Updated: Jul 24
Even though it may sound strange, after many years of coaching tennis, I have come to the conclusion that:
We don't need to teach technique; instead, we must develop it.
And the difference between teaching and developing is significant. All the skills required to play tennis are based on fundamental abilities such as throwing, catching, hitting (a combination of catching and throwing), and running. Therefore, there's no need to teach anything; it has all been there for hundred thousand of years. The only thing to do is to adjust these skills to the timing of the ball and monitor the evolution through the trial-and-error process: try, fail, try again, fail better.
For years, the focus of tennis coaching has been on providing children and players with technical tools to play. Personally, I was part of that large group of coaches concerned with "rotate, step, hit, followthrough."
Many players, regardless of age or level, come to my academy, attempting and succeeding in executing good technical movements but devoid of the basic tactical decision of placing the ball into the court limits. All of them have been taught the "ideal" technique, and the moment a slight variation in conditions occurs, their strokes fail to adapt, leading to collapse and loss of confidence.
On the contrary, developing strokes means nurturing them like an onion, layer by layer, going through all the necessary stages, and always adhering to four fundamental principles:
T hese four items, although they may seem obvious, are not so in practice. Very few players master all four points. It is nearly impossible to consistently master timing if I don't watch the ball, nor can I have good touch without proper timing, and I can't make good tactical decisions without the preceding elements.
Everything, absolutely everything, starts from vision. Very few players watch the ball correctly, neither when they hit nor when the opponent hits. How and where I look at the ball will determine the proper activation and organization of my legs to achieve the correct distance from the ball and establish the swing's rhythm. Some might argue that you can't see the ball at the contact point, and that's true, but you can predict when the ball will be in the ideal position. The more I try to see the ball before impact, the better the prediction, and the better the timing.
It is doing something at the right moment. In tennis, it's about hitting the ball at the most opportune point for me, and that is achieved by watching the ball and choosing the moment of impact. Timing is 100% related to the quality of vision. If I look well, I choose well, and if I choose well, I have good "touch."
Let's say that "touch" is the dialogue between my hand and the racket, the sensitivity to feel that I can decide to hit the ball hard or caress it gently. If I have a good touch, the ball will do what I command. Touch is the seed of technique; it just needs to grow and develop through tactics.
It is the intention, what I want the ball to do in that stroke: cross-court, down-the-line, deep, short, etc. If I change my tactical intention, then the movement will naturally be organized completely differently. If I want to hit a quick and flat shot, I will organize my movement differently from when I want to hit a topspin lob.
These four factors are, in my opinion, the most important, although there may be others.
So, how do I develop the shots technique based on these four factors? In reality, it is straightforward. If I look at the ball well, I achieve a good distance; if I achieve a good distance, I can choose/intuit (depending on the level) when to hit; if I can choose/intuit when to hit, the rhythm and swing of the arm will adjust to the tactical intention. And the followthrough? Believe me, if we do all of the above, there won't even be a need to mention the followthrough. The secret lies in having patience and giving the player a tactical challenge slightly above their current technical abilities, pushing them to find technical solutions within their reach to achieve it, guiding them to solve it but never telling them how.
The body is tremendously intelligent when it comes to organizing movements; it has been doing so for millions of years. We just need to give it a goal, and sooner or later, it will find the solution. By following this development system, the player will achieve a greater body awareness that will greatly facilitate any future adjustments that may be necessary if they reach a high level of performance.
Just as when you plant an apple seed, you don't expect to harvest tomorrow; you have to plant the seed of technique and take care of it, let it grow. Your best technique will happen when you are ready for it; the apple will simply fall when it is ripe.
Trying, failing, trying better, failing better—error as a teacher and not as a factor of incompetence. But that's a topic for another blog."