Do you recognize yourself in any of these people?
1. A professional tennis player who spends 20 minutes or more every day in front of a mirror to perfect their forehand.
2. A weekend player who always has a video camera on hand to record their tennis strokes.
3. A tennis player who never loses a chance to practice swings, even in the washroom of a restaurant where they are having dinner.
If the above scenarios are familiar to you, chances are that you have “strokeitis,” a term in professional tennis for a player’s obsession with making their stroke perfect.
Since the beginning of tennis as a sport, players have wanted to perfect their stroke, and it affects everyone from newbies to seasoned players.
People have tried almost every method to achieve an immaculate stroke. They study tons of information and review huge amounts of videos from tournaments where the tennis stars play, analyzing their stroke down to the finest detail.
But what if it is better to stop this obsession?
After all, no matter how hard tennis players and their coaches work to invent a new multi-purpose stroke scheme that guarantees 100 percent success, they will ultimately fail.
There are as many stroke techniques as there are tennis rackets. If you compare the strokes of various players, you will easily notice how different they are. Some use a sweeping swing, others use a short and compact swing, some prefer to use a Western Grip, others an Eastern Grip, some find an open stance more effective, while others find a closed stance more comfortable. How do you find out what helps each one them to win matches?
First, let's try to answer one question: What should you know about the ball at the crucial moment when it touches a racket?
You may think what’s important is how wide your swing is, or the way you hold the racquet. Actually, those things are not nearly as important as the speed of the racquet head and its position.
Basically, these two factors define the speed, direction and spin of a ball. This doesn't mean that trying improve your stroke technique is a waste of time. It's important to work on your strokes, making them clear and smooth, but it’s also important to use your knowledge at the critical moment so the two main factors can be achieved.
However, it should be mentioned that while searching for the perfect movement of a racket, you may forget about another important aspect that is even more significant–footwork. Despite what some may think, tennis is more a game of accurate movements than beautiful strokes. The speed of reaction is dramatically important in this sport.
Who needs beautiful, clear strokes if you are not able to be in the right place at the right time? And here we have the main principle of good tennis–to take the right position at a particular time, and only then to make an accurate stroke.
Let’s consult the professional tennis coaches who are well-known around the world as specialists in their field.
Jack Broudy, author of the well-known book, The Real Spin on Tennis, claims that up to 75 percent of tennis players don't pay enough attention to the way their feet move, but almost all of them work on the movements of their arms to make clear strokes. As a result, the majority of tennis players make mistakes not because something is wrong with their technique, but rather, because they don't know how to move effectively.
Another recognized specialist in the field of sports science, Jack Groppel, in his book, High Tech Tennis, writes that the majority of mistakes on a tennis court (up to 70 percent) happen due to ineffective foot movement and insufficiently trained legs.
If you take a closer look at this, you will see that the accuracy of a stroke depends mainly on the player's position on a court. Namely, the position of your body in relation to a ball affects the movement of your arm. If a player takes the time to find a comfortable stance, then the movement of the racket against the ball will be clean and smooth. If not, the player may not be able to control their arm, but also the balance of the body and the stroke will fail. There is a direct connection between the player's position on a court, footwork and the accuracy of the stroke.
Let’s take a look at an example.
While performing a forehand stroke, a tennis player turns their elbow incorrectly, and as a result, the ball hits the net every time. The player thinks that something is wrong with the movement of their arms and needs some additional training.
A good coach who understands the importance of the position of a player while performing a stroke, will notice the actual problem and will point out the moment when the swing should be made. After a couple of repetitions, the player begins to feel the distance, then learns how to hold his arm, becoming aware of a mistake that happens not because something is wrong with their stroke, but because his position is incorrect.
Twisting an elbow is not the result of insufficient stroke practice, but rather indicates that a player is hitting the ball too late and that the ball is too close to their body. The position of the arm depends on the position of a player's body against a ball.
Players who don't pay attention to footwork don’t realize that their body is adjusting to the stroke, as they are trying to balance the incorrect position. However, remember that good footwork has nothing to do with the ability to run fast. It’s important not to confuse these two notions. Tennis is a game of agility, not speed. Speed is necessary for those who need to cover a huge distance, but a tennis player on the court ideally should take just a couple of steps before choosing the right position. So, it's more important to develop agility that will put you in the right position.
The talents of a sprinter rarely help a tennis player to achieve success. The players who win are able to move fast over a three- to six-yard span which can give them a significant advantage over the opposition.
Then again, it doesn't mean that one should forget about stroke technique and ignore footwork. A player can make different mistakes, but to make accurate strokes without hesitation, one should choose the right position on a court during the game.
It’s not hard for a professional coach to teach a newbie how to make clear and accurate forehands and backhands, demonstrating the main types of shots and instructing how to choose the right time and position for making the swing required for various strokes.
After that, a player should practice footwork, because during a real match, a player has to perform these strokes on the run, which is very important. And here, everything is clear. If a player is able to take the right position to make a shot, then everything else falls into place. If the player is too late, then there is not enough time to take the right position, and as a result, the shot is inaccurate.
Since the player doesn't understand the actual reason for the mistake, he decides that this has happened because something is wrong with his stroke technique, and trains with renewed effort, perfecting his strokes in front of a mirror or video camera.
But maybe this time everything will be different. If we have managed to persuade you, try to devote more time to your footwork. Instead of endlessly refining your shots, do some footwork exercises and jump rope workouts.
Let’s summarize and repeat the main idea …
The effort to develop clear, beautiful strokes can be futile. Such strokes are almost impossible if a tennis player takes the wrong position in relation to the ball while performing a stroke. The success of professional tennis players who are able to move effectively on a court is the best proof of this. Their strokes can vary greatly, but the most important thing is that the stroke is always controlled by the player.