HELP! I NEED SOMEBODY

Ron Smarr is a life-time coach and a life-friend. I asked him to “coach” me on this chapter on coaching. Coach Smarr has coached many players and fellow coaches. Me included. Recently he was a major help in providing “THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK of TENNIS for every high school coach and player in North Carolina.

Currently we are picking the best of the past instruction, and new and additional worthwhile suggestions since the earlier book. Below are shortened comments Ron offered having read this chapter.

  1. Never serve at your opponent’s strength on big points.
  2. Drop shots and topspin lobs are old shots that modern players are revisiting.
  3. Other than football, basketball and perhaps baseball-other college sports may become “club sports”!
  4. Serves and groundstrokes up the middle can take angle away from your opponent. And you run less.
  5. High school coaches and players and teams often are aided greatly by college coaches and local pros and players.
  6. Coaching is not just about winning.
  7. Many players are returning serve from way back. Enter the drop shot?
  8. The closer you are to the net the more you keep the racket head out in front.
  9. Over- night camps make directors much more exposed to liability.
  10. One Jerk will and can make things bad for the whole program.
  11. Movement can make2/3 of the court available to a powerful shot. And avoid weak shots !

******Comment to Coach Smarr: Guess we are now the “old timers”. We should accept improved good changes.

You and I began when the Australians and Californians were the classic models. Borg and other Europeans’ and South Americans added extreme western grips and open footwork. As good or better. Another thing I hear from young pros is the term “swinging volleys”. Maybe they are talking about very high level players. and while these shot are much more powerful, I would suggest that a volley fundamental is placement, or “spot specificity”. And that doubles at any level call for classic styled shortened shots. Watch the pros. Club doubles players, high school kids, and even talented youngsters need fundamental volley technique.

THE HIGH FOREHAND VOLLEY (for Andre)

Thanks to Facetime and Zoom grandparents can see more of theirs who have gotten far from the home. My Grandson in Boulder is 14 and played tennis tournaments this year. I offer my suggestions from time to time, having modern access to technology. A sample is below:

THE HIGH FOREHAND VOLLEY (for Andre)

As mentioned earlier, the recent videos your Dad sent are great help for me.  And your improving and growing are impressive.   I have found many players learn quicker if they focus on one shot at a time.  Or a physical or mental shortcoming.

Some one said “… a tennis player is as strong or as weak as their weakest link, and the weakest link in tennis is the second serve.”  Ugh, double faults.  Your second serve is sound and getting better.  My guess is the second shot most vulnerable is the high forehand volley.  It looks so easy, then oops, in the net, etc.  There was a lot of times I heard some losing player say,  “… yea, I had that break point right here (mimics the hfv (high forehand volley) and blew it.

You like to play at the net and the last videos concentrate on volleys.  Your backhand volley is excellent.   You seem to PUSH the forehand.  And sometimes let the ball get in a less than PERFECT volley spot.  It should be “V” shaped.  Tighten your hand at hit moment.  The harder they hit it the easier you swing.   A lot of times you just “touch and tighten!”

Remember most volleys are hit with a continental  or even a backhand grip.   There are seven volley spots (see green book on volleys).  I do think the HFV is the only volley grip you change.  And  a clue or two ideas may be:

  1. Try more of a forehand grip on HFV.  This  is less awkward I believe. 
  2. Perfect volley spot is sometimes sloppy on the HFV because it looks so easy (like overheads).  Perfect movement and concentration to “…keep it in the perfect hit-spot.”
  3. Many fine players select to overplay, or chose the dependable backhand volley on marginal volleys.
  4. I agree swinging volleys are now in vogue and effective.  First develop a firm dependable “touch”, not power bomb.
  5. Lots of pros now use the “stinger strategy” that forces a weak return —-which is vulnerable to a swinging put-a-way.   Recall the stinger?  REMEMBER, TOO ,  VOLLEYING DOWN IS BETTER.  LOW ONES GO STRAIGHT AND DEEP AND THEY GET TO HIT THEM.  DOWN ONES WIN.  QUICK LEGWORK TO PERFECT VOLLEY SPOT.
  6. THE GIRLS AND WOMEN SECTION IN THE BOOK HAS SOME GOOD VOLLEY REMINDERS

Happy New Year.  Love, Pop

TENNIS STRATEGY 2020

Tennis in 2020 has been “different”. The French Open was no exception, cold weather and no fans. Had to adapt to that tough wind.

