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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!


Entries in Training (25)


Choosing Your Child's Group Workouts

Let's be honest here, unless you're in the "top 1%" the amount of disposable income that you will have allocated to tennis will be limited. Thus, most families will choose group lessons over private lessons in order to save some money. Below are some tips for choosing the best group environment for your child and making the most out of the situation. If you're thinking about signing up your kid for one of these workouts, I would suggest utilizing a scale of 1 (bad) - 5 (great) for each category. Look for environments offering a combined score of 42 and above: 

1. Substance over form. Whether it's called a "group workout", a "clinic", an "academy" or some other catchy name, look beyond the title. What does the activity offer? Stroke production? Fitness? Match play? Intellectual stimulation? Etc. You wouldn't buy a piece of tofu that's labeled "steak" so why would you rely on the name alone?! There are a lot of "tennis academies" out there that are glorified sports-themed babysitting clubs. If you want your child to not be a clown, don't sign him up for a circus. 

2. Number of balls. How do you know if the group lesson is a circus or something that is oriented on development. A rule of thumb is to count the number of balls that are being hit. Note: for younger kids, shadow swings can count as balls being struck. If you see a lot of standing and goofing around, sitting down or nose-picking, the group is probably not very high quality. Look for every kid hitting at least 250-300 balls per hour (twice or three times more for kids U14 and older). Learning tennis is no different that learning how to read and write: repetition is key. Of course, nothing compares to an individual lesson (same as private tutoring) in terms of number of balls being struck but there are aspects of a group environment (e.g. competition) which can serve as a trade-off in making the ractice a positive learning experience. 

3. Energy. Related to #2 is the concept of "energy." Look for an environment that is high on energy (from the pros as well as the kids). If the coaches aren't very motivated then the players will pick up on the low energy and run amok. Look for pros and players who want to be there. With respect to players, evaluate whether they are in fact interested in playing tennis or whether they are there simply because the parents are making them go. Also, determine whether the players push each other in a positive manner or whether they are undermining each others' development. 

4. Discipline. Look for environments that have a zero-tolerance approach to training. This is related to point #3. Compare the group workouts to school. Would the child's behavior - be it being loud, showing up late, not trying, distracting his peers, cheating, whining, crying, smashing rackets, etc. - be tolerated at school? If not, then it shouldn't be tolerated at the workout either. Furthermore, these policies should be applied equally across the board, regardless of whether the player is good or bad and without consideration to parental influence. 

5. Parental involvement. Look for environments where parents care about their child's tennis but, at the same time, are confident enough in the pros' abilities that they do not feel the need to become helicopter parents. Helicopter parents tend to cause too many distractions...they try to influence the group's direction to maximize the benefit derived by their child. If you see too many parents hanging around the fences - or worse, being on the court - understand that the pro's influence may be diminished by that of the parents. In the worst case scenario, the most pushy parents will run the practices indirectly (which means - the pro is unable to look for your child's best interest). 

6. Mix. Here, you are looking for a workout that offers a variety of training tools: feeding; rallying; match-play; fitness; video-analysis; studying; etc. In order to develop as players, kids need to be exposed to all of these things. Feeding drills are intended to teach concepts artificially. Rallying drills are intended to implement those concepts in a live-ball format. Match-play is intended to implement the concepts in a more realistic setting. Furthermore, watching video analysis (watching yourself as well as watching pros) is helpful in giving the players a 3rd person viewpoint of their games so that they see how their game matches up to that of their heros. Fitness is, obviously, a huge component in a running sport such as tennis. 

7. Training aids. Is the practice limited to baset drills or are the players exposed to training aids such as backboards, ball machines, various surfaces, gadgets, etc.? A good practice will not just teach players how to hit the ball but will also teach players how to teach themselves. It's good for players to know how to set up the ball machine in order to practice the skills on their own. It's also good for players to be exposed to backboards or walls so they know what drills they can do to sharpen their strokes. Very few players have had the benefit of having a support team around them 24/7/365. Players must be taught how to become self-reliant and it's the coach's job (private or group coach) to teach them how to do this. 

