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Firing on all Cylinders
David W. Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
As a teaching pro for over three decades, I have seen a common situation among students that often prevents them from really learning new techniques. That , when a player learns a new technique, they often learn several components they need to incorporate within the new swing pattern or technique. An example of this would be learning a new serve. Among some of the changes that might need to be addressed could include, (but are not limited to):
- A new grip
- A new body position
- A new swing path
- A new contact point
- A new toss
- A new aiming point
- A new follow-through
- A new footwork pattern
- A new sense of balance
It is not uncommon to hear teaching pros say things like, "Just concentrate on one or two of these new elements when you play." Such advice sounds logical. It makes sense too, since a player seldom can think of a long list of conscious movements in the heat of competition and then execute them all successfully.
Yet, when you leave out one or more of these directives within a stroke, the overall execution of the stroke seldom is successful. This is because nearly every component within a stroke is usually dependent on all of the other elements. Certainly every element is dependent on at least one other component part. And, when a player does indeed fail in completing a serve-or any other stroke they may be trying to incorporate in match play-such failure, more often than not, makes a player revert back to whatever he/she had been doing before the lesson! Thus, the learning cycle is broken. Not that the old, familiar method will bring more success, it's just that it feels more comfortable.
How Each Part is Dependent Upon Each Other
Any new grip will change the orientation of the racquet face both within the swing as well as the contact point. Thus, a new grip is dependent on the player aiming correctly for that angle of the racquet within whatever swing path the player is using. Let's focus on the serve example from above. Because the use of the continental grip makes the ball curve more to the player's left (as a right-handed server), instead of changing the aim by changing the body position, a player simply "steers" the serve by flattening it out. What makes this usually worse, a player will often change the grip to an easier, less overall effective grip, to successfully steer the ball in with this flatter motion.
Let's take another serving example. If a player is using the "waiter's grip" on the serve, he/she most likely is facing the net and has a swing path that is linear, in line with the target. When a player is developing a spin serve with the continental grip, the swing path is across the ball at a vector that is usually around 45 degrees to the right of the trajectory. So, if a player were to stand in their old "face the net" stance, but use the right grip and swing path, the ball will go nowhere near where it was intended. (Usually well out to the left for the typical right-handed student.)
Note the different serving positions using the Eastern Forehand grip (right) and the Continental.
A beginning player who uses a waiter's grip (and leads with the elbow and hand) will find it challenging to stand sideways to the net and push up and land on the front foot. Even if this player (he) uses the right swing path, if he returns to stepping through with the back leg and foot, he will open the shoulder plane too early and end up pulling the ball well to the side of the intended target.
Building a Quality Blueprint
As you can see, if you are changing the "Blueprint" of a stroke, you will need to master all the elements at the same time. Imagine a real blueprint of a construction project using information from a previous design with that of the current project. Such a blueprint would be not only flawed, it would result in a catastrophic finished project. That is, if it could be finished at all!
It is far more advantageous to take the time to master all the components of any new stroke through solid and dedicated practice before taking it to the competitive arena. And, when you felt fairly competent with the new stroke, make sure you don't fall back to your old habits as you will most certainly be tempted to do. It is only human nature to use patterns that we are most comfortable and familiar with. And even if you have spent a great deal of time practicing a new technique, the dynamics of competition are far different than that of the "practice court" - different enough to make you want to revert back to your old methods.
Remember this phrase if you can:
If you avoid that which you are trying to achieve, you will only achieve that which you are trying to avoid.
In other words, compete by firing on all cylinders. You may or may not win. But for sure, if you go back to those methods that you know will keep you at the same level you have been at for years, you will never advance to the higher levels you are probably capable of.
I've heard many students complain that when they "learn" a new stroke or technique, they hit the ball poorly and inconsistently. They also admit to being totally confused as to what they should be doing.
This is common. Why? Because, remember our "Blueprint" analogy: reverting back to one or more old habits within any new stroke will make the new "blueprint" flawed. Trying to build on this flawed blueprint generally creates more confusion than success. Humans are not machines, and as such, will have emotions, physiological feelings, and habits that can't always be eliminated from muscle memory. Because of these uniquely human qualities, (or characteristics), we must learn and practice with all the pistons firing, not just a few.
The old saying, "practice makes perfect" is an incomplete adage. It should read, "Perfect practice makes perfect." This idea of working on all the component parts-without fail-is required for all players to perfect their games, strokes, and techniques.
Anything less will usually result in imperfect practice and equally imperfect results.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
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