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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 (or friend us on Facebook).

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


Weave A Strong Rope For Better Tennis

Here at CAtennis, we often interact with people who want to know what it takes to become a top-level tennis player. The analogy that we often use is that of a tightly knit rope made up of individual fibers. One element on its own is insufficient to make a strong rope resulting in fraying and breaking during the process. For the rope to be strong enough to hold, all of the strands play an important role and each strand interacts with another throughout the process. Although, interms of tennis, the elements are numerous, here is a short list that should be present (in various degrees) in order to allow the player to climb all the way to the top:

1. Interest in the sport. It is important for both the ddeveloping player (usually a child) to have an honest interest in the sport. Sometimes, the child is born with a natural interest in tennis. Other times, the child becomes interested in the sport because the parents or someone close to the nuclear family is playing the sport. Whatever the situation, we believe that it is important for the 

2. Physical traits. When it comes to development, "thleticism" is a contested topic . No parent wants to hear that her child is unathletic. Nevertheless, the fact remains that tennis requires good movement, speed, stamina and explosiveness. Although some kids are born with more athletic ability than others, the good news is that for the most part, with some pasison for the sport (see #1, above), athleticism can be trained. 

3. Healthy home environment. It is important for the player to come home to a healthy and nurturing home environment - one that emphasizes the important things in life and where smiles and frowns are not tied to winning and losing. For example, when the child loses in a local tournament, is the car ride home more quiet or negative than usual? 90% of communication is unspoken and children are very good when it comes to learning by observing the behavior of adults. Even if the parent tries to console the child but does so in a depressed manner, the player will feel that something is not right. Similarly, if the kid wins and the parent is more excited than usual (e.g., get ice cream when, in other circumstances, ice cream wouldn't be tolerated), then the kid will start to think that winning and losing (as opposed to trying hard, having good attitude and implementing the things she learned in practice) are paramount. If at all, the family needs to be on board with the concept that developing as a player is a long process and the attitudes in the home shouldn't change with with tennis court results. 

4. Discipline. Slightly related to the concept discussed above, it is important for the people involved to be discliplined about the endeavor. If tennis is important for you, then make sure that it takes precedence over other activities (other than school, of course). If you have a lesson at 2pm, be on time and don't postpone it or delay it for another thing. Stick with the schedule and have faith. If the player bounces around from sport-to-sport, then she may start to feel like tennis is not important. Eventually, the player will not only temper her interest but will also abdicate responsibility when it comes to her own training. 

5. Good coaching. The elements of a good coach are far too broad to be encapsulated in a short post. However, it is important for a player to have a suitable coach at every level. Some coaches are great at the development stage - they may be more patient and have a better eye for technique. Other coaches may be better suited (in terms of skill and interest) at taking a player from the college level to the pro tour. Of course, some coaches are great at every level and these people are truly special. Nevertheless, if the player has outgrown the coach's abilities, switching to a new guide shouldn't be a tough decisions. After all, your elementary school teacher is not the same as your college professor. There's a time and place for every instructor in one's life. Few good coaches will try to keep a player captive. As a matter of fact, be wary of any coach who regards himself as the "end all and be all" of your tennis. 

6. Patience. Learning anything is fraught with peaks, valleys and plateus. When observed objectively, some valleys be be peaks and vice versa. A player can lose a "big" match but the experience could be a positive one. Maybethe player executed the right "plays" or tactics (i.e., things that he learned in practice) but not at the right time. Maybe the player missed a lot of forehands but the overall technique was pretty close to perfect (and the mistakes could be attributed to "feel" or minor adjustments). Often times, the proverbial baby is thrown out with the bathwater because of lack of faith. If you have all the other factors and elements in order, stick with the program. Many times, the best results will come when you least expect them. Shots will start falling in; your tactics will start working. Have faith and and stick with the program. 

7. Resources. Yes, tennis is an expensive sport. Does it mean that you have to "invest" millions into development? Heck no! Not every "problem" can be buried in cash. If the kid is not genuinely passionate about tennis, a 2 hour lesson might not achieve better results than a 1 hour lesson. Same outcome if the coach is not very interested or skilled. In addition, try to maximize the amount of learning that can be accomplished without spending money. Backboards, ball machine, practice matches, cross-training, etc. are often under-utilized aspects of the process. For example, many times the child will leave immediately after a lesson without spending any extra time working on her strokes against the wall or on the ball machine. Why not try to ingrain the concepts that she's just learned immediately after the lesson? Do you really need a coach to watch you hit serves and hand you balls?!

