The most significant lesson a tennis teacher can impart is to have his
pupils “watch the ball” properly. Reams have been written on how to
do this and what benefits will accrue. What then, are the other most
important fundamental ideas in tennis ground stroke instruction and
when do these ideas incorporate themselves?Tennis teachers adopt “nutshell” approaches to express their major
concerns and ideas. Some ideas suit some teachers and pupils more
effectively than others. Gallway’s Inner Tennis is essentially a method book
on “watching the ball” and watching yourself. Welby Van Horn’s major ideas
for beginners are balance, grips, strokes, and strategy. Dennis Van Der
Meer has used understanding the bounce of the ball as a core thought. Jim
Leighton, author of Inside Tennis, emphasized the “gun barrel approach”
and understanding the hitting zone as central ideas. All are bona fide
timesavers in tennis instruction, as are many other valid thoughts.
The following is a brief list, with comments, on the major ideas a tennis
instructor should convey to pupils. Certainly there are other important
ideas, and the level of the player must be considered, but let’s focus on
these major objectives.
• Watch the ball. Many great players have developed themselves with
little or no instruction simply by following this suggestion. Trust your
own mechanism.
• Establish a target. Someone defined tennis as the ability to “hit a
moving target while under stress.” You must “watch the ball” but you
must also have a mental target of where your shot is to go. This is
concentration in tennis. “Look at the ball; where does it go” is an
appropriate oversimplification for advising players. Also, which of
these ideas (ball or target) comes first is a chicken or the egg
argument of some relevance.
• Tracking the ball to the “hit spot.” This is basically movement in
the game. Proper strokes are dictated by proper position. Once the
ball is out of the hit zone even great players have trouble. (Lousy
hit spots dictate lousy strokes!) Once the player establishes where his
shot will be (forehand or backhand) his task becomes tracking that
ball to the appropriate “hit spot.” The human mechanisms: use your
eyes to track the ball and your brain to relay the message to your feet
and legs. This makes movement, i.e., speed, quickness,
and conditioning, essential.
• Adjusting to the descending ball. Certainly the ability to hit in the
rise is important, as is learning to handle shoulder-high balls, but
fundamental hit spots for beginners should be thigh-to-waist high,
and the ball should be descending. Not only is this area the power
zone, but also it encourages low-to-high strokes. The player must
use movement to place himself so the opponent’s shot descends
into his appropriate “hit spot.” Keeping the descending ball in the
perfect “hit spot” makes his strokes much more simple and is underestimated in its ability to eliminate frustration from the
beginner’s game.
• Utilize proper grips. Proper grip is essential from the outset. There
are a variety of proper grips but certainly traditional information
(eastern forehand, proper backhand, etc.) should be part of the
teacher’s basic craft.
• Get your racquet back properly. This must be one of the tennis
teacher’s most often repeated phrases. Early preparation of the
racquet is one of the real clues in tennis. Jack Barnaby in Racquet
Work said these “nutshells”: prepare your racquet, prepare yourself,
and watch the ball. Certainly there is an interrelationship between
early racquet preparation and the speed and effectiveness of
the player.
• Firm wrists in the hit zones. The ability to keep the wrists firm
through the ground stroke hit zones can be likened to the need for a
golfer keeping his lead arm straight. Without firm wrists all kinds of
wrinkles can mess up fundamental shots. Often, poor position on the
ball is the reason for faulty wrist movements. Perhaps Mr. Leighton’s
Inside Tennis has the best statement on “pressed wrists” and the “gun
barrel approach” to the hitting zone.
• Proper finish, or follow through. After the wrists have gone
through the hit zone, the hips and shoulders should turn farther, and
the racquet should be lifted to a firm, high ending. The teacher can
emphasize this fundamental by requiring pupils to “freeze” at the end
of their shots to self-diagnose their shots.
• Return to ready. Beginning players should understand that every
ground stroke varies and to cope with the upcoming variation they
must finish the current shot and regroup their concentration and
head for the best defensive position they can ascertain, generally
near the middle of the baseline. Here again, the player is dependent
on his legs for movement, and he must understand that this is the
point at which he must work hardest in tennis.
• Recycle the process. The player now must be ready to repeat the
above outlined fundamental on either side, for as many times as
needed to win the point. Each shot is similar to, but independent of,
the other. The player must be aware that consistency in shot
production is the major strategy in tennis. The player must also be
committed to repeating the process without error for as many times
as necessary to win the point.

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