I. THE GRIP TRAINER (DEMO) 222

 

Perhaps the most significant tennis change in recent history is the development of the two handed backhand.   Even young players can tattoo an offensive topspin groundstroke.   No reasonable coach disputes that.

Jim Verdieck was a great coach whose business card stated “I didn’t change anything, I gave you a new one.” The addition he referred to is a one handed underspin slice or chip.

Young players have trouble developing this shot, as a strange new grip is required, and new forearm muscles must be developed and trained. The many functions this new grip enhances is worth the work required (defensive backhands, lobs, all volleys except high forehands, the service, etc.).   Recently I experimented with a simple home made teaching aid: A balloon tied with a light string (2 to 3 feet long) to a badminton racket’s center string or “sweet spot”/  Note that the very light racket and balloon allow a classic one handed backhand volley, aided by a backhand grip.

Having recently worked with high school players, too few know the value of this tool.   Young girls and little boys struggle and it takes time. However few quality players are without this ability.

This drill allows almost immediate success with proper technique, using the new forearm muscles needed. The youngster will tell you quickly: “… I can feel that pulling my arm muscles!” Don’t allow them to overdo this and cause tennis elbow.

J. MAESTRO (172)

MAESTRO

Not long ago I received a call from a man named John Ormsby from Southern Pines , NC, once a hotbed of Six Man Football. I had played this game designed for small schools and told him what I knew. His book entitled THE HISTORY OF NORTH CAROLINA 6-MAN FOOTBALL is quite detailed. Completing our interview I asked John if he had played the game. No. Why then did he do this detailed work on a seemingly obscure topic? He replied, “… I wanted to be more knowledgeable than anyone on one subject.
One tennis player comes to mind when I ask “who was the most unique player I saw play”: Charlie Owens. The South , and North Carolina specifically, had some great “post-boom” open tennis greats. And great players to copy. Allen Morris had a backhand we marveled at. Tim Wilkison was a boy genius no one could out work. John Sadri’s serve stunned everyone, including McEnroe. But, Charlie.
Allen Morris recently told me “…Charlie beat me one time in a close match, but playing him was so much fun, I really did mind losing. Much. “
Maybe fun is the operative word for Charlie. Personally I never saw anyone close who could play as well while entertaining every one. It wasn’t clowning. Charlie was a world class player that simply had a bag of tricks. Mostly defensive tools, such as a deathly placed lob. Chips and angles, changes of pace and strategy. “WHERE DID THAT COME FROM”?
Satchel Paige said he called his money pitch his “BE BALL”, because it “always be where I want it to be.” Charlie’s ace was that drop shot.
Now a fine teaching pro at Landfall Country Club in close by Wilmington, NC, Charlie granted me some old coach conversation time. Below I have copied writings I have done related to the modern day need to add this tool to American games. The first is from about 2010 until this article. Please excuse the repetition, but I became more convinced of the need to cope with this tactic in American tennis.
The more I wrote the more I thought, I wonder what Charlie would say about this?
Here are some thoughts the “master” shared:
1. The most adamant statement contradicted that this was pure talent. That those great hands were simply heaven sent. No way. He cited several older men from his local club who spent the time beating him with lobs, drop shot, and guile. As a small youngster, one older “wizard “beat me 100 times before I beat him at his own game. He never beat me again”. No, those “tools” were hard earned, no short cuts, but a lifetime of fun and victory.
2. He agreed with the special qualities of this game. It tires opponents at a whole new level. It frustrates and angers even high quality players. It is an option and is capable of making an opponent play in an new and unpracticed game
3. Mini-tennis is the best way to practice the skills needed. Plus play practice.
4. He shared names to remain unspoken who, some world class players, could not adjust to this game.
5. He agreed there are four corners on each side of the court.
6. He agreed women are included in the use and defense of this tactic.
7. “There is no graceful way to run up and dig it out. That’s hard.”
8. “Every one needs plan B”.
9. Families have to support the hard work and discipline required of the student by the pro.
10. It has to be hit “up some’
THANKS, CHARLIE.