8. Ethics. Determine whether the environment focuses on ethics. Is cheating or gamesmanship tolerated? Cheating is a learned behavior and some coaches (and, without a doubt, parents) live by the motto that "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." Besides being unethical, cheating is also bad for long-term development because kids who rely on cheating as a crutch to get them over the hump do not learn an invaluable lesson: tennis is hard work; there are no short cuts in the game (or in life). At some point, you will not be able to rely on cheating (being in an umpired match or in your professional life). Then what?! 

9. Progress. Does the practice offer an active and objective track for the player to progress from one level to another? Look for a system where the players who have started out "on the bottom court" have worked their way up to "the top court". Is the progress subjective (i.e., coach determines when and how the player deserves to move up) or objective (i.e., merit-based: wins; dedication; skill-based testing)? 

10. Pro's Knowledge. Last but not least, it's always good to have a pro "who's been there, done that." A pro who has gone through the development process him/herself - from juniors to college to pros - is more likely to understand what it takes at each stage. Look beyond the certifications (which are largely meaningless) and determine wheter the pro is good about communicating tennis concepts in a clear and concise manner. Furthermore, look for coaches who are passionate students of the game. Are they in shape? Do they still compete? Do they bring in outsiders to motivate the kids? Do they publish? Are they involved in organizing events? Are they interested in development or just earning a living? Etc. 

Do you know of a good group? Let us know in the comments below. 


Steal This Drill: Does Anybody Know Any Good Net Chord Drills?

Here, at CAtennis.com, we believe that in order to become a great tennis player one must practice every shot and every scenario. Tennis is more than just about serves, forehands, backhands and a handfull of volleys. As you progress through the levels of the game you will be faced with many scenarios and strokes that you will have to, pretty much, make up "on the fly". If you know that you have done your homework, you will be better prepared to handle these situations with confidence and without losing your head. 

One situation that arises once in a while is when the opponent's shot hits the net chord and the ball barely bounces or dribbles over. How do you handle these shots? Do you freak out and either hit too strong or too soft? Do you under-run or over-run the shot? Or do you stay calm and composed and do exactly what's necessary to win the point? You see, running down net chords is tricky because handling the shot involves touch. And it's not just touch while you're static. It's usually touch while you're on a full sprint towards the net. Can one practice the touch that's necessary? Perhaps...Here are some suggestions.

1. Drill 1: Player is at baseline hitting side-to-side forehands and backhands. The coach is about 2-3 feet from the net feeding the balls with the racket. Every 10-12 shots or so, the coach, rather than feeding the ball, throws the ball directly at the net chord. The player has to race to get to the ball and either "counter-drop shot" the ball or lob the ball over the coach's head. 

2. Drill 2: Player and coach are both stationed about 2-3 feet from the net. The coach rolls the ball side-to-side right on top of the net chord. The player has to move fast, lunge towards the ball and use touch to drop the ball over the other side of the net. As in the above drill, the key is for the player to do no more nor less than is necessary. 

3. Drill 3: Sometimes, net chords come at strangest moments. Take, as an example, Boris Becker's net chord against Derrick Rostagno on match point in the R32 at the 1989 US Open (Note: Becker went on to win the tournament). Here, Rostagno was at the net ready to put away the volley (and the match). However, Becker's passing shot struck the net chord, changed direction and caught Rostagno completely by surprise. See video. How does one practice these types of situations? One way is to put the player 8-12 feet from the net and using a ball machine to rapid-fire (high frequency) feeds towards him/her (player hitting reflex volleys). The ball machine should be set at high speed and grazing the ball right over the net. Invariably, one of the balls will clip the top of the tape and the player will have to react and volley the ball back. 


Biomechanics and Stroke Mechanics

The tennis development process is an interesting animal. Just as there are countless players one can easily find numerous coaches - all with their individual outlook regarding the game. Some coaches are great at fundamentals; others are awesome at the mental aspect; some may be better at strategy and tactics; then there are those who are wonderful at stroke development; a great deal of coaches possess (or like to think of themselves as possessing) a mix of all these attributes.

