Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Talk to the Ball

So I'm reading some comments on the evolve9 discussion group at LinkedIn. For those of you who don't know, evolve9 is a European-based (England, I believe) tennis instruction organization specializing in young players. The discussion was about the use of training aids on the court. Lots of good info. Lord knows there are lots of training aids out there and it is useful to have recommendations (or warnings) from other instructors. But out of all the training aids you could spend your money on, fellow by the name of Brett Lennard chimes in with his two cents, saying his favorite tools are the players' own eyes and mouth. He is a fan of the exercise where you ask the player to say 'bounce' when the ball bounces; 'hit' when they hit the ball; and he adds one that I have not used: have them say 'split' when their opponent hits the ball. This last is to remind them to perform the 'split step' which we will cover in another blog post.

I agree with Brett and all the other coaches who use this tried-and-true technique. I find it especially useful for brand-new players, right up there with learning the parts of the court and the four basic strokes (forehand, backhand, volley, serve). Bounce-Hit performs two important functions.

  • It helps the player focus on the ball
  • It helps the player understand the variations in rhythm that they can control as they progress; specifically when we progress to hitting early aka 'taking the ball on the rise', we can refer to our Bounce, Hit days. Bounce . . . . . Hit! becomes Bounce-Hit!
oh and here's a third one
  • It has legs. Lots of older players still say Bounce, Hit! in their heads when they play. 
how about a fourth
  • Anecdotal evidence only, but when I give my students a secondary activity paired with hitting the ball, most students hit the ball much better. Not sure why, maybe because the left brain is now occupied with saying Bounce, Hit! and the right brain can take over the hitting process.

For my very young players, we start this activity as a group. I drop a ball and we all say Bounce! together. I give them homework where they drop the ball themselves, say Bounce, then Catch when they catch it. Catch is soon replaced by Hit when they have a racquet in their hands and either I am feeding the ball or they are bounce feeding themselves.

Still using the concept of speaking or reacting verbally to an action on the court:

  • Count out loud the number of rallies. Full disclosure: I still do this in my head (usually) when I play. I have a little bit of an adult ADD problem, and this really helps me focus on what is going on during the point as opposed to what  groceries I need to pick up at Piggly Wiggly, wondering if I remembered to put the clothes in the dryer before I left that morning, whether I should use I-20 or 378 due to traffic conditions on the way home, etc.
  • I have some students studying Spanish and Chinese so sometimes we count in a different language. When possible, I like to customize my lessons to integrate my students' interests outside of tennis.