Why Spin?

Here are 10 reasons why you should incorporate more spin into your game.

  1. Keep more balls in play
  2. Hit with higher margin and net clearance
  3. Better manage pace
  4. Establish rhythm/disrupt rhythm
  5. Buy time/take time away
  6. Gain court positioning advantage/superiority
  7. Make opponent(s) move
  8. Expand arsenal and pattern options
  9. Disguise
  10. Hit targets

Intrigued?  Check out the next article for more detail.

Threshold Training for Tennis

Training at anaerobic or lactate threshold is one of the main components of training for endurance athletes. Very simply, anaerobic or lactate threshold is the highest level of intensity you can maintain for a sustained length of time (before blowing up and going into full muscle depletion or in the case of tennis, making mistakes). For tennis, threshold training is about pushing for a series of shots and/or patterns with intensity just prior to a point where things start to breakdown. It is about training at a level of discomfort in response to difficult situations. For tennis, threshold training is not just working to hit the ball harder but working to hit the ball harder for an extended length of time or through a multiple number of shots. There are a series of specific threshold training tennis drills to increase your ability to sustain a high level of performance, execute at a higher level of efficiency, handle more pressure, hit with higher tempo and pace, etc. Here are 10 examples.

  1. Reflex Volleys – Quick, up tempo volley exchanges from inside the service line are a great way to develop your hands for doubles and to clean up any flaws in your volley technique.  Keep the ball in play and have another ball ready in hand whenever there is a breakdown or mistake. Options include maintaining an exchange while moving up from mid-court, moving back and moving up and back.
  2. Rapid Fire – Hit a continuous series of groundstrokes (or swinging volleys) with quick feeds (very little recovery between shots).  This drill or exercise promotes active feet, relaxed and fluid swing patterns and intense focus.
  3. Overhead Count Down – Hit a series of overheads (touching the net with your racquet after each shot). Start at 20 (or a designated number) and count down every time you make the shot (and count up every time you miss) until reaching 0.  For difficulty, establish a requirement to hit to a specific target area or bounce the overhead to (or over) the back fence (after only one bounce).
  4. Play Inside the Baseline – Maintain a groundstroke rally standing just inside the baseline. Learn to maintain a rally regardless of the incoming shot without standing on or past the baseline.  The drill promotes active feet, quick hands, early ball recognition, etc.
  5. 7-Ball Drill – Start each point with a cooperative rally of seven (or designated number of shots). This drill promotes shot tolerance, consistency, patience, focus, hitting for rhythm and managing pace.
  6. Depth (Target) Count – Continue hitting (with a live-ball rally) until you and then your partner by turn hits a specific number of shots to a defined target area.
  7. Attack and Defend – Establish a live-ball rally pattern with defined target areas and two roles, one to attack and the other to defend.  In the attacking role, work to sustain a relentless series of offensive shots to the defined target area. In the defending role, work to neutralize the pace and get the ball back in play.
  8. Crosscourt/Down-the-Line – Maintain a continuous rally where one player hits crosscourt and the other hits down-the-line.
  9. Hit and Move – Maintain a live-ball rally with the requirement to hit and then move to touch a specific target (such as cone or sideline) with your feet or racquet. There are a number of different directional patterns (up and back, side-to-side, etc.) and a number of different shot combination options.
  10. Ten-Ball Volley – Hit 10 cross-court volleys (or designated number of volleys) in a row to a specific target area (with a live-ball volley to groundstroke exchange).  Alternate corners and roles (with your hitting partner). For difficulty, place a barrier to hit over and/or narrow the target requirement.

Balance of Power

Here are 10 ways (areas of focus) to tip the balance of power in your favor.

  1. Command the net. All things being equal, you’re putting yourself in a good position if you’re the player getting to the net first (particularly if you’re closing in response to short balls). This is true for singles and definitely for doubles.
  2. Maintain a positioning advantage. When hitting groundstrokes, make an effort to play close to the baseline. Hit and take balls on or just inside the baseline and try to pin your opponent back well behind the baseline (giving you more time to hit your shots and creating more opportunities to redirect and hit angles).
  3. Get the serve return back in play. Get into the point and make your opponent(s) hit shots. Get 90% or more serve returns back into play.
  4. Eliminate unforced errors. Play percentages. Make no mistakes into the net or wide left/right of the sidelines. Hit high over the net and cross-court with your rally balls.
  5. Maintain a high first serve percentage. Target to get 75 – 85% of your first serves in play to apply pressure on your opponent(s), to better engage your partner, etc.
  6. Maintain a high shot threshold. Be prepared and comfortable hitting as many shots as necessary to win the point.
  7. Hit your targets. In singles, there are four basic targets (or target areas) that define almost all the major point patterns of play. The targets are the two deep corners and the two angle corners.  Likewise, there are three basic targets for the serve. Your skill in hitting these targets dictates your ability to stay in the point and to open up the court to finish or end the point.
  8. Control the pace of play. Establish and maintain a pace of play (to extent possible between points and changeovers) that best suits your style of play, level of fitness, personality, etc.
  9. Maintain composure and sense of purpose. Maintain your focus whether hot or cold, you’re winning or losing, playing well or not, etc.
  10. Be resolute. Be relentless and determined and never give up.