BELOW ARE SOME EXCERPTS AND ARTICLES FOR MY BLOG THAT SHOW A PATTERN OF DEVELOPING BELIEF IN THE DROP SHOT , AND AN AMERICAN TENNIS NEED ( WWW.TOMPARHAM.WORDPRESS.COM):

(2016)

2. In pro tennis both men and women have learned the virtues of the drop-shot. One–it tires opponents quickly.
Secondly, it has a subtle psychological effect that discourages opponents. Years back I suggested Djokavic and Murray
were the most diligent in pursuing it’s perfection. Didn’t the 2016 French Open prove that. American juniors: Take
heed. Develop your drop-shot. And your DEFENSE AGAINST THE DROP SHOT. That starts with conditioning and footwork/posture.
The theme of blog #10 predicts the increased use of the drop shot at the high levels of the game. The French Open 2015 doubles down on this idea.
The Men’s singles finals yesterday was Andy vs the Joker. Since 2010 my strong feeling has been that these two had realized the value of the offensive and defensive demands of great drop shots, and worked the hardest at developing the necessary skills.
Yesterday’s rain delay and other duties caused me to abandon my drop shot chart. Over the first several games Novak won 5 of 6 drop shot attempts. He had a wide open down the line pass on the one point he lost. Andy tried two and won both points when I had to miss a lot of the match.
I would love to know the feeling of these two champions as to 1. doesn’t an effective drop-shot have a particularly tiring or fatigue potential 2. as well as a psychological damage that is a corollary weapon.
I don’t think this is going to “back off” any. And I would remind all players that you have to develop defensive quickness, and movement patterns and postures that offset this demon.
“This also makes me wonder about the upward evolution of the game, and who will achieve the next level. Djokovic has almost perfected “corner to corner” baseline strategy. One thing that does seem to be growing in effectiveness is the drop shot. The old adage that “you can’t drop shot on a hard court” is being tested more at the top level.
There are four corners on each side of the court. Two are up at the net. The only player I have seen who could hit a un-returnable drop-shot from the base line was Charlie Owens. Many watched Charlie dismantle quality players with a disguised, feather like drop shot that confounded even great players. Maybe there is someone coming along with this unique touch, who combined with the other tennis skills needed will produce the next level in the never ending evolution of tennis.
Women players might be well advised to note this possibility. And to be aware that not only should she be able to hit drop shots, she must be able to defend against them. My guess is that many players and teachers have realized there are four corners on each side of a tennis court.”
I just watched the Wimbledon men’s single semi-finals. If you go to these three strategy articles in review, I think you will find I was pretty close: (1) Basic Tennis Strategy (2) The Circle Stinger and (3) Rafa vs. The Joker.
In the latter, I predicted this season would feature a lot more drop shots (Andy Murray vs. Baghdadis for example). To follow up, or evolve, as a teacher/coach, it then seems we must learn defense against the drop shot. In addition to the basic strokes of tennis there are auxiliary shots (returns, approaches, passing shots, etc. ) with different techniques to be mastered. Drop shots are one of these now more than ever. There are also an unlimited “awkward” shots in tennis (for example a backhand overhead, or running down a “shanked shot”).
These shots, including defending against drop-shots, must be identified, the proper techniques practiced, and implementation mastered. Please remember, players and parents, that this isn’t easy work. Don’t abandon the insightful pro who pushes this mastery, for a guy who simply moves you left and right.
****But the number one rule (I suspect for many women) is…I won’t make you hit awkward balls (up and back movement) if you won’t make me. Deal, left and right only. This one puzzled me. And I tried to develop “Plan B.” Simply stated, “Plan A,” or rallying corner to corner, is okay as long as you can win this way. Once you realize she’s better at this, then we’d better modify.

K. Jim Verdieck (40)

Not every athletic contest is the Super Bowl or the Final Four. Great games occur everywhere. There were some great contests, team efforts and fine people in NAIA tennis. I’m grateful I saw twenty-eight tournaments. Dick Gould of Stanford was the “Coach of the Era” (25 years) in the period of time I coached. No doubt he was the best.

