There’s a saying in coaching that even the best coaches don’t invent anything new. Coaches take the experience of what they have heard, seen and played against, and form their own coaching preferences based on what they think is best. There are many coaching opinions that are just that: opinions. While good coaches feel strong in their convictions, there are many instances where top players have taken different paths on a myriad of topics.
In the last issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine, I discussed:
1. Should the net player look back in doubles?
2. When should junior players start to learn a continental serve?
3. Is it better to play Orange Ball USTA tournaments, or wait until the age you are allowed to play full- court tournaments?
My opinions are:
2. Once the player can get 75 percent of their serves in with their natural grip
3. Play Orange Ball
These are not facts though, and no level of confidence by any coach makes them so.
Below are three more items that I have heard coaches differ on and have seen great players do differently. While I will give my personal opinion and communicate how strongly I feel about it, I realize there are other good coaches out there who think differently than I do on some of these issues.
Additionally, many, if not all, the answers to the below topics depend on the student. In future articles I will address more of these “debatable topics.”
As hard as it is, to admit...they are debatable.
When to learn open stance
This probably depends on the child’s grip and focus but I would say as a rule of thumb it is better to teach closed stance first.
Transferring weight forward into shots is certainly an important component to understand early and this is easier to understand right off the bat in closed stance. It is also a bit more precise as far as spacing, will require better footwork down-the-road and helps students understand the importance of rotating the shoulders. It is easier to get lazy on the open stance with spacing and not placing as much importance on the proper height to take a shot because it is easier to “wing it” in open stance. In my experience, I have found that students who learn open stance first have a harder time getting competency in closed stance rather than vice-versa. With that said, if the coach/player knows that the junior player will be using a western grip and intends on being a running, counter-puncher then I am ok with open stance first since almost all shots will be hit with that grip down the road.
How much technique is important for the volley, and how much is just confidence?
I’m not saying technique on the volley is unimportant, and hand-eye coordination/athleticism probably is the most important, but what I truly believe is that attitude, confidence and enjoyment of being at the net is the most important. At the club level, I have seen countless times where the non-tennis playing spouses dominate net play against their lesson-playing, proper-form volleying wives.
Meanwhile, the husbands cannot hang from the baseline. Why? Because one could have great technique but if they are not naturally comfortable at the net and are volleying while subconsciously leaning back in a defensive position, they aren’t going to volley well.
Another thing to keep in mind is there is so much variety when it comes to volleys. There are balls that float to the volleyer, balls coming really fast to the volleyer, stretch volleys, half volleys, etc., that what might apply to one type of volley doesn’t always apply to all.
What happens when you teach a beginner to keep their racquet face open on the volley and they get a high volley close to the net? They hit it long! What happens when you step across your body to volley a ball that’s hit really hard? You are late on the volley! That’s why I think that getting your student comfortable at the net with different games, exercises and situations is more important than perfecting volley technique. With that said, I’m sure there are coaches I respect who disagree and others who agree with me.
Is it better to keep my feet apart (platform) or slide my back foot up (pinpoint) when I serve?
I may be stretching when I say there is a debate on which is better. Coaches may have their own personal preference but any reputable coach would not impose one stance exclusive to every one of their students. There are legendary servers who have used pinpoint, and others who have used platform, and it really depends on what the student is more comfortable executing. What I do feel strongly about is that a coach should not introduce pinpoint as a serving option until the student is passed the beginner stage. There are just too many body parts moving around to really get the basics down on the serve and in my opinion balance and the ball toss are the two most important things for a beginner to gain some aptitude on in the early stages of development.
Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at Glen Oaks Club. Ricky also coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs. As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.