How to Get Every Ball Back Into Play

Here are a series of pointers on how to be more consistent in competitive match play (or how to execute an error-free, ultra-consistent game plan).

  1. Adopt the right frame of mind.  Be positive and expect the ball to go over (and in) whenever you get a racquet on the ball.
  2. Work the dimensions of the court and the net in your favor by hitting crosscourt, over the low part of the net and to the middle two-thirds of the court. Hit to established big target areas (hitting windows and targets providing the highest likelihood for success).
  3. Take pace off the ball with spin whenever the pace of the rally exceeds your comfort zone.
  4. Be patient, persistent and relentless. Be prepared to “grind” and increase your rally shot tolerance (the number of shots you can hit in a rally before “bugging out”).
  5. Never ever, ever, ever make a mistake in the net (or for that matter, hit the ball wide left or right of the sidelines).
  6. Get air under the ball and raise your net clearance to four to seven feet above the net with your basic rally shots.
  7. Don’t force it (by trying to make the spectacular shot or perfect pass). Make your opponent hit that one extra shot (even if it is a sitter). You may get pummeled early in a match with a few shots but rarely late in a match (particularly if the score is close).
  8. Learn how to stretch and reach (with flexibility, balance, strength and core stability), hit from an open stance and slide (on clay) to get a racquet on each and every ball.
  9. Establish a strong bond between your hand(s) and the racquet face. Think of the racquet as an extension of your hand.  Establish the feel and control to be able to adjust the angle of your racquet face as required to get the ball back in play.  Very often (particularly in “scramble mode”), it is the ability to open the face in response to the ball to be able to get the ball back in play (and extend the rally).
  10. Pay attention to your mechanics. Maintain fluidity with your stroke patterns.  Establish an extended swing and weight transfer in bringing the racquet through the hitting zone.

Team Survival 101

How to be the “ultimate” team player (when playing on a professional, high school, college or recreational league tennis team)

  1. Win Matches – Your number one and most important responsibility is to win matches. Your commitment to the team is to do everything possible to put yourself in a position to win matches or to be at your highest level of performance each match.
  2. Help teammates win matches – Your number two and second most important responsibility is to support your teammates in their efforts to win matches.  To do everything possible to put yourself and your teammates in a position to win matches should be your main overriding focus for everything you do for and with the team.
  3. Be positive.  Be positive not only to benefit your game but also to benefit the conviction and attitude of the other players on your team.
  4. Never give up.  It’s extremely important for the psyche, morale and spirit of your team to know that every player is committed to giving 100% each and every match no matter the score or circumstance.
  5. Continuously try to improve.  Establish a goal to incrementally get better each and every time you go on the court and to help your teammates incrementally improve their skills as well.
  6. Offer no excuses or cast blame.  If every player is positive in attitude, gives 100%, is trying to get better and is truly committed to doing everything possible to win matches, then it really doesn’t matter if you or one or more other players has a bad day or loses a match.  You’re all in it together good or bad.
  7. Communicate – A shared vision requires a shared dialogue and open (constructive) communication.
  8. Support your coach.  Respect the judgment and decisions of your coach.  Take advantage of his/her expertise and perspective (particularly as it relates to recognizing your strengths, weaknesses, best match-ups and partner combinations).
  9. Take nothing personally.  In any team situation, there will disappointments and things said and done that may hurt your feelings.  Team dynamics are not always clean and easy.  Assume the best intentions and stay true to your main objective to win matches and support your teammates in their efforts to win matches.
  10. Have fun.  Choose to have fun and to make things fun for your teammates.  Of course, being actively engaged on the court working hard and trying to get better (collectively as a team) is fun.

My Tennis Teaching Philosophy

Listed below are the practices and commitments I have followed to guide my teaching career as a tennis professional.

