Saturday, 5 March 2016


I often look back on my playing days and compare them with today's coaching and playing ideas, I am sure I am no Robinson Crusoe there. Us 'Dinosaurs' used to have a coach at the net who fed us balls and commanded results. Now days the ball is hand fed by many. My apologies to the 'dinosaurs' of the past but I see some merit in that, but only some.
Back in the days of black and white television a tennis coach would gain improvement from a student by hitting a series of balls at different speeds with different spins and different trajectories. That's how smart tennis coaches gained results, through coaching ideas which made the student think. My 'apology' comes from me hand feeding now days also however I only do that to improve technique because let's face it, if a ball is delivered by a coach at all types of angles it will not in fact improve technique alone, perhaps just the thinking side of the game.
Technique improvement comes from hitting a ball in the same spot over and over again until it becomes like the quoted golf pro from the 70's, pardon me for not remembering his name. 'It's like turning the light on in the middle of the night when you are getting up for a pee'. Great way of looking at it.
I do not do group lessons anymore because they create minimal improvement so I find the one on one sessions are the ONLY way to work on a player's technique but there are ways of doing this. I once told a female student that I could keep placing the ball in that perfect spot in the perfect hitting zone or I could teach her how to play tennis. I asked her what was her preference. She said 'how about both' ? I said 'perfect answer'.
You can place a tennis ball all you like in the same spot for a student of any age and have that student hitting the ball like a pro but when you really look at it, what's it really doing ? I believe it creates a false sense of one's own ball striking ability not unlike when a player plugs in a ball machine, belts 300 balls then makes the statement ' I am ready for anyone'.
Problem is simple, if that 'anyone' has any brains they will not put the ball in the hitting zone of the player who has declared they are able to beat anyone because they just beat a machine who is programmed to play one way.
I look back at my group sessions with my advanced students and I was slightly proud of the way in which we approached most sessions. I often placed a student on the baseline and created a short ball feed to the player at the other end who was usually a baseliner but who I urged to come out of their comfort zone because I felt it a necessity for future growth as a player.
Some of the pass and volley attempts I witnessed were nothing short of comical but it was a learning process that I think is not implemented enough now days through too much 'comfort zone' hitting. Sometimes I would feed from the baseline and bring a player forward giving them an approach shot, a low volley, a harder hit volley, a sitter then a smash. In other words REALITY tennis, things that actually happen on a tennis court. Isn't that what really eventuates ?
You get a short ball, you are forced to hit an approach, you must come in, your opponent may chip a low ball to you, a low volley must be hit back as best you can, then they belt one at you, a reflex volley is hit back then they may try a lob because none of their previous attempts at winning the point were effective. Let's face it, unless a topspin lob is hit, well, a defensive lob is just that, a last resort at winning the point.
The 'old school' way of coaching may have been a little like the dinosaur era type of doing things however much of it was effective. Some kids wonder now days why they can't in fact play tennis other than against a coach's feed or a ball machine. Pretty simple, they are being pampered and not being forced to think for themselves.
Hand feeding and ball machines are fantastic methods for creating technique perfect students but those methods do not create champion tennis players. Someone who thinks outside the square will create a very good player, that's what makes the sport so unique.
A creative mind usually wins the day in a sport like tennis, not someone who is only taught to hit the ball in the same spot. That's not tennis, that's Walt Disney.........

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