It is coaches in the latter group - the ones who specialize in technique - who are the focus of this article. I like to call these coaches "stroke mechanics." Some are wonderful of cleaning up even the biggest biomechanical faults in the players' games. They really have an eye for figuring out how the player can hit the "proper" shot and, a small percentage, can skillfully instruct the player to model their game after a variety of top players (suiting their pupil's body type, interests, mental attitude, etc.). Obviously, these types of coaches should be highly-regarder and well-respected for their keen vision, their fearlessness in taking charge of their students' technical side, and ability to mold the player to hit cosmetically-appealing strokes. However, is there a danger in sticking with these coaches for "too long"? We believe that a danger is very much present. You see, as the player develops and his/her physical characteristics change, the strokes will be affected. If you don't believe me, try touching your nose on your kneecaps or sticking your feet in your mouth. These are things that were routine as a baby but, as your muscles and ligaments grew stronger and, you became a whole lot less limber. So things that were routine as a child are a practical impossibility as an adult. 

The same concept applies when it comes to tennis and strokes. The strokes that you have as a child (or are expected to have) will shift, adjust and modify as you get bigger, faster stronger. Many coaches, however, find themselves (intentionally or inadvertently) on a mythical quest to find the picture perfect strokes for their students; strokes that will remain unchange from age 8 to 18 and later. Although well intentioned, coaches who limit their expertise - and how the game is won and lost - to technique are doing their charges a great disservice. Yes, players should always seek to perfect their strokes. But as we said in the past, tennis is more than just about groundstrokes. The entire game - mental, physical, emotional, tactical - must be developed alongside the strokes. By obsessing over strokes, the players fail to develop these other areas along with their peers. They may end up having the cleanest, most picture-perfect strokes but might not know how and when to use them. Strokes themselves are only the tools of the game; players must understand - just like mechanics - how to use them in order to obtain a desired result. If collecting tools is all you do, you will end up being the tennis-equivalent of a suburban garage mechanic. You'll have the nicest set of tools but you will not know how to use them. The issue being that one could always improve even the best and cleanest shots... even Federer's forehand can be more penetrating, be better placed, or more effective. Therefore, the best developmental coach would be the one who not only shows you the proper technique but also develops it in context thereby allowing you to grow the game. In other words, if the components of the game can be broken down into bars (each indicating a different field: strokes, footwork, strategy, mental, emotional management, physical, motivation, etc.) on a music volume analyzer display (above), the best coach would try to raise all the bars (sometimes at the same time; other times separately) and not leave certain portions of the game unattended. This will ensure that the player grows with and into the game and, as a result, will be in a better position to launch an attack towards the top of the rankings when it matters. 


Active Tennis Watching

How many of you like to watch tennis? Do you prefer to watch it live or on TV? How many of you watch tennis "with a purpose"? In other words, rather than people-watching and oohing and aahing about someone's monster serve or impossible gets, do you watch tennis to learn and improve your own game? I have found that most people, even crazy tennis players such as ourselves, don't watch tennis with the right attitude. We watch to be entertained but not to improve our own level of play.

Given the current state of technology, we find this to be incredibly tragic. If you care about learning the game - becoming a student of the sport - make active tennis watching one of your top priorities. Remember, you might not end up playing against Federer (or Serena) but you will, most likely, end up playing against someone who is idolizing him and emulating their game after his. Therefore, by knowing the pros you will end up knowing your opponent. 

Here are some tips for becoming a better player by watching tennis with a purpose:

1. Freeze frame the serve. In the picture above, can you guess where Tomic is serving? Can you guess given the score? What about the coiling of the body? Toss? 

2. Spot the patterns. Also in the picture above, I have used two strips of white athletic tape and placed them on the screen so that they would be coordinated with the fixed camera angle on the screen. Try this and see how many shots are hit around the service line. You will begin to notice how hard the players try to keep the ball away from the middle of the court. They are consciously trying to work the point and get an opening through well-placed, high-percentage shots. 

