About Us

CAtennis is a passionate discussion for serious tennis players, parents and coaches looking for something different. No talk about technique, no talk about useless theory, no gimmicks; just practical advice from first-hand experience on how to improve your tennis. Kick back, drink the content, bounce ideas, and pitch articles, tips or suggestions to nott@usc.edu (or friend us on Facebook).

Unless otherwise noted, all articles are authored by the founders of CAtennis.  Enjoy!

TennisSlowMoGuy
Tuesday
Aug132013

Fantasy Play: "Look! I'm John McEnroe!!!"

The story of Stefan Holm in David Epstein's book The Sports Gene is instructive for all parents of young tennis players. The story outlines how Stefan Holm, a now retired Swedish high-jumper and Olympic gold-medal winner, grew up obssessed with the sport after watching Patrick Sjöberg demonstrate his skills on television. After seeing Patrick set the world record, Stefan would run around his house and backyard jumping over obstacles screaming "look! I'm Patrick Sjoberg!" This type of passion wasn't drilled into Stefan's head by an over-eager parent. For Stefan, enacting - together with friends - a fansatsy version of the Olympics was as fascinating as playing pretend cops-and-robbers or cowboys-and-Indians. Stefan's passion was not smothered by his dad - a former lower-level soccer player. Instead, the dad was simply eager to help Stefan pursue HIS goals from a father-son bonding standpoint. 

As child developmental professionals agree, fantasy play is a rich and rewarding activity that helps kids practice all kinds of new skills. By engaging in fantasy play (e.g., devising their own plots) children practice problem-solving. And problem-solving is a huge component in the game of tennis. When the child has dreamt up a match-play scenario and solved it, s/he is less likely to be anxious when facing a similar scenario in real-life. Accordingly, although there is a time for practice to be serious, a youngster starting in tennis should be encouraged to play-pretend. Let the child pretend that he's Federer, or Nadal, or Djokovic, or Serena, or Sharapova, or Murray. Applaud the child's efforts in using her imagination, supply the props, and let her drive the bus for once. If she wants to play a match where she is Serena and you are del Potro - do it! And make your best efforts to copy the strokes a maneurisms of your player. Be serious about fantasy play. She will associate the sport with fun and will be more eager to learn concepts in "serious" lessons - which she will use in play: pretend and actual matches. In the process, you may learn something about the child - such as which player she idolizes? This will give you insight as to training methods to be employed: if the player wants to be Serena, then maybe she should be coached to play as her. 

Sunday
Aug112013

Where Coaches and Parents Get It Wrong

Have you ever wondered what makes a good player great? If so, you are following in the footsteps of numerous people who have sought to bottle the answer and sell it to the masses via clever articles or neatly packaged tennis lessons. Often times, the answer is a combination of "talent" and "practice." While not entirely wrong, the concepts are not mutually exclusive. Research shows that talent supports practice and practice nurtures talent. 

Take for example the occlusion studies initiated by Janet Starkes, a former Canadian women's basketball team member. She wanted to know why elite athletes - despite possessing similar objective reaction times as "regular" people - possessed a much better skill-set in specific environments (e.g., hitting a baseball or returning a serve). As a result, Ms. Starkes devised an "occlusion" test. As part of the test, she collected hundreds of photographs of women volleyball players in action. She then made slides of these photographs where, in some instances, the ball was still in frame and others where the ball was out of the frame (being already struck). "In many photos, the orientation and movement of players' bodies were nearly identical regardless of whether the ball was in the frame, since little had changed in the instant after the ball exited the picture. Starkes then connected a scope to a slide projector and asked elite and novice volleyball players to look at the slides for a fraction of a second apiece and decide whether the ball was or was not in the frame. The glance was too quick for the viewers actually to see the ball, so the idea was to determine whether some of the athletes were seeing the entire court and the body language of players in a way that allowed them to figure out whether the ball was present. The results of the first occlusion tests astounded Starkes. Unlike in reaction-time tests, the difference between top volleyball players and novices was enormous. For the elite players, a fraction-of-a-second glance was all they needed to determine whether the ball was present. And the better the player, the more quickly she could extract pertinent information from each slide.

How does the foregoing relate to tennis? The occlusion test can explain why players like Djokovic, Federer or Nadal are more successful in returning high-level serves (or groundstrokes) than average country club players. Because in many instances the ball travels at speeds that exceed the brain's ability to compute the information gathered from the eyes, the best players in the world pick up cues from other sources - such as body language. In effect, the best tennis players (or baseball sluggers) don't see the ball that much better than the rest of the people - so "keeping your eye on the ball" advice is largely meaningless in the context of a 145mph serve - but they do see other things (e.g. toss, preparation, hips, foot positioning, etc.). Some of these concepts can certainly be taught but in order for them to be mastered, the player must learn how to read body language through hours and hours of first-hand observation. So when parents or coaches say "oh, an hour a day of high quality tennis is enough", that message is only partially right. The player may be able to learn decent strokes in one hour - focusing on the artistry of his/her own movement - but it might not be enough to develop the observation skills necessary to pick up on the subtle body cues of the opponent. As a result, it is important for the player to not only perform drills where the ball is fed by the coach (be it by hand or racket) but to also play a lot of "live ball" tennis - rallying and points. 

