Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are Your Tennis Priorities In Order?

Psych students will recognize
 Mr. Maslow's work here
A few years ago when I took my first PTR certification test, the instructor (Scott Mitchell formerly of Charlotte Country Club, now at The Landings in Savannah GA) had many words of wisdom during the two-day workshop. When we were discussing teaching the serve, he went over five basic skills students should master. You may be surprised to learn that speed/power was the LAST of the five. The other four were (in order):

  • Consistency: get it over the net, in the correct box. Your goal should be at least 7 of 10 in the box.
  • Depth: once you are getting them in, can you place them deep or short at will?
  • Location: if you can get them in and get them deep, then you are ready to start placing them (wide, T, body)
  • Spin: how do you make contact with the ball - topspin? slice? flat? 

Only when you can demonstrate a mastery of the above four components should you attempt to add power/speed to your serve.

This really hit home with me as practically everyone I know is trying to hit it harder/faster FIRST. If they can hit a killer serve, they don't care if it is only 1 of 10 or 1 of 100 - they will keep trying for that long shot. I immediately included this advice in all of my serve lessons as well as in my own quest to improve my serve. It has served me well (groan) and has resulted in giving me a more reliable serve if perhaps not a faster one.

So I was delighted to learn at a recent Recreational Coaches Workshop that this philosophy has been officially expanded to other aspects of tennis instruction. Hooray! Doesn't matter if you are working on a forehand, a backhand, a volley, an overhead, whatever - consistency first!  This does a couple of things for the student as well as the instructor. It allows the student to PLAY tennis quickly. In the olden days when coaches were more focused on the correct grip and technique, it might be weeks/months/years before a student actually played out some points. They spent their lesson time hitting fed balls until the coach was satisfied with their form. No more! At least, not on my court. Get the ball over the net, within playable area, however you can. Get playing! Once students are playing, we can move to the next levels (placement, depth, spin, power).  This also makes the coach's job easier - if the student can at least get balls over the net fairly reliably, teaching a new skill such as direction or spin will be less frustrating for everyone.

To emphasize the importance of having the correct priorities, I am adding these five components to my blog labels effective immediately. So if you have students who are becoming more consistent and are ready to tackle depth or spin, you can quickly search for those activities.

Good luck with your instruction and here's to consistency, the structurally sound base for your tennis skill pyramid.