Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. ~ Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park
Making or Breaking a Player with Technique
The development of effective technique is one of the most important factors in a player’s success, but hard to rank alongside polished athleticism. However, the over use of technical information, with performers, outside of the context of actually playing the game, may be one of the most detrimental factors in coaching. While the understanding of the mechanisms of how to create an ideal stroke is advancing rapidly, is it also coming too fast and with sharp claws and teeth for our players? A few years ago I saw a powerpoint presentation by a wizard who was teaching every minute component of a great forehand in 19 slides. I casually turned to the coach next to me in the lecture hall, that easily had 200 coaches, and said sacriligiously, “I’m not going to teach this, wake me up when its over, or if I start snoring.” The reason for that? We as coaches are best advised to make things more simple for our students. It’s also much more effective to teach players in the context of playing the game. Ask yourself, do my players really care how deeply or completely I understand the factors in 19 slides, whether I could get 98% right on a test of the material? Or do they want to hit the one shot that is their down fall in a match on a regular basis? Will they be excited and more confident when they learn to use their weapon in one more subtle way to help them win their matches? The conflict here is whether we are self centered in our coaching or athlete centered, really understanding what they want and need.
A Deluge of Information (see our Online Instruction)
All over the internet, you can find many find great dissertations on how to hit strokes. You can also find many that are misguided, incomplete, or downright dangerous. It’s perilous for players and coaches to consume too much of this information at one time. How do you reconcile all that in your head? I know that my players actually began to dread the times that, I would come back from a conference, with a head stuffed full of information, as then they would be the guinea pigs who were used for experimentation. Later in my career, I began to try things out in my own game prior to working them with players, and finally, I began to become far more scrupulous about making any changes to my program.
I see over and over again, too much information given. Many times when there is a conversation, where I have time to really give 20 minutes of concentrated time to mentor someone, then that dialogue nearly 100% of the time creates a targeted, customized solution for the person and their circumstance. Otherwise these mounds of information become unmanageable in the minds of coaches, and tempt the younger less experienced coaches to overwhelm their players with new found knowledge. I know in my career, I have wanted people to know how much I know. But, what I keep coming back to, is that no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. What should we care about? It’s our best calling to care about what our students want, and need. They want to succeed on court in a match. The impressiveness of the knowledge of their coach in showing an ideal take back, or stretch shortening sequence, on the forehand, to look like Roger Federer is really irrelavant, even though the student may be wowed, or fooled into thinking that is important.
How Many Swings are Alike?
To the keen observer, it’s obvious that there is not one swing of the racquet that is exactly like another. The Nadal forehand that can be captured on video, or in a sequence of images is simply one forehand that he hit, in that situation at that time. In fact we can’t really be sure if it’s the most pure shot he has hit. Even so, we love to obsess about that shot! We also often are overly concerned about a player looking like a model of another player, instead of learning to play their own stroke. No too people are exactly alike, so why would we ever try to make their strokes look that way?
Starting with Contact, Moving Outward
Of course, helping a player find their ideal contact point is important. Helping them to discover, how to respond to different challenges, when they are forced out of their ideal position, is not something that can be done according to a cookie cutter style of coaching. It’s also not easily translated from a highly technical talk on form. Even more powerful are the times when a coach helps a player to do their own problem solving. One of the top questions on my court is ‘Why did you miss that shot?’. Players sometimes shoot back, ‘why?’, to which I let them know it’s a question for them, and they need to know the answer.
When Customized Movement Patterns are the Solution
From the contact point comes the issue of how a player moves to get into that position. There are so many factors that come into play in this regard, there is not one solution, but a variety. David Bailey has done a great job of identify a very wide variety of menu items for footwork. Will every player master every one? Not likely, based on the player’s dominant foot, which direction do they prefer to spin, clockwise or counterclockwise. How fast is the player? How nimble are they with their fine motor control of footwork? There are so many possibilities to diagnose. So consider some important issues in regard to online coaching. 1. Affirm a player for going the extra mile, to bring some information that they find interesting. 2. Everyone still needs a coach, because who will do the evaluation? 3. The translation of what is learned in an online setting into real world application requires a certain amount of experience in the development of the skill from the coach. 4. Players and coaches who teach according to a set system may end up forcing themselves into a box which does not fit them.
Visual Patterns are Not Often Taught
Players may miss because they aren’t seeing the ball well, how will technical instruction help them? They many more times miss a shot because their footwork is poor, and I believe I am closing in on 100,000 times I have seen a player use poor footwork, arrive at the ball out of position, off balance, or with bad posture, followed by them taking a practice swing when they missed their shot. Without a coach there, they would go on to believe that something was wrong with their form, because that seems to be the default solution. Additionally, mental and emotional issues in the player that affect their belief in their ability to make a certain shot, not only may not be fixed technically, but actually may be deepened by taking too close a look at it. To the man who only has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. (See Visual Training for Tennis)
Do we work on the shots that really matter in the order in which they matter? The serve is the most important shot in tennis. Do our players know how to…