Thursday
Apr112013

Resultina – Tennis Results By Jiri Fencl and Lukas Brezina

CAtennis has the pleasure of introducing you to a great new tennis app that is available for iPhone/iPad and Android devices: Resultina. Resultina is, so far, one of the best tennis-results apps that we have had the opportunity to experience. It brings up-to-the-minute results for ATP, WTA and Junior ITF events. One catchy feature is that it allows you to choose your favorite players and peruse their recent results and current activity. This is extremely effective for players as well as coaches and very entertaining for tennis fans. 

Here's a brief Q&A with its creator - Jiri Fencl (current coach of WTA player LUCIE HRADECKA):

 

 

1. How did you come up with the plan for this app?

The idea was in our mind for some time. I work as a tennis coach and I'm interested where and how players I know play. Futures, Challengers, Tour events, Juniors. That's a lot of websites to go through. So we thought, there must be a better way. And that's how Resultina was born..to solve our own problem. 

2. Who were the developers?

The developers are myself, Jiri Fencl, and Lukas Brezina. I work as a professional tennis coach (and do a lot of programming as well) and Lukas is tennis analyst and entrepreneur. We designed an iPhone version of Resultina and we were lucky to find one of the best iPhone developers Petr Jankuj, who did all the hard coding on the iPhone app.

3. What are the long-term goals? Will you be offering other tennis results as well? For example, wheelchair tournaments? College tennis (pretty big deal in US)? Bundesliga? 
We launched Resultina in late December, so right now, we're focused on reliability of the service. We want to bring users as accurate result service as we can. I think that one of the best features of the app is that it enables users to type in the scores. So the system is open and we might be able to add results from more events. College tennis is a possibility too.
4. Will this remain a results-based app or are the plans to expand into additional services?
 
Head to head statistics are in the app already. Resultina (as the name suggests) will be always result-based, but we're always looking to improve it by adding some interesting features.

5. At this point is free but we imagine that there will be a subscription fee soon. When and how much? 
The app is free to download and use and for 30 days works with all the bells and whistles. After 30 days, push notifications and My Players section requires subscription that costs $7.99 / year. Everything else will work free of charge. All the tournaments, all results etc. 
6. Anything else that you'd like to add? 

Resultina also looks for who is next opponent of your favorite players, so at beginning of the week you have a big picture who is playing this week, where and the opponent. Users can update scores, so if you're watching the match or you are at the tournament, you can update finished scores and "release" result for other users. Yes, we monitor quality of user scores. Users build a reputation so we consider scores official after user proves to be reliable source. This way we're able to have scores (especially from smaller tournaments like Futures and Juniors) much faster than anybody else. It is amusing to see a player playing Futures or ITF juniors typing in score of his own match as some of them do. Although they do it more often when they win :-) The Android version can be found at the Play Store
Thank you, Jiri. Please keep up the great work!
Please tell your friends about Resultina and we encourage you to contact CAtennis for promo codes. 

 

Friday
Feb082013

Time is free, but it's priceless

Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back. ― Harvey MacKay

We recently ran across this quote from Harvey MacKay and couldn't help but think about the application of this wisdom to tennis as well as life. One obstacle that is faced by tennis players in their path to success is poor time management skills. Simply put, most players are terrible about using the time they have available and, invariably, are forced to "cram for the exam" be it before the tournament, before the dual match or before college signing date. 

Failure is insidious. It marches on whether you see it or feel it. The only way to reverse course is, unfortunately, by also engaging in small positive actions which, on their own, are also unperceivable but, compounded, have the tendency to assist you on your path to success. For example, let's say that you're having problems getting your first serve in and that you have a big tournament coming up. You can either: (1) spend more time practicing the things that you would like to practice (e.g., forehands, drop-shots, overheads, between the legs, etc.) and only focusing on a handful of serves here and there; or (2) wait until the day before the tournament and then wear out your shoulder smacking a couple hundred servers. Which path would you choose?

What if there's a third option?! For example, let's say that a week before the event you hit 50 serves in practice. Is this enough? Will you see a major difference in your first serve percentage during the match? Next day? Doubtful. How about if you hit 50 serves today, then 60 tomorrow, then 70 the next day, and so on until the day prior to the event?! You would have ingrained the motion - that is, developing confidence - in a gradual fashion while at the same time (a) managing your body and keeping it injury free and (b) developing strength and stamina. Yet, players are often prone to want to "cram for the exam" - like eating a salad before they see the doctor while having devoured cheeseburgers every day the month before. 

