Written by: Wayne Elderton
***Wayne Elderton is acknowledged as one of Canada’s leading coaches. He is Head of Tennis Canada Coaching Development and Certification in British Columbia. In this role, he has provided coaching training to over 1500 coaches. He is a main contributor to the Tennis Canada Coaching Certification program and has also written articles and coaching materials for the PTR, Tennis Corporation of America, Tennis Coaches Australia, and the International Tennis Federation. He is a popular speaker at coaching conferences world-wide. He is a Chartered Professional Coach (ChPC) as recognized by the Professional coaching association, Coaches of Canada. Wayne has enjoyed considerable success in his career using the Game-Based approach. As a High Performance coach, he has led provincial teams to gold medals in the Canada and Western Canada Games. His players have won numerous national titles and many have achieved full scholarships at US Universities. Some have gone on to achieve WTA and ATP rankings. He has also coached 3 wheelchair players to top 10 world rankings and has coached Canada’s World Team Cup squad (Davis Cup for Wheelchair players). He is a key builder of the Canadian National Wheelchair Team program and created Tennis Canada’s Wheelchair Instructor Course. In 2006 he was inducted into the City of Burnaby Sports Hall of Fame in the coaching category. He is currently Tennis Director at the Grant Connell Tennis Centre in North Vancouver which was awarded the 2005 Canadian Facility of the Year for program excellence by the Tennis Professionals Association. For more information, please go to www.acecoach.com***
We have spent the last half year on a ‘vision/mission’ statement for developing players. It was developed by top International coach Louis Cayer and expanded upon by top coach Larry Jurovich. The statement was as follows:
“A performer who is a focused, competitive, athlete who plays smart with effective strokes.”
We have come to the end of the series and are looking at the final element which is technical (Effective Strokes). We will look at what we consider to be the primary technical element to develop:
Timing is Everything As a complement to the videos featured this month, this newsletter will explore the element of timing. If you were to force me to pick the most important technical element in tennis, that would be challenging. There are many elements that would compete for the title. All would have good rationale. For example footwork/movement would be up at the top of the list. If one can’t get to the ball, they can’t do anything with it. I guess the debate would be if footwork/movement is ‘technical’. In my mind, there is a technical element that stands out above all others. Tennis
is classified as an ‘impact sport’. The entire sport revolves around hitting a little yellow fuzzy ball. Therefore, the 4-5 milliseconds the ball is in contact with the strings is the most important moment in tennis. Get that moment right and you are playing the sport. Get it wrong and you are shaking hands. Since it is so important, coaches should spend a good amount of time developing and improving their players timing. Clean stroking with solid impacts are an advantage in tennis. For sure it is not the only thing, but it counts for a lot. Of course we need to remember that all stroking should be in function of tactics. Where you should put the ball is tactical. Getting it there as solidly as possible is technical.
The definition of timing described in the video is:
“A Centered impact, in an ideal relationship to your body, for the shot you intend to hit”
I have found that not striking the ball well can be a big limiting factor in the future potential of a player. As the demands of higher levels increase, players must hit the ball well enough to challenge the opponent’s at that level (and beyond). So many players (and coaches) misunderstand the impact event. Players see the pros and fall into a trap that prioritizes loopy swings, ‘windshield wiper’ strokes, and spin overuse. I am not saying those elements are invalid, just that they need to be developed in the context of the priorities of a solid shot. If they are not, the player’s strokes become all so much glancing across the ball, which doesn’t hurt opponents. For example, many coaches will let their players copy the strokes of pros. A great question to ask is, “Are these strokes developmentally appropriate?” Should coaches teach the full pro swing from the start? Or, should they focus on developing a foundation of strokes that can evolve to more sophisticated movements? This is a debate for a later time, please note, great players have been developed both ways. Coaching for over 30 years has allowed me the opportunity to do it both ways. For me, the best ‘technical success’ I have had with players has been to develop with the priorities of solid striking coming first and swings later. In my mind, if the impact is the most important moment, I develop with that as the technical priority. When I prioritized swings and swing shapes, it felt to me like I was teaching a beginning figure skater a triple axel right away. There were so many issues in the player trying to re-create a movement that only trained top players could perform. It seemed to cause more problems for me than it solved. I would prefer to start with a single axel jump and build from there.
For tennis that means developing timing as the priority. The goal is the definition listed at the beginning of this article. We spend time learning to centre the ball (with all the accompanying tracking and perception skills). We spend time learning how to create a good relationship between the impact point and the player’s body (along with movement and preparation to make it happen). This will open the doorway for greater and greater power generation. Of course there is always a tactical intention that precedes every shot. This means from a 5 year old ‘Red’ player, to a top International junior, timing is the priority. This is in contrast to having a ‘swing priority’. Do you help your players learn to sacrifice their swings for the timing or, do they sacrifice their timing to mimic a certain swing? For me the former has produced far greater results.
Something to think about over the Christmas season.