Written by: Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche
***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.
His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.***
I was a tourist for my first few days in Taiwan. Then I proceeded towards a weekend of seminars [see articles one and two] at the Taiwan National Sport Institute where I provided an overview of the principles of long-term athlete development and how they could assist the Taiwanese coaches to better develop their players. Sunday was a reward day with half a day spent at the spa testing various hot mineral streams that Taiwan is famous for. Okay the lunch at the five star Italian restaurant was not bad either [see pic]. I finished my day with a great workout with Fed Cup player Chin Wei Chan and two aspiring twin sisters [see pic].
I was scheduled in the middle part of my trip to visit Taiwan’s four top schools across the Island. Having done many of these visits I was aware that I would have to improvise as the information you receive on the number of players attending, the number of courts available, the number of coaches to assist, the age and level of players are always intangibles which change from place to place and from day to day.
So my good friend George Wang picked me up at 7am from the Imperial Hotel and we drove to New Taipei City. After four days of rain the skies were cloudy but no rain, thank God as George told me there were no indoor courts. Then came the surprise, 90 smiling faces and two courts. What I did not know was that the children from half a dozen schools from the area were attending. There they were sitting down with big smiles waiting for me to dispense some magic. Two courts, over 90 kids, my whole planning of a training camp of one coach per court with four players went out the window. I now had 48 kids per court minimum from 8:30 to 5pm with a lunch break of one and a half hours. I was stressed.
My old competitive approach came out, I calmed down through breathing and asked my friend George to run a 15 minute warm-up and then I started. My first question was, “what do you feel is the greatest quality of present top tennis players?” This discussion was quite interesting and I realised they were quite aware of the demands of the modern game. When I finally gave them my answer “mental endurance” they were close to coming up with the right answer. Simply winning a five hour match after two weeks of competition [think of last year’s Australian Open] to win a Grand Slam requires an inordinate amount of mental endurance. We then discussed how you acquire this mental endurance. This was a great process on many levels, first from my standpoint I had their attention, second as I came to realise, it forced them to be inquisitive, reflective and creative, basically problem solving. This was quite an exercise as they are not used to being in that situation. Because of their culture and various constraints they are very disciplined and committed at doing what is asked of them [what a great feeling for a Canadian Coach]. They eventually realised that mental endurance is greatly enhanced through physical endurance. The next question to them was how much did they work on this aspect of their development. It became obvious that progressive, scientific long-term physical development was not a priority of their training, which could help explain their international success in junior competition while providing insight on their lack of success on the international ATP and WTA scene where proper long term physical development is a must. This whole introductory period accomplished what any coach requires with a group: “getting their attention” and now they also understood the importance of fitness, so any fitness component would be well received.
We then switched to a more practical topic: “What are the most important strokes in tennis?” The answer which is provided by ATP statistics is quite simply the first serve and the return of second serve, where you will find the names of Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray amongst the leaders. They felt pretty good as they found the answers and reasons rather quickly. I then asked them what was the most common pattern in a point after the serve and return and they answered cross court rally. I finally could not help myself and with my usual, not always appreciated, sense of humor, I responded yes but it’s not cross court pattern it is Asian pattern. I had them laughing as I mimicked their countless hours of drilling cross court, never missing but sending the same ball and receiving the same ball.
From there we progressed in understanding how consistency in the cross court is a cornerstone of the game but that we had to use various intentions in the cross court to create a ball which we could take the advantage from. After hitting the ball cross court and pushing the opponent back, or wide, or up or by changing the pace and the height through spin or power we could expect a response which would allow for us to attack. We then saw how Williams and Sharapova used the change of direction [backhand down the line] to create the opening. Then I told them they could be Spanish and run around and take control of the point with an inside out forehand, or like Federer and hit the forehand up the line. Finally, we saw where Murray and Djokovic are now using the slice inside out to come to the net on a shorter lower ball.
Once we got on the court practicing the different shots required it became obvious that the development of the slice was not a priority and as such transition to the net was not a major intention [more backhand cross courts]. The children loved the concept and we went on until noon practicing and competing.
The afternoon session started with a long warm up session which, fostered physical activation and mental calmness. This warm up structure was developed by Clement Golliet, the ACE Fitness Director, and combines specific technical exercises with complementing yoga like breathing and focus.
The afternoon session was concentrated on the transition game which was not really emphasized as much as solid back-court play. Approaching the net and how to cover the net against cross courts and down the lines provided an interesting subject for the players. Afterwards we proceeded to a lot of competitive team games approaching the net with winners winning butts up. This was a new concept to them and like all kids they just loved it. The day finally came to a close, almost nine hours after it started. The kids were happy, I was ecstatic, my hosts were satisfied and my competitive upbringing had served me well again. What a rewarding day.