Watching & Learning
While we are making our way through, what I am told is, a cold and wet Arizona winter, it is a warm and sunny (at times, at least) in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia. I grew up in Melbourne, where they hold the first grand slam tournament every year. I learnt so much watching the matches at Melbourne Park. I would watch the likes of Sampras, Agassi, Rafter, and Moya play, and then go back to my courts and try and emulate their strokes.
Now as a coach, I still watch lots of matches, and learn a ton. The only difference is that the tournaments are for children, and the learning is from both the good and the bad that I see from the junior players. This allows me to go back to the coaching court and work on these areas with our players.
The current area of focus for our players is being more aggressive! How do you be more aggressive? Is it just a matter of swinging the racquet faster? While increased pace can certainly be aggressive, it is not the only way. If power or velocity is the answer for a particular shot, our philosophy is that it starts with the feet. A more explosive first step to the ball gives a player more time. Planting the feet and loading through the legs allows greater force to be generated from the ground up. These are the fundamental ways a player can be more aggressive.
Another consistent takeaway from junior tournaments is serving. The service motion is rooted in a throwing motion. If your child aims to be a competitive player, I would highly recommend just throwing a ball...a lot. And any ball will do: tennis ball, baseball, American football. Okay, maybe not a rugby ball or Australian Rules football! This simple development step will do wonders to address the common weakness I see at tournaments.
I hope you enjoyed watching the great spectacle tennis provided over the last fortnight in Melbourne. It is always great entertainment, and great education. My family back in Melbourne attended several of the matches. I posted some of their photos below.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.
Building the Fundamentals
We are pleased to announce the commencement of our Red Ball class. We held our first session on Saturday at 9:00 am, and it will be a regular part of our program going forward. The Red Ball class is a fantastic way to introduce young kids to the sport. The skills taught during this development stage are often overlooked, and it's a shame. Building a player's hand-eye coordination, developing spacial awareness, and working on reactions and timing are just some of the areas of focus for our Red Ballers. And be warned, our Red Ball class will look very unorthodox! There will be hula hoops, and balloons, and obstacles! This is entirely by design,..and entirely fun for the kids.
Over the winter break, Kel and I had the opportunity to work with many of the top ranked juniors in America during the USTA Winter Nationals Tournament hosted in Arizona in late December. After working with and watching many of these top players, I realized that while they certainly can hit with power, most had some fundamental issues--issues that should have been addressed when they were younger. As I transitioned back to the young players in our development program, I have become more excited and more dedicate to building fundamentally sound players from the start.
Kel and I continuously stress the importance of timing the split step for quick reactions. We also focus on teaching the kids to create space between themselves and the ball. This allows the correct swing path of the racquet. Many players get too close, which affects the swing shape, forces grip changes, and ruins the timing. There is no better time to instill these fundamentals than in Red Ball. Children aged 4-7, using properly-sized racquets, on a court that suits their size and speed, and with a ball that's bigger and softer and slower, is the perfect setting to learn tennis the right way. Red Ball is all about the fundamentals, the presence or absence of which become more and more obvious as the children progress.
Finally, we are so proud of all of our kids who played in the Grand Canyon State Winter Games tennis tournament this past weekend. We had 10 kids at the event at Scottsdale Ranch Park. We had boys and girls. from the 10s to the 14s. One of our players was the number 1 seed, while several of our Orange Ballers (and their parents!) were experiencing their first tournament. Of course everyone wants to take home the trophy, but just participating in tournament play is a vital part of development. Some players expect to go deep into the draw. Others are learning the environment or working on specific aspects of their game (including mental strength and attitude) in a match setting. It's all about development--building on those fundamentals learned in Red Ball.
As always, if you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me.
Happy New Year! We hope you enjoyed your Winter Break as much as we did! With the kids off of school, it was a great opportunity for extra time on court. We ran Orange and Green Ball mini camps nearly every day during the break. The players worked hard, and we had a blast.
Kel has been working with our Orange Ballers, and has the players focusing on ball recognition, split-step timing, the preparation/set-up ("unit turn"), and racquet head speed. Kel has made it a part of his warm-up to have the players use a continental grip—which we consider to be the most important grip in tennis!
I have been working with our Green Ballers, and have been having the players start every class as if they were walking onto the court to begin a match. It's easy to call the players onto the court and just start basket-feeding, but it really doesn't prepare players for tournaments. I find the biggest struggle for young junior players is their focus at the start of matches. That's why it's critical to model for the player how to warm up and begin matches with intensity!
Both Kel and I take pride in the effort we make to develop our players' serves. In the past few weeks, we have seen some amazing improvements in the players' serves, in each stage of serve development. Kel has been working on wrist control and racquet positioning with the Orange Ballers, while I have been coaching the Green Ballers on developing power for the serve from the ground, up. The power comes from the legs, rather than forcing the serve from the arm, which can lead to serious shoulder injuries.
If you couldn’t already tell from watching us on court, it's been an absolute pleasure for me to be working with Kel again. He is a great coach, with great ideas on how develop our players. IJP Tennis is creating an awesome environment, not only for the players, but also for me, by forming a healthy coaching environment, working with someone I trust.
On behalf of everyone at IJP Tennis, I wish you all the best in 2017.
Matt's Point (get it? Match Point!) is Matt's blog covering all the goings-on at IJP Tennis.