3. Get in on the action. Rather than sitting on the couch and kicking your feet up, stand up, grab a racket in hand and "live" the point. As soon as you hear the ball being struck by one of the players, change your grip to the recipient's groundstroke. Train yourself so that the response is automatic. This is particularly helpful when one of the players is serving. Learn to read the server's motion and see if you can anticipate where the ball will be going. 

4. Match analysis. The stats put on the screen regarding 1st serve percentage and unforced errors are often useless. The numbers will not tell you where the player was serving, what were the circumstances that caused a miss, how the point was set up for a winner. Without this additional information, the stats can be confusing or open to interpretation. Therefore, keep track of the stats but add a comment section further explaining the information. For example, did a player miss 22 forehands? Well that's bad. Oh, wait, did he miss them all from 3 feet behind the service line (i.e., he was in an aggressive position)? Well, that's certainly something that's worth noting. The same concept would apply for serves. For example, if a player is hitting 25 double faults in a match but hits them all at 40-0 or 40-15, the basic statistic is incomplete and possible irrelevant. 

5. Write impressions. During ever changeover, write a quick one- or two-sentence impression concerning the games so far. If you were a coach, what would you tell the players about what's going on? What strategy would you suggest? How is "your" player winning and losing? If it helps you, tweet it or facebook the status. 

6. Rewind. It's OK to rewind even the most mundane points and see if you've missed things the first time around. Build your "rolodex of plays" by actively trying to figure out what exactly is happening on the court. 

After you've watched tennis with a purpose, you will never watch a match the same way again. Furthermore, your whole outlook of the game will change and you will be in a better position to take an active role in your development. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add your comments below. 



"It's Amazing...": The Eureka Moment



I kept the right ones out
And let the wrong ones in
Had an angel of mercy to see me through all my sins
There were times in my life
When I was goin' insane
Tryin' to walk through
The pain
When I lost my grip
And I hit the floor
Yeah,I thought I could leave but couldn't get out the door
I was so sick and tired
Of livin' a lie
I was wishin that I
Would die

It's Amazing
With the blink of an eye you finally see the light
It's Amazing
When the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright
It's Amazing
And I'm sayin' a prayer for the desperate hearts tonight

That one last shot's a Permanent Vacation
And how high can you fly with broken wings?
Life's a journey not a destination
And I just can't tell just what tomorrow brings

You have to learn to crawl
Before you learn to walk
But I just couldn't listen to all that righteous talk, oh yeah
I was out on the street,
Just tryin' to survive
Scratchin' to stay


The year was 1993 and I was a 16 year know-nothing living and trying to develop as a tennis player in the Midwest. Aerosmith had just released the album "Get a Grip", their first album since 1989 and the band's best-selling studio album. This was a time before cell phones, mp3 players, laptops or even internet (yes, it existed, but, due to the costs of computers and access, not all of us had access to it so it was, by in large, meaningless). CDs and CD players were also a novelty and I was very excited when my parents gave me some cash to buy a CD player (instead of lugging around heavy, portable tape-players).

So into the store I walked, excited about the possibility of owning one of these amazing pieces of "modern technology." I was even more stoked (too antiquated?) when the salesperson threw in a copy of Aerosmith's new album as a promotional incentive. I was more into Metallica back then but, what the heck, $24 (cost of a CD) wasn't exactly burning a hole in my pocket so I said "what the heck" and I took my new purchase and popped the new CD in. For some reason, the song "Amazing" really resonated with me and, particularly, the references to learning to crawl before learning to walk, life's a journey not a destination and "with the blink of an eye you finally see alright" (full disclosure: I always thought that they sang "see the light"). It was this last bit that stood out for me the clearest and the longest. It was only later in my life that I put "2 and 2 together."

