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Every year, tennis players spend tons of money trying to improve their forehands, backhands, volleys, etc..  But just working on one stroke can consume a ton of money and likewise, a ton of dollars, and sadly enough, it often doesn’t produce the desired result.

In a typical lesson these days, your coach will feed you balls for hours giving you slight corrections from a vantage point 70′ away. And maybe you get better for a short while just through having hit enough balls. Your technique may limit you later on, but meanwhile, your coach shouts encouragment and says “that’s better” or“good shot” on every 4th or 5th ball.   I guess if he said “man, you just aren’t ever going to get it”, would you come back to him and spend your hard-earned dollars with him? Probably not!

Improving volley

A good coach gets specific!

Good coaches, in my opinion, will use various tools to help you improve.  Video Analysis to help you improve faster. They will also be good enough as tennis players themselves to give you some kinesthetic cues as to how it feels to hit with the correct technique.   As in, “it feels like you are hitting up on the ball”, or “it feels like you are aiming towards the side fence on your slice serve.”

Good coaches will also teach in progressions, whereby you learn in increments. For example, for a drop volley, practice catching a ball in your hand first, pretending it’s an egg and being real gentle so as not to break the egg.  Then, practice catching the ball on your racquet with only one bounce. Once you develop that feel,  try and squeeze just a little bit harder so the ball goes forward, but not too much.

To really accelerate your tennis improvement, try these learning tips.

  1. Practice in front of a mirror. It’s amazing how much this helps. You can mimic the correct position and swing path in the mirror and it gives you direct  feedback on how it feels to be in that position.   Brent Abel with WebTennis.com reminded me of this recently, and it was one of the methods that helped me greatly when starting on my tennis path.  And it’s one that I had put aside for too long.  I’m glad he reminded me!
  2. Video Analysis  Video your matches from the top of the fence so you get the whole court. You can then analyze strategy and technique under match conditions.  Do your strokes hold up?  Is your strategy sound? Click here to see  what one college coach says about match videos.
  3. Find a practice partner who shares your desire to improve. Find someone who is willing to do drills such as hitting crosscourt backhands for ten minutes straight, then forehands, volleys, etc. Someone who will not insist on playing a match.
  4. Have a practice plan If you are lucky enough to find that practice partner, get with him and agree what you are going to work on. Share tips, give each other feedback. Let him/her know what you are working on and ask for feedback if they can. This will keep you focused.
  5. Practice as if you were in a match.  Practice with as much intensity as you would play an important point in a match (and yes, they are all important).  Lazy practice will result in lazy play.
  6. Take tennis lessons and seriously consider filming them. I like to video my lessons so that I can review them at a later time to see what I might have been missing. It’s hard sometimes to  retain everything an instructor gives you. A reminder down the road can be a helpful thing. Towards that end, I always write down what we worked on after each lesson. I helps to review!
  7. Use props, like the Racquet Bracket, to help you develop the correct feel.  There are a number of props that help you develop the feel of correct technique.   Oncourt/Offcourt has a great selection of tennis-specific tools.
  8. Read some good books on learning, like Galway’s Inner Tennis, or one of my favorites, Dan Millman’s The Way of the Perfect Warrior. The Perfect Warrior never mentions tennis specifically, but talks about how we learn, and how to be mindful.
  9. Vary your practice opponents.  Playing against a variety of opponents will sharpen you game.  Better players will raise your game, and lesser players will allow you to experiment with new shots.
  10. Remember, practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect. Mindless hitting just reinforces bad habits if you haven’t ingrained the right ones to begin with. Better to hit one ball right than 100 incorrect.

Incorporate all of these tips and you will be amazed at how quickly your tennis game improves. Just writing this article has me pumped up to improve my game, because I know it works, and in my quest for a National Title (senior of course), it’s absolutely necessary that I follow these guidelines.

Good luck!

Here’s a picture of me (left) with a trophy and winner’s check.  I like to win!

World Tennis Club, Naples, Florida

Accepting Trophy and check at Super Senior Tennis Tournament, Naples 2015

Here’s another article from “Tennis Blog” which I think is excellent.   The reasoning for using video analysis for junior tennis players and college-level tennis players is clearly laid out.  Italics were added for emphasis

Improving the Feedback Loop

One of the many reasons I was drawn to college tennis coaching was because of the incredible feedback loop it provides between the coach and player. As college coaches, we get to witness a very high percentage of our players’ matches throughout the year. Not just that, but we get to sit on the court with them and monitor their self-talk, emotional state of mind while getting a better understanding of their decision making. This is incredibly valuable information to any coach as it informs us how we should coach and what we need to be working on in practice the very next day!

College coach is watching from the sidelnes as his players go at it.