But, our absolute best was Jim Verdieck, a competitor, the coach at Redlands University (California). Jim was the best at winning I ran into, in any sport. And he was already a legend when my team made its 1970 trek to Rockhill Tennis Club in Kansas City, home of the NAIA Championships. Verdieck was a strong willed football – tennis coach. His teams won 12 of 13 NAIA titles, starting about the mid-sixties.

I’d admired him and then befriended him. I need to write some of what I saw, one could learn a lot from Redlands and their coach. I asked him one time why he didn’t write about his vast knowledge. Our kids were about to face each other. He pointed to the court and said, “See that match. If you told me we could win that match if I’d write 200 pages, I start right now.”

I asked where, over his coaching years, the non-scholarship Redlands team would rank in California, including the Division I giants of USC, UCLA, Stanford, Pepperdine and all the rest. “Sixth.”
The teams wore national championship warm-ups. Only for Kansas City.
No one got to the courts before Redlands. We mimicked that too.

“But what if it dies,” I asked about his knowledge.
“If I die, it dies.”
He proved true to his word. Suffering a major heart attack, he was told he needed an emergency treatment.
“Not before Kansas City.”
Told he may die if he went, he boarded the plane.

He knew his business. Janice Metcalf, a fine California player, played #6 on one Redlands men’s team. It was early 1970 and there were no girl’s teams in the NAIA. I was on the rules committee that denied Coach Verdieck’s appeal for a substitute for Janice, who’d injured her knee after the substitution deadline. The rule was clear and Coach Verdieck accepted the decision.

He flew Janice out for her first round match, which she won easily, and then boarded a return plane to Redlands. Redlands University won the national title by that one point. When I asked Verdieck about that move he explained. “I’d figured the draw pretty close. I knew Janice could probably beat this kid easily, and told her to walk off if it was bad at all.”

Perhaps as impressive as Jim were his sons, Doug and Randy. Doug won NAIA singles all four years. He won the doubles, I think three times, twice with Randy. When Coach Verdieck was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, Doug flew from Hawaii to introduce him. As Doug tried to speak, tears, not words, came. He backed out and tried again with the same results. Another attempt. The NAIA official next to him stood as if to relieve him. “No, dammit, no. I flew all the way from Hawaii to do this and I’m gonna do it.” Angry now – his level voice stated: “My dad is the greatest,” and sat down.

Coach Verdieck told me that three times he had lights approved for the university courts. Somehow the school procrastinated every time they said yes. Later he found out that when he’d tell his wife the lights were to be installed, she nixed the deal. She simply went to the administrators saying, “If you put lights up, he’ll stay there all night, and I’ll leave him.”

His roster included twenty-four players – a very large team. Not only that, each week every player in the top eight had a one hour private lesson with Verdieck. Sixteen remaining players got a half hour per week with him. This, in addition to team responsibilities.

Upon learning he’d retired at age 65, I called to congratulate him. He was within sixty or so wins of 1,000 wins. No one else is close.

“Did you consider staying until you break that barrier?” was one of my questions.
“No, I promised my wife if I got to 65, I’d stop. A deal’s a deal.”

Though he quit coaching he couldn’t give up teaching. I asked Coach Verdieck early on if he knew Dennis Van Der Meer. Not only is Van Der Meer the world’s most prolific tennis teacher, he was very close to my mentor, Jim Leighton. Verdieck said, “Know Dennis? I taught him 90% of what he knows!” When I asked Coach Leighton if he knew Coach Verdieck, he said no. I told him of the Verdieck comment about Dennis Van Der Meer. Leighton was appalled, and said he intended to ask Dennis about that! A couple of years went by and I asked Leighton if he’d asked about Verdieck. Leighton admitted that Dennis had responded, “Yes, that’s probably about right.”