It would be so much easier to learn from our mistakes if they were either painful or obvious... like a lab rat getting an instant shock whenever he touches the wrong lever. However, the mistakes that we make in the course of learning to play tennis are not always obvious. One less serve or sprint today is not going to ruin you as an athlete. So it's easy to not do it. But do it you must. Use the time that you have avaiable to do an extra push-up today, run an extra sprint (one more than the day before), hit 5 more serves today than yesterday, etc. Gradually, you will lay the foundation for success and develop life-long skills that will assist you beyond the tennis court. 

Friday
Oct262012

Practice Makes Perfect v. Wabi-Sabi

"Practice makes perfect" - who hasn't heard this experssion?! Or "how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: practice, practice, practice." But does practice - even perfect and  practice - always lead to perfection....or success? Sometimes, the quest for perfection can become a fool's errand. Perfection, in reality, is quite unattainable. Even Roger Federer, with all of his Grand Slam wins and record, has been less than perfect. Even while going on month-long streaks of being undefeated he has lost points, has lost games and has lost sets. He has made numerous unforced errors, mishit balls into the stands, hit double faults and dumped easy sitters into the net. However, in doing so, he has remained - at least for that particular duration - fairly "perfect" in one important category: wins. 

What we can learn from this simple annecdote is that if you want to achieve great results, you have to discard pure perfection. As a player (and, perhaps, more importantly a parent or coach), you have to accept that fact that YOU WILL NEVER EVER BE PERFECT. You are not a perfect human being and you are never going to play a perfect match. Tennis is as much art as it is science and it's the opponent's job to make you play as imperfectly as possible. If you have the tendency to become obsessed with minuscule perfection - whether in practice or in a match - you miss stunting your development in the long-run. For example, have you noticed that player whose warm-ups seem to last 45 minutes or longer? If you're like us, there is always one or two in the proverbial bunch. They always want to hit "one more ball", "one more overhead" or they haven't quite gotten "the feel" of the ball just right and want to do another rally...then another rally...then another rally and so on 'til Kingdom come. These players think that if they somehow get things "just right" then things will magically fall into place for them. The problem with this type of mentality is that, rather than focusing on what's important (e.g. performing specific drills) the players get bogged down on generalities. With limited time at their disposal - and having spent 45 minutes to an hour on just "warming up" - how much more time or energy will they have to practice what's really important?! Not a whole lot. These players are guilty of trying to fight a perfect war. There is no such thing. If you engage in battle you have to accept some casualties..move on! You can't possibly protect every soldier and you can't possibly win every point. Move on!

Loosen up and then work on things that are likely to pay the most dividends. Sure, if there's a particular kink in your game be specific about it and address it but without getting obsessed with it to your detriment. Use the warm-up for its primary purpose: getting your body ready for action. In a match, do not let errors drag you down. If you become obsessed with your mistakes you risk allowing the match to spiral out of control. You're like a boxer who's focusing too much on her jab...while getting pummeled by the opponent. Jab doesn't work?! Great. Beat the opponent with your hook; or uppercut. In practice, if you focus too much on your "weakness" you risk ignoring other parts of the game which may come to cost you when it matters. 

For best results, seek excellence rather than perfection. Excellence leaves room for error...for humanity. And imperfection is beautiful. Think of all the great works of art that have been created through the ages. From paintings to sculpture and music, how many can you name that have been created by robots or machines? You can name a Da Vinci painting, a Michellangelo statue or a Mozart composition without much effort. All of these works of art are imperfect. And that's what makes them beautiful. It's like the leaf in the picture on the right: it's is grimy; it is old and yellow; it is sitting in mud; maybe the lighting isn't the best. You take every single one of these elements individually and none of them are very awe-inspiring. However, you put them all together and it creates a very appealing and eye-pleasing experience. You have to approach the game of tennis in the same way. Accept the fact that sometimes you have to sometimes kick and scrape for a ball. Accept the fact that you will make easy mistakes or the fact that the opponent will play better points than you will. Accept the fact that some of your shots may not be there when you need them. Accept these things but learn from them and you will become a better person and a better player. Discard the quest for perfection for the concept of wabi-sabi - briefly, the attitude that there's beauty in imperfection. Wabi-sabi is the tasty food that you get from a street vendor; it's the memorable vacation that you have when you forget your best poutfit at home and hunt for a replacement in a foreign country; it's the impromptu concert that is given in a park by an unknown performer; and, in tennis, it's the shank forehand winner on a ke point or having to dig deep and rely on your physical characteristics and wit rather than technique. Embrance imperfection as part of the process and the attidude becomes the hot ait balloon that pulls you up rather than the anchor weighing you down. Work on being excellent and balanced. Discard academic theory about how a shot needs to be hit and how a play needs to be executed and focus on the practical aspect of the sport; keep in mind that when you're practicing one thing you're not practicing something else...and it's the thing that you do not practice that will lead to your downfall.