Professional coaches are receptive students and as eager to receive information, critique and criticism as they are to give it. They think independently, solve problems creatively, and assimilate and integrate information into a message that works best for each student. Great coaches are constantly learning and growing by questioning teachings of the past and uncovering the most progressive methods. Evolving coaches do not accept the status quo in the development of their profession or the game of their students. They seek to deliver instruction that is best suited to the uniqueness of the student by breaking out of their teaching comfort zone to find messages with the greatest positive impact.
Sadly, poor instruction is all too often given to students and repeated by coaches, who fail to question its validity. The common instruction of asking a student to perform a wrist snap on the serve is one of the many examples of teaching which focuses on isolated joint movement rather than integrated body systems.
While top servers perform strong wrist snaps, the added power impact of a snap or pronation of the wrist is minimal. Studies indicate that the wrist is capable of adding just 10 percent of the power of the hit and even less in the most powerful serves. Elite men get under six percent added power from a wrist snap. The wrist snap when correctly integrated into the motion adds power but an isolated wrist snap, disconnected from the kinetic chain inhibits body linkage, reduces power and places tremendous and dangerous stress on the forearm and biceps areas.
Clearly, wrist snaps do not cause great serves, rather, the result of great serving mechanics is a strong wrist snap. Powerful serving starts from the ground and works its way up the kinetic chain to the arm. Great serves send a great deal of force upward and a relaxed arm will accelerate more readily. Great servers fully extend their hitting arm to create a longer lever capable of doing more work and to allow the shoulder to internally rotate, thus furthering arm and racket speed. An extended, loose arm moving at a high speed while holding the mass of the racket cannot help but flex from the wrist. Therefore, the wrist snap can be better understood as a valuable assessment of well-linked serving mechanics rather than as an independent goal.
The reasoning behind antiquated instruction that I've often heard is the circular logic of; "This is what I was taught, this is what I teach and I get results." The error in thinking here is that when you begin with a false premise, you are bound to reach a fascicle conclusion.
Fifty years ago, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, basketball's Red Auerbach of the great Boston Celtics teams, and the head coaches of the United States and Russian Olympic teams could have used this same syllogism to defend their practice of denying water and providing salt pills to athletes during completions. Of course they got "results" despite doing that which we now know to be detrimental.
In the classic John Ford western "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," James Stewart said, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." It is easier to complacently reinforce myths than question them.
Professional coaches, however, are not satisfied with fairy tales. They are always seeking to discover and unlock the truth.
Steven Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.