Strategy—game plan. How you plan to win.

Tactics–the tools you use to carry out your strategy.

Jack Kramer said the fundamental strategy is to find what your opponent can’t handle. Drop shots have emerged as an evolving tennis tool. It follows that defending against drop shot has been taken to a new level. The Joker has mastered this. His extreme crosscourt off a dropshot may be the most improved shot of this year.

Dominic Theim gets the stamina award for recent play; (US Open) starts his marathon. Three backhand down the line passing shots were a tactic!

But he exhibited another passing tactic that impressed me more. When pressured by net play Theim has a low floating pass shot, not intended to win the point. but to make his opponent to volley up. Then comes the point winning pass. Not chip and charge, but chip and rip.

College players were allowed coaching between games about mid-career for me. Once I overhead an opposing player say about his coach, “…yeah, he talked but never gave me any help!”

I began to look harder for ways to help. The best person to know what needs to be done is the player on the court. Theim and Diego Schwartzman practice and play doubles. As defensive as clay is as a surface, Schwartzman’s tools at the net won the match for him. He knew of the chip and rip passing tactic of his friend, now opponent. With this knowledge and speed he closed in and took that away. Knowing also of the down the line bomb he used his speed cover that one too. Faultless volleying caused Theim to try a weak cross court to no avail. While these tools were few, they were flawlessly executed and timely. And kept the match go that long distance. In fairness to Dominic the final strategy may have been to use his fatigue to be a successful game plan. No one should have lost that one.

Did you get the real message? If you can outrun and outlast them, you have the best tools to win. Get in shape.

PS—Watch this shot emerge as the next emerging shot: THE TOPSPIN LOB.

CUTTING COLLEGE SPORTS from Sports Illustrated (June 11,2020)

”ROUGH CUTS”

It’s not getting any better. So far this spring, tennis has been the most popular choice to cut. Of the 30 teams eliminated, eight are either men’s or women’s tennis. Coincidentally or not, tennis is also responsible for having the largest foreign participation of any sport. About 60% of tennis rosters are not native to the U.S. “There’s somewhere around 7,000 scholarships available (inclusive of D-I, D-II, NAIA, and JUCO), and there are just not enough American juniors to fill the scholarships,” says Tim Russell, the CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. “There have been some schools where the coach only recruits internationally, and there have been some ADs saying, ‘Can’t have a program of all international students.’” There are other reasons tennis is targeted, Russell says. The most common are costs associated with an indoor and outdoor facility.

COACHING EMOTION (ON PRESSURE)

There are three main “parts” you have to coach: physical, mental, and
emotional. The emotional part is the toughest to deal with. However, there
are really only two villainous emotions: Fear and anger. And they are both
self-directed.
Macky Carden, Elon football coach, told me, “When they get that old
sinking feeling, you’ve got to change their minds.”
That “old sinking feeling” exists in a lot of places; one is on the tennis
court. “Frozen elbows” cause practice to be worthless. Few people can play
when angry at themselves. Maybe McEnroe was “actually nervous” whenhe created those incidences. Angry, maybe, was better than scared for
Mac. Only he knows.
One freshman player’s father accompanied him to my office on reporting
to Elon. He brought a bag that contained thirteen broken racquets. The
father wanted to know if I would appeal to Wilson Sporting Goods to
replace the “faulty” $100 racquets. The fault wasn’t the racquet, it was the
anger with which they were being thrown or banged. I attempted to fix
the real flaw, the self-directed anger that ruled the boy’s game.
No one would practice harder, but to no avail. Within moments this
young man would go into a tantrum, chastising himself in a hopelessly
damaging tirade. He didn’t get angry much with others. It was self-directed
and killer. It took a long time to change this attitude, but without
changing, I wouldn’t allow him to represent us. It took a lot of patience
for him to learn to quit “beating yourself up.”
Here are several comments about the emotional part of coaching:
• Some players don’t have the “nervous system” of a tennis player.
Sorry.
• The only players who do well as team players are those who can
handle pressure. It’s in college tennis. Either you can handle it or lose.
You can learn to handle it.
• Blood flow, more specifically “venous return,” causes “butterflies.”
Proper warm-up can help get rid of the “jitters.” For many they go
away once you exercise.
• There is a psychological “proper level of arousal” for athletes. Not too
“torqued up” but you do need your game face. Different strokes for
different folks.
• Psychologically tough people make the best college tennis players.
• What pressure does to the “one-piston” player is amazing. I saw a
lot of number one seeds lose in the national tournament due to early
round “nerves.”
• If you “hang in there,” it is truly amazing what can happen. Some call
it “momentum” but “pressure” is a more influencing variable. Tennis is
truly unique in that “one point can turn the match around.” This is a
“core” belief.

