ADVANCED PLAYERS, PLAYERS IN DEVELOPMENT STAGES,
AND TECHNIQUE TRAINING
By Daniel Libeskind Rosenbaum
Advanced players acquire the most playing experience and have the best technical preparation.
Inevitably and conversely, the more they play, the more their technique suffers wear and deforms.
During matches, despite maintaining frequent trends, they are constantly in different game situations and positions on the court.
In addition to facing tense and compromising situations, they seek to control and put each other in uncomfortable conditions to hit the ball. It is difficult for them to hit "correctly" and comfortably.
The strokes they decide to execute are circumstantial, situational, intentional, and decisive - whether in attack, in defense, or in emergencies - varied and eventually improvised.
It is important for them to have:
Tactical knowledge to plan plays strategically and discipline to execute them properly.
A broad and versatile technical base that allows them to make the needed adjustments and timely adaptations.
Dexterity and "good hands" to be able to "do whatever they want with the ball" in all situations.
The constant prolonged participation in tournaments not only wears out and deforms the technique but also prevents players from training and perfecting the correct execution of strokes. During tournaments, the focus is on beating the opponents and it is not usual to divert attention by training technique. There is no time, conditions, or energy available.
To focus on the technical aspects, players strategically choose certain periods of the year. After a period of rest or transition, they prepare for the next phase of tournaments, and in the periods of general preparation, they dedicate themselves exclusively to recomposing the basic technique and putting the strokes in order. For this, low-intensity long training - aerobic - is used, often based on the coach feeding balls from the basket, in which they regain contact with the ball, regularity, precision, and proper execution of the movements. The simpler the player's technique, the easier it is to resume it in less time. Periodically reviewing mechanics to realign the strokes and clean the technique is a fundamental part of preparation. Players need to keep their technique up to date.
Thus, throughout the year, in some isolated and relatively short periods, the players train very exclusively on the technical part, even making use of closed training methods. Because they are far from competing, training can be far from playing - the reality of the game.
They basically train basic technique. The one that will serve as the basis for the advanced strokes. Those for tactical use, preferably aggressive, powerful, accelerated, and that are formatted differently (deformed) depending on each game situation - decision.
On the way to the competition, the training conveniently changes, specifically resembling the game. The technique gradually adjusts to the tactical needs of the tournaments they will play, to the game patterns they will use, and to the opponents they will face - according to the environment.
Tactical training and the games' situations themselves, by systematically repeating similar moves, end up putting players in the same situations more often, conditioning specific footwork and strokes technical trends. However, unpredictability and constant changes are the order of the day. The advanced technique derived from the basic technique, performed in unfavorable situations with the intention of disfavoring the opponent ends up deforming the technical basis from which it originated.
The training intervals are more intense and shorter with the respective rests - anaerobic - similar to the points that will be played in matches. Pace of play, specific resistance, tactical aspects, and technical adjustments become a priority. Training turns into playing and becomes more exciting.
Despite the difficulties, during competitive periods it is always possible to find opportune moments to put the strokes in place.
The warm-up, although shorter, as it is initially smooth and aerobic, can fulfill its technical role.
During the matches, it is always possible to find a moment to remind a satisfactory technique: when hitting the ball to the opponent at the end of a point, when the ball is out and it is possible to take the advantage to hit without pressure and when the score allows.
After the matches, it is recommended to recover with a relaxed rally to loosen the muscles, extend the strokes, and find shape and relief.
In any case, advanced players are expected to know how to correctly execute all the strokes, live with the ups and downs of the technique and recognize the important opportunities to train it.
Which examples of advanced players should be transferred to players in the development stages?
If advanced players play a lot and train the technique comparatively less, players in the development stages must also play a lot to learn how to play and enjoy playing. They must train the technique in a complementary way to improve the game level.
If advanced players slowly train in basic techniques to reform the strokes that are lost when playing, players in the development stages should use basic technique educational models to slowly learn to hit correctly.
If advanced players are systematically modifying and improving their technique, despite the difficulties of doing so due to competitive commitments, players in the development stages must understand that the technique they acquire is not final and can always be modified and improved.
If advanced players are focused on winning during play, players in the development stages must play to learn how to win, realizing where they hit the ball to harm their opponents instead of caring about the technique of the strokes they hit. Coaches should teach more about how to play and win and avoid technical corrections while players play.
If advanced players are constantly making decisions to hit during play, players in the development stages should practice more with open training methods to develop their open skills (techniques) and learn how to execute the strokes based on decisions. That is, learning to decide to execute the strokes. Therefore, the tactical approach predominates, precedes, and justifies the technical orientation.