  1. Make a commitment to ensure all players learn something new, have fun and get a good workout each lesson.
  2. Teach players how to have the most possible fun on the court. Tennis is more fun with the development of skills (the ability to do more with the ball, cover and incorporate more of the court, sustain a rally, execute specific stroke patterns and combinations, etc.).
  3. Actively engage players in the process of learning and acquiring new skills. Encourage dialogue, questions, and input, particularly in defining direction and goals.
  4. Believe anyone can be a great player regardless of prior athletic training or ability. Do everything possible to help players reach their potential.
  5. Maintain versatility in my approach to teaching and learning. Be prepared to vary my teaching style based on the personality, temperament and needs of the player and the goals of the lesson plan.
  6. Do not believe there is one way to hit a tennis ball but acknowledge there are better (more efficient and productive) ways to execute each stroke and stroke pattern.
  7. Appreciate and teach different playing styles and strategies.
  8. Be results-oriented. Believe in the importance of setting and reaching specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T) goals.
  9. Do not cut corners or look for short-term fixes to problems. Do the first things first, build foundations, follow progressions and work towards long-term solutions. Value the importance of repetition and staying with something until you get it right.
  10. Be passionate in introducing new players to the game of tennis. Commit to getting beginning players excited and having fun on the court rallying, playing, and developing new skills.
  11. Value the importance of hard work and dedication. Do not be afraid to place demands on my players.
  12. Value patience, positive reinforcement, and encouragement. Recognize the importance of building relationships, trust, and confidence with your players.
  13. Commit to developing and upgrading my skills by observing play at all levels, researching the newest techniques, communicating with your professional peers, etc. Make it a goal to expand my base of knowledge and understanding of the game. Become a resource for all things to do with tennis.
  14. Exude my love for tennis and the lifestyle benefits of tennis. Recognize my role to promote the game and keep players enthused and having fun on the court.

Effortless Hitting

Here are ten simple ways to make your time on the tennis court more productive, energy efficient and effortless.

  1. Relax your grip on the racquet between points, during changeovers and even between shots (using your non-dominant hand for more support).
  2. Breathe and exhale as you hit each shot.
  3. Hit with soft hands using your little finger as the main support of the racquet and focal point for the grip on the groundstrokes. Create a gap between your racquet handle and the heel of your hand in the serve power position.
  4. For effortless serving footwork, focus on hopping up and out into the court with your lead foot and kicking back with your back foot.
  5. Absorb pace with spin (particularly with underspin when hitting the ball outside of your strike zone).
  6. Learn how to slide from an open stance when going wide to hit your groundstrokes.
  7. Use a cartwheel action to generate racquet head speed (not hand speed) in hitting your serve.
  8. Use the weight of your racquet head to generate momentum and flow with your groundstrokes. Keep the tip of your racquet head up as you turn and prepare to the set position. Then use a looping action to generate racquet speed as you drop into the hitting position.
  9. Relax your arm (breaking with the elbow) as you complete your swing.
  10. Maintain active feet, staying off the balls of your feet as you prepare with adjustment steps for each shot. Stay light on your feet with a dynamic split step (which essentially directs your feet in the line with the ball) as a first reaction to the oncoming ball and a gravity step (which requires a bend and relaxation of the lead feet) to get a good first jump to the ball.

Make Footwork “Your Thing” Part Two

Here are ten areas of focus and suggestions to improve your footwork and your ability to cover the court.

  1. Learn how to walk before you run.  Focus on hitting with balance starting with hand feeds (which requires a cooperative partner) and manageable, slower-pace rallies. Work on developing a quiet upper body, a clean line with your head centered above your hips (fulcrum) and a still head position.
  2. Start from the short court (forecourt) with mini-tennis patterns where the requirement is to take quick, short and multiple adjustment steps. It is one of the best ways to establish active feet.
  3. With the intent of developing more active feet and to emulate the footwork patterns of the pros (who on average take 12 steps per shot versus the average club player who takes an average two steps per shot), establish a requirement to move around a cone (or marker) after (and prior) to hitting each shot.
  4. Practice hitting (with a partner or tennis professional) live-ball rally sequences that require specific and predictable footwork patterns. An example would be a cross-court/down-the-line pattern in which your partner hits cross court and you hit down-the-line (or you hit cross court and your partner hits down-the-line).
  5. Identify and isolate with practice the basic patterns of movement or court coverage (up, back, left and right with vertical, horizontal and diagonal cross reference). Most players work predominantly on lateral coverage and not as much on moving up and back or cutting across the court in a diagonal pattern. The “Yo Yo” drill (a four-corner, X pattern, short and deep coverage drill) is a great way to establish confidence and skill in multi-directional coverage of the entire court.
  6. Practice deceleration as well as acceleration. Tennis is not just a matter of getting to the ball. Proper execution for most shots requires deceleration to the ball to get in an ideal position hitting position. Deceleration is accomplished with adjustments steps (including at times adjustment skip steps), a low center of gravity and a centered, balanced posture.
  7. Identify, isolate, practice and master the key step patterns. Examples of key step patterns include the gravity step (which facilitates your first movement to the ball), skip step (a process to align your feet in coordination with the bounce), double-skip step (a pattern used when attacking a short ball), carioca step (a pattern utilized when hitting a backhand, slice/sidespin approach), corkscrew step (a pattern used when kicking back to hit a heavy and high shot from deep in the court), crossover step, shuffle step, split step, and scissor kick (a pattern used to jump up and back to hit an overhead).
  8. Learn how to hit from with open stance particularly in going wide to hit a forehand groundstroke. My suggested progression to learn how to hit from an open stance is as follows. First, start hitting from a wider stance with no step (which emphasis on a low center of gravity, trunk rotation and coil). Next, take one big step out wide with the lead foot and a full transfer of weight back across your body to the back foot. With time, progress by taking two or more steps to the ball again emphasizing a wide stance, low center of gravity and full transfer of weigh back across your body to the back foot. Finally, take two or more steps to the ball, hit from an open stance, and transfer your weight back across your body in recovery with two or more crossover or shuffle steps back into the court.
  9. Learn how to slide on clay and hard (advanced players only) playing surfaces. Use an open stance when sliding to the ball with your forehand groundstroke. Use an open or closed stance when sliding to the ball with your backhand groundstroke. Plant your lead (or front) foot earlier than you would on a hard court so you slide into and not past the shot. Set the toes of your lead (or front) foot in the direction of your path to the ball. It is easy to catch your foot and fall if your toes are turned inward or not leading into the slide. Apply equal pressure on the ball and heel of your lead (or front) foot. Be careful not to dig in with your toes or heel. Approach the slide with a lower center of gravity and wider stance. Make sure your lead (or front) foot is bent in starting the slide. Flex and relax your back leg and drag the toes of your back leg with the slide. Apply pressure and load your weight onto your lead (or front) foot to bring your body to a stop. Remember to turn and coil with your upper body and set your racquet in preparation to hit the ball with the slide. In executing the shot, transfer your weight back across your body from your lead (or front) foot to your secondary (or back) foot to complete the stroke and better recover for the next shot.
  10. Get in great playing shape. Establish a tennis-specific fitness conditioning program focusing on developing complex coordination and movement, liner/multi-directional speed, strength, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and power.