TEN THINGS MOST FRESHMEN CAN BENEFIT FROM

  1. Hit the serve up enough.
  2. Learn a good backhand underspin one hander.
  3. The service grip is the most functional grip in tennis.
  4. “No man’s land” is a myth. You have to learn many shots from mid-
    court. These are “shortened” shots (service returns, approach shots,
    etc.). They are most often hit with underspin. Particularly in doubles.
  5. Basic tennis strategy (singles) says: Down the line, come in. Cross
    court to stay back.
  6. Hitting on the rise takes court and time away from your opponent.
    It’s harder, but essential. We played “21,” restricting all rallies to be
    made from within the court, i.e., you step behind the baseline or out
    side the side line, and you lose the point. You can go to the net any
    time after the first rally.
  7. Add one shot each fall. You don’t have time in the spring. In the
    spring you play. Examples:
    • A one-handed backhand chip
    • Backhand service return
    • Forehand service return (underspin, too)
    • Backhand approach (often a weakness)
  8. The game is the best teacher. If you play enough tough matches
    (practice-challenge-varsity) you will get better. It’s not high school
    and every match is tough. You have to rebound from yesterday’s 7–6
    in the third loss to play again today. Tough-minded players survive
    and learn from these matches.
  9. Learn to acclimatize to early morning play. Lots of important
    matches occur early. College kids have different “clocks,” and they wil
    resist this suggestion.
  10. Beer and idle dorm conversations cause the most “causalities.”

COACHING GIRLS AND WOMEN

After open heart surgery, two back surgeries, and a hip replacement, I
was beginning to get straightened out (2001).
My good friend Athletic Director Alan White called me into his office,“Tom, you’re looking much better, and by the way you’re adding the
women’s team to your job next fall.”
Good friend, did I say? Actually I’ve taught women or girls all my career.
The tennis boom (late ’60s) hit when I first started teaching and in Wilson,
North Carolina, alone I taught three generations of girls, women, mammas,
and grandmas. But I’d never coached the college women’s team.
Thirty-seven years of men’s tennis, now they let me coach the girls. What
bothered me wasn’t all I’d observed about the women. (There are some
“horror” stories out there). It was coaching two teams at once. I later said
you had to have a M.W.A. degree to do it (Management While
Wandering Around).

WOMEN COACHES

I had watched our previous four women’s coaches enough to know they
were good coaches; two were men, two women. Very good people and
coaches, and I worked easily with all four. The job just didn’t pay much. So, I
was somewhat surprised by the initial response at the returning girls team
meeting. Before I said anything, one young lady offered, “we are so glad we
now have a man coach.” They all shook their heads in agreement. I didn’t
agree and told them so, in my first “coaching” of women. I offered, “You
wouldn’t mind a good woman coach. What you don’t want is a poor coach,
man or woman.” Many times I’ve heard women say, “I don’t want to work
for a woman boss.” I’ve seen too many good women in leadership positions
not to object to this logic. Elon University itself has several fine women
leaders and two-thirds of its students are women.

LIMITED?

It was tough to find adequate coaches in 1960 when there were no
women’s collegiate sports. You have to remember women’s collegiate
sports as we now know them began, really, only in the ’70s. How could
women have the experience men coaches had? They had been denied
the formal opportunity of learning by playing. Another overlooked factor
were the backyard games boys played in childhood. It irked me to hear
“girls can’t serve because they can’t throw.” They couldn’t throw as well
as teenaged boys, who’d grown up with baseball and football free play
experience. If you think women are anatomically limited in throwing,
watch modern women’s tennis, or better still, collegiate women’s softball.
Zing!