The Biomechanics of Good Form
Chet Murphy, former tennis coach at UC Berkeley, penned a fascinating article
many years ago entitled "Tennis:Whose/What Form to Teach - A Biomechanical
Approach." Writing both as a tennis coach and biomechanist, he was bridging
both worlds. Unfortunately, biomechanical research does not always enter
the teaching pipeline - either the research is obscure, not easily
translated into simpler non-technical terms, or simply not disseminated
broadly within the teaching community.
The central questions he addressed within the article concerned: What exactly
is good form? How is good form defined? What if experts disagree on what
constitutes good form?
As you mull over those questions and your own answers, let me ruminate just a bit.
I played college tennis at Chico State in 1967 and 1968; the Wildcats won
the WCAC title in 1968, and in that memorable year I played the pivotal
doubles match of the season partnering the (in)famous Jack LaFever against
favored Sacramento State.
I transferred to UC Berkeley for my last two
years of college (and tennis) 1969 and 1970. Chet Murphy was the Cal tennis
coach in 1969, but that was also a turbulent political year in Berkeley.
After a number of the tennis team were involved in and arrested for a
demonstration on campus, Chet threw in the towel, and passed the team to
Kevin Merrick for the 1970 season. Chet was a thoroughly competent coach,
with information on tactics as well as technique, he had coached the team
for many years and I was disappointed to have lost his services for my
senior year. For students of the game, note, he and his brother wrote the
Tennis Handbook, one of the best tennis books available.
What is good form?
Now to your own particular tennis game - and specifically to wonder what
exactly is good form? Is it attainable? If attained, what occurs? And if
desirable, how does one acquire it?
Good form? You could ask your coach. You might peruse the TennisOne Lesson
Library; even consult your own tennis library. Or simply take a long look
at the players on the adjacent courts the next time you are hitting balls.
This is the universe of tennis styles you see when you go to the
courts, who is playing next to you, on the outer courts, and how all that
More to the point, the things you notice are often a
reflection of how you look at the game. Power players tend to notice how
hard others hit, competitors notice the winning and losing shots, position
players note tactics, and so on. So by extension, would you notice good
form? Or further, what is it one looks for to notice form that is "good?"
Many years ago, a young Pancho Gonzalez was tutored by a friend at the
public courts in Los Angeles. Pancho's mentor would select "the (good)
form" of a particular stroke and have Pancho study the player's style and
technique. Once clearly established in his mind's eye, Pancho would spend
the rest of the day (or week) emulating that particular stroke. Pancho's
mentor looked for specific elements for Pancho to mimic, and that special
quality is the essence of Chet Murphy's definition - Good form is whatever
sequence of movements enables hitters to accomplish their purpose with the
least expenditure of energy. Good form is obviously relevant to the task at
Take a moment with this. Sequence of movements. Accomplish their purpose.
Least expenditure of energy. Relevant to the task at hand. The backhand
requires a different sequence than the serve. The serve requires a
different level of energy than the volley. The angled volley has an
entirely different purpose than the flat serve. Further, though not
directly referenced in Chet's article, balance and rhythm are totally
intertwined with the sequence of movements and level of energy. If off-balance, the sequence essentially changes to regain balance. If out of
rhythm, the energy expenditure must increase.
And yes good form is attainable, if you constantly monitor your own
awareness of how the various hits feel. This attaining will be a process
where you hone aspects of your game. And as to what accrues from good form
- you gain consistency, power, ease, fun, avoidance of injuries, and the
opportunity to continually improve.
Now with this in mind, take a new look at the players on adjacent courts.
Evaluate their sequences, find someone playing with "good form," and really
study how they do it. Get that image in your mind, carry it with you and
see whether it can become a part of your game. In my next newsletter, article,
I will take a closer look at the elements that Chet included within his on
court definition of good form.
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