WHY PUT THE BUGGY IN FRONT OF THE HORSE
I was fortunate enough recently to have my eyes open wide enough to notice that it was more efficient if I had my horse pulling the buggy instead of pushing the buggy. In this piece I will refer to the technical aspect of player development as the buggy and the tactical aspect of player development as the horse.
As coaches for many years we have fallen into the stereotypical routine of teaching players how to do something to later on teach them how to use it. In reality it is more productive to learn or develop something if they truly understand why they need it, when they will use it, and how will it help them achieve their objective. I call this effective process of teaching or developing technique by first presenting the student with how it tactically will be used VELOCITY!
Why VELOCITY…because it speeds up the learning process and it is directly connected to the functionality and adaptability of technique while competing and playing tennis.
Think about it if instead of teaching three forehands (drive, roll, high heavy) you could simply, by the parameters of the exercise or drill, stimulate or direct the player on it’s own to create the correct of the above mentioned forehands it will become a task or skill without limitations and with a direct connection and understanding of it’s relation to play based on the situation the player finds itself and their objective of execution…this automatically equals accurate recognition and proper tactical execution. This vision of player development eliminates ball strikers (players with only technique and perception that there is one forehand) and creates tennis players (players with an understanding that there are technical variations to their forehand based on what they are trying to accomplish tactically).
How do I do it? This past week I was working with a very good eight-year-old player on the sixty-foot court. My objective during our session was to develop a short crosscourt roll forehand that will eventually be used to pull his opponent off the court and allow him to take the response on the rise to the open court and have command of the point. For the first ten minutes of our session I tried to develop the shot only Technically by asking him to come into the ball more diagonal (increasing steepness of his swing path along the back of the ball), to maintain a cleaner inner rotation of forearm/shoulder to create a clean lift on the ball decreasing linear force and increasing rotational force within the ball itself, and lastly to modify his finishing point to be by his hip instead of above his shoulder.
Although all the above information was very accurate, on target, and delivered in the learning style of the player (visual) I experienced zero success. I then gave the player a water break we talked about what he had done the night before in order to distract him, eliminate the frustration that he had reached while trying to execute what I was asking, and create a positive enjoyable frame of mind for what was coming next in our session. I then proceeded to try teaching the same shot with a Tactical perspective instead of Technical. I did this by not saying anything about the Technique but by using drop lines to create the lane where the short crosscourt forehand roll needed to bounce and telling him that every time his ball bounce in that lane I wanted him to take my response as early as possible (which it translates to him as on the rise) and execute a shot to the open court which I had also created a lane with drop down lines. I then told him that our objective was to get twenty-five points and that he would get a point for every time his shots bounce in the proper lanes. To my surprise the shot that Technically we had tried to develop for ten minutes with no success within two or three tries of doing it, with the Tactical perspective and no discussion about Technique, he was executing perfectly.
Lesson learned: be creative, think outside the box, do not limit the student by thinking that they have to know how to do it in order to do it, give them a chance to try the task (Technique) by pursuing the objective (Tactical) and they will surprise you…may I add it was lot more enjoyable for him and for me.
Put the horse in the front (Tactical Development) and the buggy will follow (Technical Development).
By Julio Godreau
Evolve9 Professional Development Team