College Tennis Coach Observing Play

When I grew up, I had one, 1-hour lesson per week with my coach and maybe he would see me play a couple of matches per year. I know that this has improved a lot through the years but I don’t believe it is still close enough to where it needs to be in the junior tennis world. Many players are not very adept at objectively self- analyzing their own matches at a young age, and part of this is because they haven’t seen themselves play often enough.

I can’t tell you how many times one of my players comes off after a match and gives me their version of what occurred. Early in their college career, their interpretation of what transpired during the match is often way off. If I had not just witnessed it, I would have no choice but to believe their version of events and then get to work on what they told me in our next session together.

As coaches, we want to ensure that our practices are deliberate and relevant. I can’t tell you how great I feel after most individual sessions with my players. I think we had gotten lots of productive work done and that we had fixed whatever maladies in her game she was experiencing at that time. Then we go to play a match and it looks nothing like the practice session we had two days prior! Now there are obviously a lot of reasons for that but if I had not seen the match first hand, then I may have continued on with my line of thinking as to what was the best way to develop this player’s game.

I guess we could tell by results and outcomes, but as coaches we tend to be more process orientated and if the player is very young then we are not going to get wrapped up in the score line. We are far more interested in whether or not what we are doing in our training sessions is translating on match day, and if they are staying true to the process. But how do we know if we cannot be there to witness their matches firsthand?

I know it is extremely expensive and unrealistic to have coaches going to every tournament with players. What I am proposing though is that more emphasis be placed upon coaches getting consistent feedback through the use of video footage to help better develop their players. Despite the improvements in technology and reduction in costs associated with capturing live play, I still rarely see matches being taped when I go recruiting.

There are very few junior coaches in attendance at these tournaments, so we are relying on a young player’s version of events or the biased opinions of a parent. As an industry, shouldn’t we be pushing harder to make this more of standard? Would it not be better if one lesson was on the court working on different aspects of the player’s game and the next lesson sitting together for an hour and watching the video from a match? Or better yet, a combination of the two? Wouldn’t this make the session far more deliberate?

I would estimate that one hour of watching video of a match with your student is more valuable than several private lessons on the court. I understand that most parents want to see their kid out on the tennis court working hard on their game with the coach and hitting as many balls as possible, but we have to reeducate them on what is the most productive use of their child’s time and their hard earned money.

Our system here at the University of Oklahoma is to take the video from matches [note:  Oklahoma uses the QM-1 Camera Mount], break down the relevant parts into clips with notes written at the top of each clip, and put it on our players google drive accounts ($1.99 per month). It is time consuming but incredibly valuable for the players and the coaches. Our players can log on at any hour of any day and visually learn about their game. Remember, over 60% of people are visual leaners. As a coach if you don’t have a camera, I highly recommend you purchase one; it will pay for itself a thousand times over.

Maybe you can lend it to your players from time to time when they are playing out of town. If this is not possible, maybe you can have the parent use their phone or I-pad to record crucial moments of a match, serving for a set, a third set tiebreak etc. Ideally you want to see what your players are doing at the most crucial stages of a match.

Ultimately, we have to improve the feedback loop if we are to help our players learn more efficiently and effectively. As we all know, practice and performance can often look like two completely different animals. We want to aid in the process of bringing those worlds closer together so that our players are practicing like they compete and vice versa.”

Here’s my favorite part: I would estimate that one hour of watching video of a match with your student is more valuable than several private lessons on the court.  Makes sense to me!  I talk to coaches and players every day, and they echo the same sentiment – once you use video and see what it can do for your game, it becomes indispensable!  And the cost of two or three  lessons may easily pay not only  for your QM-1 Camera Mount, but even the camera itself (assuming you buy the K-1 or K-2 bundle).

Above is an example of a lesson I took with David Lowenthal on the slice backhand.   I reviewed this right after my lesson and could still remember how it felt.  And towards the end I see David’s backhand slice – the way he take the racquet back, the way he turns his shoulders and the way he finishes.  Now I FELT like I was hitting it like him – but I can see I am NOT!  So it’s back to the mirror and mimicking how he hits his backhand.  Repeating this process over the course of a month has made a big difference – that video is coming soon!

 

modified-qm-1

Custom QM-1 Camera Mount for those “oddball” tennis courts and uniquely special situations.

 

Have a special situation?

An indoor pipe that is larger (or smaller)  than 2 1/16″ diameter?  We can modify the QM-1 Camera Mount for tennis to fit almost any situation.   Just take a picture and provide us with pertinent details – or maybe just give us a call to discuss your particular needs.

Filming a soccer  game?

We’ve modified the QM-1 to accomodate that situation, making the mount fit various fences but also providing a modified ProView Extender up to about as high as you’d like it.   That puts the camera way’ above the fence, and at a much better price than an other camera mount out there.

Before you spend a ton of money on some fancy overhead or aerial camera mount that costs hundreds or thousands, let’s see if we can solve your problem with a custom camera mount for your situation!  Call Mike at 303-960-6946 to discuss your situation.