In retirement, Verdieck worked with Dennis at Sweetbriar College, in the mountains of Virginia. I called Coach Verdieck and asked if I could hire him. “What for?” he asked. I told him I wanted to know more about coaching and that he was the one who I most respected. I’d been coaching 25 years at this point. Still not convinced, he argued that his knees had gotten so bad he couldn’t move enough to hit many balls. I replied, “Coach, I just want to talk with you.” He contended he didn’t talk much, but to come on and we’d probably be done in thirty minutes. My wife went with me and waited patiently for three and a half hours. “Tom, we have to set the babysitter free at 8:00 pm.”

You’re never to old to learn, and I learned a lot that day. When I became Director of Athletics the first thing I did was book an hour with five different athletic directors I admired. Dylan said you had to get up close to the teacher if you want to learn anything.

L. “MAESTRO” REVISITED (363)

Below is an excerpt from Blog 172 (MAESTRO).  The French Open always highlights (1) lack of American men who can play on clay and (2) Dropshots.   No exceptions in 2019.  Read all of blog 172.   Bring back Charlie Owens.

“This also makes me wonder about the upward evolution of the game, and who will achieve the next level. Djokovic has almost perfected “corner to corner” baseline strategy. One thing that does seem to be growing in effectiveness is the drop shot. The old adage that “you can’t drop shot on a hard court” is being tested more at the top level.
There are four corners on each side of the court. Two are up at the net. The only player I have seen who could hit a un-returnable drop-shot from the base line was Charlie Owens. Many watched Charlie dismantle quality players with a disguised, feather like drop shot that confounded even great players. Maybe there is someone coming along with this unique touch, who combined with the other tennis skills needed will produce the next level in the never ending evolution of tennis.
Women players might be well advised to note this possibility. And to be aware that not only should she be able to hit drop shots, she must be able to defend against them. My guess is that many players and teachers have realized there are four corners on each side of a tennis court.”  (2016)

M. Volley Reminders (61)

Here are some volley “reminders” (also check girls section)

  • You need a “bump volley”
  • “Touch and tighten” (“touch the volley as you simply tighten your hands.”)
  • “Volley away from the source”
  • There are seven volleys. “Keep in a volley spot”
  • “Churn and burn”
  • “Recoil”
  • “Use your legs to volley”
  • Hit a forehand overhead if at all possible
  • Low volleys go straight and deep and your opponent gets to hit it again.
  • High volley should be for winners. Often hit “down” and “away”from the source.
  • Use your legs and movement to “keep it in a volley – spot”
  • Overheads
    1. Get your racket ready
    2. Get to the ball in perfect service “hit-spot”
    3. Watch the ball longer than you think is necessary
    4. Use the “hit-turn” method if possible. Don’t jump or “scissor kick”unless you have to. Keep your feet on the court.

N. Coaching Girls and Women (20)

After open heart surgery, two back surgeries and a hip replacement, I was beginning to get straightened out (2001).

My good friend and 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, NC 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).

And there were other issues, mainly Title IX funding for two quality coaches was tough for smaller schools. Our men’s team had done well, and our women had good suc- cess too. The problem was turnover among women coaches, due mainly to “part time salaries” for the Women’s coach. This was Dr. White’s dilemma and one for many tennis programs. Many athletic directors took the tactic Dr. White was proposing: Hire one full time person for both jobs and give the Head Coach a part time assistant. Men and women thus have equal coaching.

After the initial shock I made two decisions.

  1. If Alan White asked me to do this I couldn’t turn him down. He’d done too much for me. Plus, I understood his situation.
  2. If I were to do this I’d do it to the best of my ability.

