail her routine. Although Sacramone was ready to go, the judges were not. She had to wait a while before she was given the green light to mount the beam. Once she started, it didn't go well. Sacramone fell on her initial jump onto the beam and had to start from the floor. The deductions helped cost her team the gold.
Unlike gymnastics, tennis is not a sport where judges routinely put the brakes on an athlete who is ready to go. But it turns out that tennis players don't need anyone else to slow them down. We often do it ourselves. When the game or match is on the line, we routinely take our time getting to the baseline. This extra time not only provides us with the opportunity to worry about messing up. It may even prompt us to think too much.
Simply put, scrutinizing our actions can get in the way of what we are doing, especially if we are performing, say, a serve practiced to perfection. When we unpack every detail of what we are about to do, we alter our normal routine, which can lead to a botched service toss, a misaligned foot, poor ball contact or all of the above.
Limiting the time between points can help. Of course, new players need plenty of time to think about what they want to do, because attending to the details is important when you are just learning the tools of your trade. But once a skill is well practiced, too much time; if it allows for too much attention to detail; can be a bad thing.
It also helps to have a relatively short pre-serve routine. Golfer Aaron Baddeley, for example, uses a four count from the moment he grounds the putter to the moment he strikes the ball. Baddeley is consistently rated as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour. Ensuring that your pre-serve routine is on the short side may help you ace that important serve.
We have all heard that "haste makes waste." But sometimes, haste actually prevents waste. So, next time you are at the pivotal point, don't spend too much time agonizing over your serve. Instead, push yourself to play like it is any other point and simply get it done.
JULY 2011-Second Serve
"You are only as good as your second serve" is a commonly used phrase among tennis players and I totally agree. If there is a serve that you want to practice, practice your second serve. Too many players put more time into their first serves and do not practice their second serves enough. Remember that your second serve has to go in as it is your last chance!
You want to try to develop a second serve that is reliable. To make it reliable you need to hit it with spin, as the spin helps the ball to drop into the box, and you need to use the correct grips: continental or eastern backhand grip.
There are two kinds of spins you can use on the second serve: slice and kick (like topspin). For the slice serve the toss can be in the same location as for your first serve ( a little in front and to the right/a little in front and to the left) depending on whether you are right-handed or left-handed. For the kick serve the toss needs to be located behind you. This allows you to hit up on and across the ball which enables you to create the spin or kick that is needed to be successful.
Remember that a similarity between the slice and kick serve is that racquet head acceleration is of the utmost importance in both and you must have a loose wrist. Your second serve will not be effective if you decelerate the racquet. A distinct difference between the slice and kick serve is the ball flight and the finish with your racquet arm. The slice serve curves either left (right-hander) or right (left-hander), while the kick serve bounces high and can move right (right-hander) or left (left-hander). The finish with the slice serve is on the opposite side to your playing arm, while the finish for the kick serve is on the same side as your playing arm and involves the pronation of your wrist.
Remember: Go out and practice your second serve and have a loose wrist to allow you to creat the spins.
MAY 2011 - Slice Backhand
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