8. Training environment. It is important for the student to be immersed in environment that is conducive to learning. For example, although it may be luxurious to have your own tennis court in the back yard, it might be better for development if other kids worked hard on adjoining courts. Furthermore, having kids who are better, worse and of equal ability is extremely important. Players who may be "worse" make great practice partners because (a) they play like they have nothing to lose (often pushing you out of your comfort zone) and (b) you can practice certain things gainst them. Players who are better may give you a bigger ball while, at the same time, allowing you to swing out more freely. Players who are equal to your level add pressure to the situation. A good player needs to know how to handle all of these situations. 

9. Appropriate competition schedule. Closely connected to #8, a player needs to have a healthy competition schedule. This doesn't just mean "designated" (or national) tournaments but also the set up of the events themselves. Some events should be used for practice; others for points. Pros don't participate in Grand Slams every week and neither should developing players. Lower level tournaments are great for picking up wins and for implementing things (be they strategies or strokes) that one has learned in practice. 

10. Luck. Lastly, although athletes hate hearing it, a great part of success depends on one's luck. Sometimes, luck can be expressed in terms of talent (some players pick things up faster than others). Other times, luck comes down to health (whether the athlete is prone to injuries or freak accidents), timing (for example, when the player decided to get serious about tennis), family tragedies that may sideline you for a few months or years, or some other factor. 

In the end, everybody is different so some of these elements may apply to a different degree in one person as opposed to another. Very few players are able to 'fire on all pistons' from the get-go. As a parent or player, if achieving a top level is a realistic goal, it is important to recognize these things and remain objective. For example, if the town is not big on tennis, it may be more important for the player to train against adults or travel to more tournaments. If coaching is sub-par or resources are lacking, it may be important for the player to supplement her tennis with cross-training. The player's skills might be deficient but she might frustrate opponents with her fitness and consitency. Therefore, before becoming dejected and giving up or blaming the wrong factors, step back and analyze your situation objectively. Perhaps you may be able to weave a strong enough rope from the materials at your disposal to pull yourself up to the desired level. 


Tennis: 10 Reasons Why Tennis Is The Best Sport

Here are 10 reasons why tennis is the best sport there is:

1. It's a sport - this means that you will get a great workout. As a matter of fact, the more you focus on the details - be it moving your feet or bending your knees - the better workout you will get. In addition, the movement is multidimensional as is the range of motion. 

2. In addition to athleticism, tennis requires strategy - both within in each point and throughout the match - as well as dexterity and mental toughness. Not only do you have to master strokes on all sides of your body, but you have to do so without being able to hold on to the ball or pass it to your teammate. Furthermore, a poorly executed offense (unforced error) is as costly as a poory executed defense. 

3. You can play against your loved one as well as alongside him/her. 

4. As an individual sport, it doesn't require anything more than 2 rackets, 1 ball (or a few) and 1 court. You don't have to get a group of guys or ladies together in order to practice. This virtually guarantees that you can always find a practice or a match without going through elaborate planning. 

5. It is played on every continent. If you become half-way decent, you can find lifetime friends everywhere on this planet. 

6. It is great therapy - do you feel like hitting something?! Hit a tennis ball! The best part about it is that after you hit it, it usually comes back; so hit it again!

7. The injuries are pretty minimal - normaly related to overuse. With proper training, even overuse injuries can be avoided. 

8. It can be played on various surfaces - clay, hard, grass, carpet, dirt, artificial turf...even cow dung. Each surface requires a different range of skills. You add different conditons to the equation (wind, sun, humidity, tennis balls, slope of court, elevation, etc.) and you're virtually guaranteed to have a different outcome. 

9. Practicing for tennis is fun. You can choose from doing moving drills to static, stroke production drills to points. If you're by yourself, you can play against the back board, use the ball machine or hit serves. Serving drills can be the most internally motivating activities you can do. You can practice target practice, speed training, consistency training, or a combination. You can go days without getting bored just by working on your serve. 

10. You can choose your own schedule and coach. Unlike team sports that are dependent on the whims of a coach or program director, when it comes to tennis you can choose when and where you'd like to compete. In advanced levels, this means that you can play a tournament in US one week and in South America the next. You don't need to ask for permission. Just sign up and go. 

So what are you waiting for? Grab a racket and go hit some tennis balls!!


Changes Ahead: 10 Ways to Get the Most Out Of Your Tennis Game in 2015

 As 2014 came to a conclusion, we at CAtennis thought that a lot of you would be working on your New Year's resolutions. Where some are interested in increasing their bank account and decreasing their waist size, we thought that we might be able to assist you with some tennis-related goals. So let's implement some of these steps and see if, by the end of the 2015, your tennis will be better than at the start.