Never have I gotten more advice: “Run for the hills,” “You’ll be sorry,” “Can’t be done,” “You’re too old for this,” “They are different.” “They” are different. And I had a lot to learn. And I didn’t learn it all, and don’t know it all. But here are some things I did know and some I did learn.
Continue reading “N. Coaching Girls and Women (20)”

O. HATE MAIL (348)

“TWO COACHING ERRORS
My advice to young coaches is to recruit good kids who are good players who can function academically and be happy in your school.
Perhaps the two biggest errors I see the “young ones” (coaches) make are (1) They insist on recruiting some borderline jerk who is talented. Eventually that star throws the team and the coach “under the bus.” Don’t bet on that guy, Coach! Get you some good people. You’ll win your share and have a fair chance of staying sane in the crazy world of athletics. Secondly, I see the young coaches work the kids too much. Your players are not employees, or machines, and you can run them in the ground. Perhaps the biggest criticism I heard of my teams was that we didn’t work hard enough. But, at tournament time we were fresh, eager and goal oriented. Very often we waxed the “hard workers” whose coach had worn them beyond caring much.
I never had a team that wasn’t ready to put away the racket for a while at the end of the season. It’s call “periodization.”
Above —Excerpt From: Tom Parham. “The Little Green Book of Tennis.” Apple Books.
Twenty years ago I received one of a few “hate letters”.  I was published in a major tennis magazine suggesting a shortened format for college tennis.  The response was a very strong suggestion that I had no idea what I was talking about.  In fairness the staff writer thought I was talking about professional tennis, whose crowds were  setting records.
In the next twenty years college tennis made major changes to shorten the matches, individual and team.  Doubles  first,  pro-sets for doubles points, then standard sets only.  Tiebreakers instead of third sets in singles, and others.  The Australian open, a pro event, shortened its format this year.  Touche!
Things change.  I never had assistant.  taught classes, sold tickets, ran intramurals.  Over forty years I taught over twenty different college courses.  Two teams I coached had only six players.  No subs.  One year  I played the same lineup, singles and doubles, for all twenty three matches.   Now the majors programs have any number helping do the growing number of duties.  And, while the NCAA places a limit on squad numbers, teams carry large rosters. And they need them and the accompanying  trainers and managers because of injury.
In short, all sports are changing due to many factors.  Certainly football is in crisis due to injury all over, but mostly head injury.  Duke basketball got the snake bite this season.  Zion Williamson and “Shoegate” followed by last night’s UNC game and the eerily similar early game injury to  Marques Bolden.
Each sport and level of play might be advised to reconsider how to keep injuries down :  1. For the sake of players and 2. To combat the attrition of team members that cause coaches having to play with “…them who is left standing.”
And there is the third reason of winning.   Players win games, but coaches and administrators make the rules.  Coaches can do a lot by designing programs that yield the best chance of having a full roster when crunch time comes at the end of the season.

FOOTWORK FOR BEGINNERS (205)

The first strategy is IN.  Consistency.  Next it is deep at the backhand.  Nine of ten players are right-handed.  Thus the primary target is on his/her left hand side.  Given that you know that, accept they probably know that too.  So–lots of backhands are coming at you.

Much so that the center of your defense has shifted to your left.  Given that good hit spots and position give you good shots, movement to that position is crucial.

  • Tennis starts in your eyes and brain and goes to  your feet and legs immediately.  Here is a beginning footwork drill for newcomers:  It is done without a racket or ball.  ONLY FOOTWORK.  And  mimicking several shots you will have to master.
  • The basic two handed backhand  (make the stroke like the ball is hit several feet to your left.  ALWAYS RETURN TO THE MIDDLE OF THEIR BEST SHOT, USING PROPER FOOTWORK-BEGIN WITH A QUICK WALK-LIKE FOOTWORK TO THE BALL. USUALLY SHUFFLE STEPS BACK TO CENTER.
  • Defense against the moon ball or very deep looping.   Footwork now is turn and run and loop the descending ball back.   Run to return.
  • On the rise.  Quick walk-like footwork to proper hit-spot before it gets too high or behind you.  Shuffle back.  Most of these shots will be cross court.  On really well hit deep balls, lob it or simply block it back to the middle.
  • Run around your backhand and hit your forehand  to his backhand.   This is the emerging tactic for those whose forehand is better.  Turn 2/3 or more of the backhand side into a forehand with footwork.   This is a different footwork.  Have your coach hit you a ball to the middle, then move his second shot to the middle of your backhand.   Tricky and intense footwork is needed to make your response a forehand.
  • Volley the passing shot.   If the shot to you is floating or weak, you maybe able to run quickly and volley the shot down the line to the opening.  While a skilled procedure, foot work can make it a winner.  Better be ready to run or scramble back to home base.   REALLY GOOD PLAYERS MAY FOLLOW THIS VOLLEY TO THE NET.
  • These, then, are the shots to mimic.  Next you run the cycle moving with the proper footwork and mimicking the proper shot and footwork back to home base, then on to the next shot.  Perfect the above order one through five.  Then vary the cycle with any number of possible combinations.

