Words are important, we often think in words. Ideas surpass this, but words are a significant means to transfer information between minds. Thus, I offer to share my knowledge to young tennis players in an unorthodox method…writing, a long-lost form. Through writing, I will assist greatly in player development. Whats more, is there will be a record of it all, for affirmation and reflection.
I expect that you will still have your coaches, clubs and clinics, and parental assistance. Still, I think it would be amazing to have a former pro player to write letters and anecdotes describing their experience and giving advice on becoming a player…no?
To sample, I offer the following and give you time to experience it, work with it, and decide if the information you would like to continue receiving. Although it may not feel specifically tailored to you, it should resonate as true and clarify current misunderstandings or lack of knowledge. I assure anyone that the information I provide will greatly benefit anyone on a journey to becoming a better player and person.
So, let me begin with the first, free, points of advice…things that you will never hear elsewhere.
Technique. Technique is boring. Young players rarely enjoy standing around and paying attention to the little technical things like how to hold the racket or how to make a proper swing. THEY WANT TO PLAY! They want to hit balls and play points and run around and get their bodies warm and work up a sweat.
Ask yourself if this resonates with your experience? Do you like to stand around on a tennis court next to a basket of balls and look down at your own hand and see how you hold the racket or see how your wrist is set or make a motion over and over again without hitting a ball to see if you are doing it properly? I imagine that you don’t. Nobody does. However, I can assure you that TECHNIQUE IS IMPORTANT. In fact, in a sport like tennis, technique is almost everything! With the right technique, the sport becomes actually quite easy and manageable. Instead of missing lots of shots or hitting balls all over the place, technique will help keep the ball in play and therefore make points last longer, giving them more shots to hit, and more mental stamina for rallies, helping them get EVEN BETTER, FASTER than everyone else. The gap between the players who understand this and those who don’t will grow very very quickly.
Real progress feels really good. If you are feeling like you aren’t improving, or you aren’t having fun playing tennis or learning tennis, something is wrong! Don’t get discouraged or frustrated and quit. Just have faith that there are things you don’t know yet, and that if you stick with it, you will learn. There is always somewhere to learn whatever it is that is bothering you. I definitely do not want anyone to feel like they are lost in an abyss and have no idea what they are doing and are all alone and cannot grow and progress the way they should…the way everyone should be able to. Keep in mind, however, that sometimes our lives, our coaches, our world, does not allow us to progress as much as we would like, but these times will end, and its important not to give up or do anything dumb out of frustration or loneliness or feeling lost.
So, getting back to technique…we know that we want to progress, but we also want to be able to hit balls and play and take advantage of the limited court time we get…especially in places where it rains a lot or winter weather limits our time on-court. One solution is to work on technique AWAY FROM THE COURT. At home, you can use a mirror to look at your own swing. If you are young or new, you might not know what to look for, but this is where you can watch slow motion videos of pro players. Finding a player that you like and copying them is a great strategy!!! Even a parent who has never played can kind of look at a video closely and help their small child make the motions look similar. The important parts are the grip, the way the wrist and elbow are set, and the “hitting zone” — the portion of the swing path that goes through contact point, an imaginary line where the ball is stricken. The hitting zone on most groundstrokes should be long as possible and clean, with the goal being to make the ball land deep in the opponents court (past the service line at least) with the least amount of effort. This way, the technique is doing its job automatically. Players shouldn’t have to hit very hard to get depth, its built into their swing and a long follow through. After the hitting zone, the racket can do all sorts of different finishes, whether the “wrap around the ear” or shoulder, or even lower around the body. Following through a little bit lower by making the strings of the racket come from under neath the ball and quickly working over the top of the ball will generate spin and make the ball dip on the other side, a great stroke to use when trying to get the ball down at the feet of an opponent at the net making their volley difficult, or also when dealing with a low ball that you can spin into a corner and will kick up off the court making the shot difficult for them to hit back cleanly. Done properly, this can produce a really nice easy volley that’s up in the eyes where it can be angled off cleanly or nailed more firmly with a high swinging volley.
Swinging volleys are going to take a lot of practice, however. It’s easy to practice simply with hand feeding. Even a parent or other player whose a friend can toss a bunch of balls up at a player standing at the net and let them keep a volley grip and make a volley with just a little backswing. Just make sure the person tossing the balls is on the other side of the net and off to the side, and the person volleying maintains control and doesn’t go too hard until they get comfortable with aiming them away from the person feeding them practice shots. Just a nice floating, hand tossed ball about head height is great to work on, popping them consistently into corners. Gotta be consistent…drills should be practice slowly until the player (and feeder) can get 18 or more out of 20. A little feedback from the player should help the feeder know exactly how the young player needs the ball fed to them to help them practice. Even adults can benefit from working on different shots like this. A little repetition, a little technique development, and before you know it, its embedded!
Groundstrokes are the most important part to begin with. They have to be well developed so players can begin rallying and playing points. Even though points often end with short shots that bring someone to net where the player will often not know what to do and their net play looks kinda silly, its still important to learn to play from the baseline. Even in the pros, most points are won and lost from the baseline. Just making an extra shot or two more is what wins. Getting overpowered or moved around by a better baseliner is difficult, but the point is that battles are ultimately won or lost on this skill, stamina, strategy, and ability. The interesting thing is that is all begins early in a players career! At 12 to 14 years old, or the first few months of learning to play for anyone of any age, the skills at the baseline, from technique to stamina to mental determination, this is probably the number one thing that determines how far most players goes.
Serves become more necessary later in careers, at higher levels, where bigger bodies mean more power and a bigger advantage starting the point. Even the best servers, however, find themselves in long, difficult rallies at very important times in their matches. Until then, a basic serve and sound technique with the right training which is quite easy and repetitive is going to accomplish plenty. Trust me on this one.
Okay, so, I hope you have enjoyed reading about this stuff. It might sound very new to you, and it might not make sense. It will in time. There was a lot of information in here. To summarize in a list:
•Technique is important! Don’t get bored with thinking about it, making it better.
•Technique can be worked at home, in a mirror, copied from pros!
•Groundstrokes are the foundation of players, keep shots deep using built in technique
•The strings can make motions on the ball to effect the type and amount of spin
•A low follow through can make a ball dip (coming over the top of the ball)
•Ending points at the net will come later, its important to winning, but focus on ground game first.
•Hand feeding is not stupid or for little kids, you can practice important shots with it like high volleys that need practice to win points when you are in a good position already
•Don’t get too frustrated ever, working on one’s own game is supposed to be fun
•Sharing information and talking to other players at various levels helps everyone!
•Sometimes you can’t work on technique much when playing in groups, but thats okay, just play and enjoy whatever the group is doing
I hope you understand that coaches cannot and do not always work with individual players in a group setting, and sometimes its hard to run a group with players at different levels. Unfortunately, the kinks of this have never been worked out very well. It’s similar to a lot of issues that public schools face. I hope that just knowing this helps you as a player at least feel some ease in being aware of this and can enjoy the sport of tennis and the constant growth and community development that tennis embraces. In time, things will work out, they always do!
Sincerely, Keggy Rantangent
Please Comment below or Text to: soondeparted on Wickr if you would like to arrange more letters regarding technique, strategy, how to behave on court, equipment advice, serve mechanics, setting up practice matches, tournament schedules, etc.