Make Footwork “Your Thing”

In keeping it simple, here are ten reasons to work on your footwork.

  1. Improve your ability to get to the ball to make each shot.
  2. Improve your positioning and spacing to hit each shot.
  3. Maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your shots.
  4. Better control to your advantage the position on the court where you hit each shot (e.g. inside the baseline).
  5. Better control to your advantage where you’re able to hit the ball in relation to the bounce (e.g. on the rise)
  6. Improve your ability to recover after hitting the shot.
  7. Minimize your risk of injury with better balance, core stability and weight distribution.
  8. Improve your ability to transition from defense to offense (and from offense to defense) and from one court position to another.
  9. Minimize your vulnerability to bad bounces and errant spins.
  10. Improve your ability to sustain intensity and focus through the length of an entire match.

In my next article, I will outline a plan to improve footwork and the steps necessary to successfully execute a number of key footwork patterns of play.

Preparation for the Upcoming Season of Competition

Here are 10 ways to prepare for the outdoor playing season and upcoming team and/or tournament competition.

  1. Hit a lot of balls. Hit for repetition (with an emphasis on cross-court patterns) to establish consistency, rhythm and confidence in your ability to execute shot sequences. Hitting balls is the “groundwork” necessary to build a solid foundation for the season.
  2. Work on your technique. Take advantage of your off-season to work on improving your stroke techniques. Take an inventory of your game and work specifically on improving your identified weaknesses.
  3. Get in great playing shape. Establish a tennis-specific fitness conditioning program focusing on developing complex coordination and movement, linear/multi-directional speed, strength, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and power.
  4. Restring your racquet(s). The general rule is to restring your racquet every six months whether used or not and to restring your racquet three times per year if you play on average three times per week, four times if you play on average four times per week, etc. Check for fraying strings and cut marks. Protect your racquet and strings by using a thermal bag with a clear plastic bag wrap (if really serious about maintaining the integrity of your strings) and keep your racquet out of your car on cold (and hot) days.
  5. Work with your partner and teammates. The off-season is a good time to work with your partner (or teammates) to improve communication, dynamic positioning, coverage patterns and styles of play.
  6. Set goals for the upcoming season. The best practice is to establish process versus outcome goals.  An example of a process goal would be a goal to improve your first-serve percentage.
  7. Focus on your mind game. Examples of tools to improve mental toughness are imagery and role playing. Use imagery to improve focus and concentration and to establish a module or construct to govern your actions on the court.  Use role playing to improve your ability to respond to different situations and conditions (both positive and negative).
  8. Set and prioritize your schedule. Identify the team matches and tournaments you are earmarking for the season particularly your key events and matches.
  9. Establish a “periodized” training schedule (both on and off court) focusing on peaking for your identified key events and matches.
  10. Get your life in order. Complete outstanding projects. Get a jump on pending work or school assignments. Learn how to better manage your time. Do your best to ensure competing interests and outside pressures do not disrupt your ability to focus on your competitive playing season.