With the aim of developing open skills and facilitating decision-making, advanced players evaluate the intentional trajectory of their own strokes, realizing the situation in which they put their opponents, deducing and at best inducing how they will hit. So, they decide in advance with which possible intentional strokes they may react to the presumed incoming ball and prepare to do so. Players in development stages, on the other hand, learn to interconnect the strokes and realize that the projection of one determines the projection of the other and thus prepare themselves to react accordingly to the ball they receive… Recovering and split step becomes essential.
Difference between players in development stages and advanced players:
During development stages it is important to prioritize: technical and tactical development is more important than competitive results. The competitions fulfill their role of promoting experiences, complementing, and evaluating training. Players get used to the emotional environment, learn to compete, and train while competing.
When players reach the advanced level, training becomes a function of the competition. They compete to win and train to compete in their best condition. When competing, it is possible to train in some sporadic moments.
If we notice that advanced players eventually practice the technique a lot, hitting balls the coach feeds from the basket, this does not mean that players in development stages should always do it, even instead of playing.
Advanced and individual techniques that players perform during matches should not be used as educational models for players in the development stages to learn how to hit.
The “strokes from the book" taught to beginners are harmless tools to project a ball accurately and deep from the back of the court. Advanced strokes are aggressive tools to accelerate and spin the ball much more and create sophisticated trajectories.
Beginners start their experiences by playing up close, first developing sensitivity by touching the ball with simple strokes - brief and slow - safe enough to control its short trajectories.
Gradually gain confidence and move away from the net. Then, the trajectory of the strokes extends naturally, back and forth, to prolong the trajectory of the ball, projecting it harder, higher, and deeper - all while maintaining control and accuracy.
Gradually, they first develop touch, then extend, and finally accelerate the contact with the ball.
Advanced players play from distance with long, loose, and fast strokes - risky but with a high margin of success. Hitting relaxed strokes is also a way to deal with the pressure of the game.
Beginners need to learn to move the racket. They use lighter rackets with more weight in the center. Lighter and slower balls are easier to control as well.
Advanced players let the racket (and strings) do the work and accelerate its natural swing. They use heavier, thinner rackets with more weight in the head. The ball is also heavier and "flies more”.
Beginners learn to move their bodies and coordinate movements.
Advanced players move naturally with coordinated movements.
Controversial matters IN OR OUT?
1) To play tennis it’s necessary to have good technique. (OUT)
Most players on the planet do not take tennis classes and play with questionable technique. They won't be great players. Some say they don't want to and would rather play than learn, and have fun than improve themselves. Some don’t even know they can really improve. By the way, the industry also develops rackets and balls for those who do not know how to play and do not have good technique.
It is common to see that players who strive to have good technique lose to players who play with "ugly" strokes and cannot convince themselves of how this can happen.
Learning the technique of executing movements is not fun and does not teach how to play. On the contrary.
Prioritizing technique and excessive perfectionism replace the taste for the game, deceiving and restricting.
However, playing with limitations and possible injuries ends up limiting, frustrating and discouraging.
Only playing as well as only learning the strokes is not enough to play well. First, learning to control the ball which is technical, and to play which is tactical. And it's more exciting. Second, learning the strokes which is technical and necessary.
2) Students who learn the "correct" strokes and don’t play, in the future will win over those who play and are technically limited. (OUT)
Students who only - mainly - learn the strokes and do not develop experience in touch, ball control, and play usually lose to those who only play. They learn to lose and believe that technique is the reason for everything. They don't like to lose, become afraid to play, and give up. It is better to develop players who learn to play and perfect their technique as part of the game than to teach the strokes to students who neither play nor win.
3) Beginners who play with precarious technique will get used to it and won't be able to change it. (OUT)
On the contrary, they become more used and limited if they learn the strokes by imitating the technique of advanced players. They do not develop touch, sensitivity or ball control. They can't exchange balls with control and responsibility because they learn with closed methods. They have few tools and no versatility to solve game problems. They practically don't play so much that they prioritize the technique. They are taught to imitate advanced models without having previously known and mastered the basic models. They are taught to master complex movements that they do not need and are not prepared for without first developing a general coordination foundation that includes learning to control the ball and its varied trajectories.
It is incongruous, naive, and uncertain to intend to transfer advanced stroke models to players in the development stages. Discordant with any pedagogical precept and didactical principle, it makes teaching corrective, reduced, partial, ineffective, and tedious for teachers and students.
