One of the most frequent mistake coaches, parents and observers do when analyzing their young player’s performance is failing to see the tight relationship between coordination and physical skill with the specific technical skills of tennis. How specific coordination and training can help our young players master the technical skills of tennis is the main focus of this article.
Coordination is the ability to use different parts of the body together efficiently and smoothly. Precisely this would be a great definition to explain a technically sound forehand or serve. Quite surprisingly when we are trying to improve or “fix” our player’s forehands, we tend to isolate segments when the actual key is the teamwork between segments.
To develop this efficient and smooth teamwork between segments or effective chains of movement, we must start at the early stages, when the coordination patterns and chains of movement are being learned. When we create the program for our 12 and under players; we have to make sure we allocate time to develop these specific coordination skills and patterns:
Specific coordination skills needed in tennis
►Rhythm: the ball is the metronome of our movements; can the player adjust to the ball’s tempo? Can his steps and swings follow its timing? Many times, the difference between a good and an elite player is not the technical skill in itself, but the capacity to apply that skill within a higher tempo pressure.
►Balance: can the player maintain the center of gravity under control in movement? Can he transfer his weight effectively?
►Dissociation: can the player maintain different segments working separately in different rhythms without interferences from each other? For example, dissociation is needed in Serve from tossing hand and racket hand. Does the tossing motion interfere with the coordination of the racket preparation? Dissociation is also needed to separate lower-body steps, stance setting from upper-body racket preparation and swing. Does the high rhythm of the footwork alter the control of the swing?
Specific coordination patterns needed in tennis
►Movement patterns: split step variations (static and dynamic, one or two legs), accelerating steps, decelerating steps and adjustments, change of direction techniques, recovery steps.
►Set up patterns: stance set up(open, close, semi-open and variations), static and dynamic balance, weight transference.
►Release patterns (throws): rotational release chains (left, right, FH, BH), overhead release chains, weight transfer.
These skills and patterns are not directly related to the racket, but they are a key part of the technical development of our young players. They can be learned and improved through specific physical training on or off the court. Sometimes attacking technical challenges our players face through specific coordination training is the solution of the problem. As a coach, don’t look only at the racket; look at the whole chain of movement, look at the quality of the player’s coordination skills and patterns.
If your player can’t generate enough energy on his FH, analyze where is the chain of movement breaking down, what part of the chain is not efficient and where the energy is wasted (is there really lack of energy or waste of energy?). Specific coordination training can help immensely to improve the efficiency of the technique.
Any elite junior tennis program needs Medicine balls to reinforce release coordination patterns; not just by throwing medicine balls, but doing it with specificity, taking into consideration stances, weight transfer and posture. Steps, rings and gates are needed to help the development of specific on court footwork patterns. Your club’s physical trainers need to understand tennis and make sure the off-court training is specific and develops the key coordination skills and patterns of tennis. At the same time, our tennis coaches need to integrate these types of exercises on court to help the development of an efficient and smooth technique from the early stages.
Cinto Casanova is the Head Physical Trainer and Senior Elite Tennis Coach at Sakurada Club in Tokyo. He has held leading positions in Junior Player Development for over two decades in Japan, China and Spaiin. He has helped to develop top junior programs that produced successful national and international junior players. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.