Saturday, 30 January 2016

As a kid I spent a lot of time simply hitting tennis balls and refining my shots, though that is a necessity in tennis, but many times in training the point of the sport is lost, how to win. I am a firm believer as a coach in teaching students HOW to play tennis as opposed to simply hitting tennis balls with no structure.
My junior days were at times wasted on many hours of  hitting that were pointless, tiring and lacking any real purpose so I often wonder was it due to lack of knowledge on the coach's behalf ? Quite possibly, however the art of teaching tennis has taken a quantum leap over the years with point construction now a necessity of any lesson that involves a student old enough to play points.
I will quite often dedicate a full session to simply playing points and asking questions of the student rather than the 'standard' session that will concentrate on stroke production. Many times if a student of any age knows what to do with a ball then their shots may just improve dramatically as opposed to a student who is just taught how to hit a ball technically correct without any thought process involved.
By that I mean that if a player is just taught technique then how are they supposed to know how to play the game as far as tactics and big point structures are concerned ? How is a player supposed to play tennis if all they are taught is how to hit a ball ?
If I may take a leaf out of my hero Mats Wilander's book of thought I will offer you this : " I can still hit a ball but I don't know how to play tennis anymore ". That's from a former legend of the game who only plays for fun now days. Do you get the meaning ? Let's look at that statement in reverse. If a player far less credentialed than Mats is never taught to play the game with tactics that are worked on in practice how will they ever become competitive at any level ? Through luck ?
I firmly believe that some players reach a certain level of play through stroke superiority yet cannot find that extra gear when required to beat the next level of players simply through lack of knowledge. It happens through all standards. Many local kids are 'superstars' in their home town yet cannot match it with the smarter adults in senior tournaments even when they reach an age that would suggest that they are ready to make an impression.
Some kids though can beat all before them locally, including the adults yet get beaten easily when travelling to the City tournaments. I call that 'lack of mental training'. The 'big fish in small pond syndrome' is huge in all standards and I believe that it also comes down to contentment rather than striving for more. If a kid keeps winning easily locally then they may be happy with where their game is at rather than working to make it stronger.
You could relate this type of example to juniors trying to make it to the challenger series and the challenger series players trying to make it to the pro ranks. So is there a solution ? Well as the headline suggests, only purposeful training will continue to improve a player and not just ball hitting sessions that will in a small way help with improvement but not with decision making in a match.
If players work on tactics and thinking their way through match situations more often then come match day these type of situations will surely become second nature.
A player who works on making first serves with more spin and less pace in practice sessions will find that type of play at 5 games all and deuce in the third set of a tournament match a safe and smarter option than going for an ace.
A player who works on their returning in practice and  makes the opponent play rather than going for a blinding winner will find that situation in a tournament to be far less daunting when it arises than someone who neglects it on a practice court.
Training with purpose separates the good players from the rest and it will train a mind to play it smart in a match rather than attempting the million dollar crowd pleasing shot that lacks any real thought other than stroking one's own ego.
It all starts in practice, you can hit a million balls but it may not get you any better. Hit those million with a purpose and you will guarantee yourself a rise in standard, no risk....

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