4) Match technique is different from training technique. (OUT)
In this case, training would not be specifically appropriate. In fact, training should change, stimulate, promote, and develop another technique. Match technique corresponds much more to a tactical intention than to an execution format. Players in development stages should practice in open situations to learn the game and realize the importance of controlling the ball with intentions and gradually learning the stroke technique.
When players learn and train the basic technique - slow, long, neutral, and unintentional - apparently they are not performing the match technique - fast, aggressive, varied, and of tactical use. However, they are building a solid structure that hides itself by imperceptibly sustaining the strokes that are performed when playing.
There are times to train basic structural technique and times to train advanced intentional technique. Both are important and complement each other. In terms of learning, the intentional first, the basic later, and finally the advanced.
5) To play tennis better it’s also necessary to have good technique. (IN)
It's not immediate and has its price. Few acquire good technique and can be advanced players.
Technique is to get familiar with the racket and the ball, control the ball with a racket, control the head of the racket and the muscle intensity, look at the ball, touch and feel the ball with the center of the strings, inhale and exhale, guide the ball with different trajectories and spins, hit with different grips, extensions, and speeds, from different places in different situations, easy and difficult balls, deciding what and how to do according to a game plan.
Technique is used while playing, often nervous, fearful, angry, upset, desperate, unmotivated, unfocused, disoriented, embarrassed, and tired, facing an opponent who also wants to win. Having to keep calm, concentration, courage and willpower, self-esteem, optimism, courage, and the will to win.
Technique is all the various strokes the player performs in all the adverse situations in which he finds himself. Performing them correctly is also technique, if possible preferably. But not necessarily.
Holding the racket correctly, performing movements correctly, finding the ball at the contact point in front of the body correctly, and taking the weight forward is a very limited view of the technique. Not very exciting.
Technique in tennis is much more than performing "correct" movements. As it is a sport of open skills, the strokes’ technique is versatile and varies according to tactical intentions. The choice for execution must be circumstantial and tactically convenient.
The correct technique includes controlling the trajectory of the ball and for that, everything the player must do before, during, and after hitting the ball. It requires tactical knowledge to make the right decisions and a high degree of dexterity to execute specific movements.
The correct execution of the strokes (basic and advanced) corresponds to an advanced stage of the specific motor coordination of the modality. It requires prior learning of a generic, athletic, and multi-sport coordination base. In the case of tennis, it specifically requires the development of reception and projection skills and the link between them.
The so-called advanced strokes, by being intentionally powerful and accelerated, deform the basic technique that is performed slowly under control. Therefore, their format should not be taught because it is impossible to control the movements when they are executed quickly and it makes no sense to teach slowly the movements that only happen due to speed.
What must be developed is an "athletic throwing motion": a sequence of movements that chains the use of the legs, the rotation of the trunk, and the extension of the arm (elbow/wrist) to accelerate the head of the racket. When trained quickly, what happens to the racket is difficult and useless to control because it is a result of acceleration. When trained slowly, the racket is not affected by acceleration. Anyway, in a propulsion system as an "athletic throwing motion”, the energy accumulation phase is more important than the resultant energy release phase.
The exercises of the basic technique models that are slowly practiced to learn the strokes in the initiation phase will be systematically used throughout the player's career to reformat the strokes that become deformed when playing with fast and varied strokes. The same technique that builds the frame rebuilds it.
Execution technique includes controlling the ball trajectory (what the player does with the ball for tactical purposes), controlling the senses when hitting (looking at the ball, touching the ball in the center of the strings, listening to the sound of the contact of the strings with the ball, exhaling when hitting) and controlling the movements of the body and the racket in time and space (stroke episodes from split step to split step).
The game-based approach does not exclude the importance of developing the correct and complete technique precisely because the ability to execute tactical game patterns depends on the player’s arsenal of necessary strokes. The technically limited player who does not have such an arsenal will be tactically limited without having the necessary answers. His weaknesses will be exposed and will certainly be exploited once noticed by an astute and capable player (and by his coach).
The game-based approach does not exclude that the technique must follow mechanical principles because it must be a particular individual expression of each player. Despite justifying a convenient and convincing mechanical standardization that helps solve most of the problems (of time and distance) that tennis players face when playing, a considerable part of the problems can only be solved due to athletic skills and manual dexterity. The ability to imitate standardized movements and the ability to invent and improvise movements complement each other. It is important to give the player the freedom to express his interpretation of the game through his personal style taking care that his creativity does not replace universal principles and undermine his own game.