You see, at 16, I felt that as I tennis player I could go "toe to toe" with anybody in the world my age. I had a good, hard serve, steady ground-strokes (could pin-point my shots with precision, pace and a variety of spins), solid volleys and I was fit. If anything, I was obsessed with fitness and, in addition to grinding on the ball machine 2 hours a day and hitting hundreds of seres, I spent a great deal of my day in the gym. It was at this age when I realized that winning in tennis was more than just about forehands and backhands. I had the forehand and the backhand and the serve; this allowed me to stop worrying about what was going on 2.5feet in front of me at the end of my finger tips (e.g. whether I had this forehand or that; whether the face of the racket was opened or closed; etc). In other words, it was as if the fog had been lifted off the court and I was no longer focusing on my side of the court but my opponent's. I looked up and forward instead of down. 

In other words, for the first time in my tennis-playing life, I was seeing things clearly. I was reading my opponent's body language and knew what he was planning and how he was feeling. I was becoming attuned to situational awareness and knew how the point was going to unfold within 2 shots. In other words, I experienced a "Eureka" moment..the point where I finally "got it". Now, bear in mind, I was still no world-beater. However, I felt that at this point I was beginning to have a global perspective of the sport and studying the game's many facets became an addiction. Scientific research supports the notion that when something is learned through-trial and error, the brain builds new pathways indicating the the subjects had a "sudden insight" about how the world works, Abrupt transitions between prefrontal neural ensemble states accompany behavioral transitions during rule learning (Durstewitz D, et al.; Neuron, May 2010). Later, I realized that the Eureka moment is not something that is limited to tennis or even sports. Some musicians, business people, inventors, artists, professionals, politicians and others experience this at some point in their life. Unfortunately, the vast majority experience it too late to be able to make an impact in their own lives or the lives of others. Some "desperate souls" might not experience this moment of clarity at all.

What sets some people apart? Why do some experience the Eureka moment at an early age while others struggle with their search for enlightenment? Why did Nadal break into the top 100 so soon and achieved such great success at such an early age? Same with Sampras, Chang, Agassi, Although empirical data may be lacking, one can't help but wonder whether the "10,000 FOCUSED hour rule" is involved. For example, legendary coach Robert Lansdorp is of the opinion that by age 16, there is very little that can be done in terms of performing a major technical overhaul on a player's strokes. It all starts at around 8 years old and then, by 16, everything should sort of gel into place from a technical standpoint. Tennis legend Johan Kriek agrees: "...by 16 it should be 'all there'...minor changes possible after that but not much more." In other words, the players who make it tend to emphasize the technical aspect of the sport first (i.e. refining the gross motor skills) and, as they start to get this part of the game - as the strokes become rock-solid, powerful, efficient, adjustable - they begin to shift the focus towards the tactical aspect (of course, strategy is also learned when one is very young and very small, but in manageable, age-apropriate doses).  

Nevertheless, too many young kids are thrown into tournament after tournament and they never have the opportunity to master the basics of the game. Many struggle with the meat-and-potatoes of the game long after the substantial emphasis should have shifted to tactical and physical training. If you're in the tennis-teaching or tennis-developing business, you are familiar with a great number of 16+ year old players who have a ton of potential but whose chance have been ruined by not learning the "correct" things the first time around. In other words, they don't spend enough focused hours honing their basic skills and, after each tournament, they have to go to the drawing board in order to clean up the mistakes that they have learned over the weekend. So instead of a learn-solidify-learn-solidify-learn-solidify process, it's a protracted learn-unlearn-learn-unlearn-learn-unlearn system. When results are starting to matter the most (U18s), players are still tinkering with glitches in their strokes.

If there is an all-encompassing answer, I'm not certain that CAtennis.com has it. The simple advice (from experience and observation) is for player (and parents) to focus on strokes first and slowly incorporate more and more strategy into the practices. The initial focus should be on having the players lay down a solid tactical foundation - mastery of every stroke under all possible scenarios along with a general understanding of use and application. Fretting about results too soon or too often could be detrimental to the overall learning process (and quite expensive). Remember this expression from the field of law: touch a file once (i.e., do it once; do it right).