1. Be fully warmed up prior to every lesson or practice. If you're strapped for time, don't waste 10-15 moinutes of your practice getting limber. Get on the court while you're already warm if not sweating. Jog, get on the bike, jump rope, hit on the backboard, etc. Maximize the time you have at your disposal. 

2. Backboard. Speaking of backboards, they're not just for warming up. If you're the type of person who is constantly looking for "feel" or "rhythm" or a "groove", there's no better way to practice that then to get in front of a wall and start working your strokes. The wall is unforgiving so your eyes and feet will have to work just as efficiently and effectively as the rest of your body. Practice brushing up directly opposite from the way the ball rotates - this makes you focus on the seems of the ball. Get in a trance and let your feet dance. 

3. Fitness. Yes, fitness! Who doesn't want to be more fit?! But, in our instance, we are talking "tennis-fit" as opposed to "beach-fit" (although, sometimes, they are one and the same). So here are some tips for improving tennis fitness: a. there is no substitute for for playing tennis - particularly points and, specifically, matches; b. jump rope - it helps with adjustment steps; c. favor cycling over long distance running. Not only is cycling lower-impact but the movement is more similar to the way you'd move on the court - short steps with knees bent. When it comes to running, going faster usually means longer strides - which is counterproductive for tennis movement. With cycling, going faster means keeping the strides the same but moving your legs at a higher cadence; d. stretching - be it active or static, do something periodically in order to stay limber; e. fast is the new strong - the best tennis players are not body builder but they hit the ball a tone because they are always in good position to utilize their explosiveness and speed. Focus on running tennis specific sprints - do one this week, two the next, three the following; build up your endurance slowly while training your speed. 

4. Let go of perfection; strive for excellence. In tennis, perfection is virtually unattainable. Even a well-struck tennis ball can be improved - be it in terms of depth, speed, spin, placement, height, etc. A perfectionist mindset may prevent you from seeing the forest for the trees. Adopt a "learning" attitude or "growth" mindest but, remember, that you're only as good as your opponent allows you to be. Therefore, learn to become better at letting go; add (to our arsenal/game) by subtracting (superfluous movements, negative energy, unnecessary concepts, etc.).

5. Play more matches. Play 1/3 of matches against better opponents (against whom you can swing all-out); 1/3 of the matches against same-level opponents (who provide a realistic training); and 1/3 of the matches against weaker opponents (who put you under pressure). Remember, you're never as good as yur best win; but you're only as good as your worst loss. Practice with people "below" your level or at your level so that you are comfortable competing against them when it matters. 

6. Hit more serves. Along with serving in every practice, try to have one practice a week where all you do is hit serves. Serve from every position along the baseline. In addition, serve from the baseline and maybe a few inches - if not feet - behind the baseline. Serve smooth; serve flat; serve with spin; serve with a radar gun; serve and practice shadow strokes in between serves; serve into zones; serve as many first and second serves in a row as you are able (seek to improve next time); serve by yourself; serve with someone on the other side of the net (who doesn't want to practice returns?!).

7. Mix up surfaces. Different surfaces emphasize different aspects of your game. If you are able to, try to spend at least a few weeks out of the year practicing on clay, grass, carpet and hard courts. Not only will you break up the monotony of playing on the same court, but you will pick up a new set of skills that you can utilize in a more familiar setting. 

8. Practice your "X" shots. Briefly, "X" shots are what we call strokes that you might not use on a regular basis but which could come in handy every once in a while. For example, swinging volleys, shots on the run, between the legs, behind the back, jumping backhands/forehands, half-volleys, opposite hand shots, etc. Similar to learning to play on new surfaces, new strokes will open your senses to a new dimension of the game allowing you to play with more confidence. 

9. Have faith; have fun. Be disciplined; find a good program, a good schedule and a good pro and stick with it. Fill the bucket one drop at a time. One extra ball, one extra game, one extra sprint, one extra serve...it all adds up. Plateus are normal but they do not represent the death of your improvement. Stick with the system and know that it will all come together when it matters. My all means, avoid a "honeybee" mentality by going from flower (coach) to flower (new coach). Depending on the level, it can take 3-6 months to see an improvement in your game. Often times, we need to break down the old foundation in order to build a new mansion. Have faith in knowing that you're not alone in this process. 

10. Give back. In tennis, as in life, the more you give the more you receive. So go ahead: warm up your friend for her match even if you lost and you're tired; volunteer to help run a tournament; give housing to deserving player or mentor him to achieve his objectives. We are all part of this great tennis community and we can all do a better job in growing the game. In the end, our greatest opponents are not across the net but other sports. Let's all do more to make tennis the Sport of Kings once again. 


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. 


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.