The principle of specificity advocates that training should prepare the players for the "reality of the event” in which they compete. Advanced players must be sufficiently prepared to face all physical and mental/emotional challenges.
The game-based approach prescribes that tactical and technical conditioning complement each other so that players can execute game plans with competence and conviction.
Players in better physical and mental conditions will be able to perform their tactical and technical skills better. However, it would be naive not to consider that players are eventually not in their best conditions, especially at the end of long and disputed matches.
In tennis, there are no reserve players. Cautious coaches prepare their players so that, precisely in these decisive moments of uncertainty and fatigue, they perform in the best possible way: mentally strong, tactically disciplined, and technically competent.
The technique evolves. The one that was correct and acceptable in the past can become obsolete, outdated, and fall into disuse. What is the correct technique and which one should be followed if it changes over time or if it varies according to the game situation? One of the advanced players that are in evidence today? Which player since everyone is different? Advanced players themselves along their career modify the format of their strokes. How was the technique in the past? How will it be in the future? What is permanent? What lasts forever?
The "correct technique" must be timeless rather than inspired by momentary models.
It must follow universal physical principles and not biomechanical arguments that explain and prescribe the gestures of the champions on duty. Who chooses the exemplary champions and which of their gestures are chosen?
It must be a basic and formative technique, a mold from which one creates and derives and to which one returns when one moves away.
It must be an educational and healthy technique. A natural model, simple to imitate and easy to execute.
It should be an economical and safe technique. Fluid, continuous, harmonious, rhythmic. Balanced, light, elegant. Solid, lasting, reliable, loyal.
It should be a possible technique for all ages and not specific to a phase in which one is at the peak of athletic potential and can perform with maximum power.
It should be a useful technique that provides the greatest amount of resources to stand up to the most problematic situations (of time and space) in which the players find themselves.
That takes advantage of gravity and muscle capacity, which does not wear out or require other than learning.
That relates to cause and effect and associates good executions with good results and good sensations.
That provides satisfaction to those who perform correctly and rewards the commitment of those who learn.
In the past, we believed that technique (correct execution) was fundamental and anyone who didn’t have good technique could not play. We spent a lot of time prioritizing the teaching of the correct strokes using closed training methods and followed this tradition for a long time. Over time we understood that performing correct strokes does not develop ball control nor the notion of how to play to beat opponents. The contents and methods do not correspond to the specificity of the game. It just makes teachers and players hostage to their own strokes.
Strokes execution is technical as is ball control (both include coordination). Today it is easier to decide what is a priority. Today we understand that it is important to learn to control the ball in order to practice and play immediately. New equipment and modern teaching methods contribute a lot to making classes more challenging and fun;
encouraging freedom of expression and provoking the creative spirit; promoting the legitimate participation of the students in the construction of their own game and motor learning. All this increases the confidence of everyone who tries it because they feel respected, able to succeed, motivated to progress, and curious to learn.
Open skills, which involve perception, decision-making, tactical knowledge, coordination, and dexterity are preponderant and determine the contents and methods of training. Closed skills are no less important. Opportunely complement learning by improving the quality of movements and increasing their usefulness. They add value and also determine the contents and methods of training. What should be prioritized is up to the teacher to choose, preferably with criteria and argumentation.
It is better to develop players who play and progress by also improving the quality of their strokes than to insistently teach strokes to students who do not learn to play.
ENJOY YOUR TRAINING AND MATCHES!
Daniel Libeskind Rosenbaum
I am a tennis coach who graduated from the School for Coaches at the Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Israel, ITF Level 2. I also graduated from the Social Sciences College at the University of Sao Paulo.
During a long and successful career, I have been strongly contributing to the tennis industry making effective efforts to develop and enrich players and coaches, tennis clubs, academies, and associations. Since 1982 I have been teaching and coaching at all levels, promoting the game and participation in sports, and designing and implementing tennis programs for young beginners, adults, juniors, and professional players. As a participant, speaker, and producer, I have been participating in several national and international tennis courses, conferences, and workshops; organized and conducted approximately three hundred coaches’ courses responsible for thousands of certifications.
Among many activities, I founded and coordinated the Coaches' Education Department at the Brazilian Tennis Association, directed the Achievement Program at the Israel Tennis and Education Centers’ Association and coordinated development projects at the Sao Paulo State Tennis Federation in Brazil. Also, I have been teaching patients in a Medical SPA using tennis as an important additional tool to combat the sedentary lifestyle, decrease obesity and improve emotioonal balance. I continue teaching Tennis and offering coaches’ seminars in Brazil
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