The Next Level of Men’s Tennis (10)

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic’s win over Rafa Nadal in the 2011 Men’s US Open Championship showed tennis fans a new level of play in the history of the sport.   I’ve discussed Nadal’s “Circle” strategy to defeat Federer and the rest of the men’s tour consistently.   But Djokovic has taken the baseline game to a new level. He has perfected deep, heavy shots that keep Rafa out of his circle.

Djokovic and his team have engineered their rise to the top of the men’s game much like Andre Agassi’s team did. A rigorous fitness regimen and diet have amplified his natural counter-punching style, and he is returning serve and hitting passing shots as effectively as any player ever.    I can’t remember a Grand Slam final (grass, hard, or indoor) where the first service percentage carried almost no statistical advantage.   Neither Nadal nor Djokovic benefited from their normally deadly first serves.   It makes you wonder if Pete Sampras could have held service while serve-and-volleying against Djokovic.

This also makes me wonder about the upward evolution of the game, and who will achieve the next level.   Djokovic has almost perfected “corner to corner” baseline strategy.    One thing that does seem to be growing in effectiveness is the drop shot.    The old adage that “you can’t drop shot on a hard court” is being tested more at the top level.

There are four corners on each side of the court.    Two are up at the net.   The only player I have seen who could hit a un-returnable drop-shot from the base line was Charlie Owens.    Many watched Charlie dismantle quality players with a disguised, feather like drop shot that confounded even great players.   Maybe there is someone coming along with this unique touch, who combined with the other tennis skills needed will produce the next level in the never ending evolution of tennis.

Women players might be well advised to note this possibility.    And to be aware that not only should she be able to hit drop shots, she must be able to defend against them.    My guess is that many players and teachers have realized there are four corners on each side of a tennis court.

SUFFER? (374)

A new buzz word cropped up among the talking heads at the us open tennis tournament: SUFFER!  How much will one suffer for the tennis win?  Got to suffer to beat Nadal.

Sort of grim sounding.  Particularly to a minister’s son.  Don’t recall all the ways it appeared at the First Baptist, but sounded ominous.  “Jesus suffered and died on the cross” popped up a lot.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me”?  Not me! at five.

Don’t  think I  don’t know the value of conditioning in tennis.  Mental toughness.  Grind it out!  Dig deep.  You are only playing half a point!  Easy for me as a coach to yell, or blow the suicide whistle.

Nada vs Medvedev  2019 might have been the toughest match I have ever seen.  Nadal has a trump card.  He can wear anybody down and he knows it and they all know it.   But this new villain/hero never blinked.  Thanks to this match we saw a new willingness to suffer.  Aggassi was great for a while at this.  and  it does provide the public a deep look into admirable quality.

But wait a minute.  Two of the greatest ever suffered beyond even their max in  New York  (Joker and Fed),  begs the question—how long can these 3 super heroes survive?Is someone going to have to die to qualify?  If the women are paid the same, do they have to suffer equally?

College tennis is changing lots of ways.  But their intent is to enhance crowds.  Pros are looking at 5 sets?  Is parity of players and quality of equipment  demanding risking life long injury of upcoming aspirants.  Everyone in the draw can play.  No more 6/1, 6/0 semifinal clay victories for women.   Administrators and coaches and parents and players:  It ain’t one set and  a beer at the club, but does it have to be the lions and christians?

Romans 5:3

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;