Tag Archives: tennis lessons

Can you actually hit “through the ball” ?

The notion that we should hit “through” the ball has been around for decades, but what does it really mean? Can we really hit through the ball? How long is contact? With lighter racquets and faster racquet head speeds, is this instruction still relevant? If you’re curious to see if this instruction should be sent to your recycle bin, read on.

CONTACT

So just how long is the ball in contact with the strings? Through the use of high speed video, we know that the ball and racquet are usually in contact for 2-3 milliseconds, or about 1/250th of a second. Considering that the human eye cannot even see this fast an event take place, that’s not much time. (Note: The human eye can only see as fast as 1/60th of a second.)

And this is true for beginners as well as pros. There isn’t really that much difference between the different levels with regards to swing speed since some beginners swing quite fast also. The ball may not go in the court or it may carom off the back fence, but the swing may be very quick! Think of it this way. On average a 50 mph racquet head swing speed will create a 65 mph ball speed. Likewise, at higher levels a 100 mph swing speed on the serve will create a ball speed of approximately 130 mph.

So let’s take a 50 mph swing speed on a groundstroke as an example. Over what distance is the ball in contact with the strings?

It’s interesting to mention the swing speed on a groundstroke in relation to hitting through the ball. We never hear anyone speak about hitting through the ball on the serve, do we? The reason is that timing is much easier on the serve since the ball is more or less stationary in the air when we hit it.

To answer to the question, a 50 mph swing speed results in a racquet head that is traveling at 73 feet per second. This is incredibly fast when you think about it. Do the math — with ball in contact with the strings for 2-3 milliseconds you end up with ball and racquet contact spanning just 1.75 to 2.63 inches. Of course, it’s a little more complex than that since incoming ball speed and other factors will also affect the equation.

It’s really quite short. So, why would it be important for the racquet to travel forwards after contact, if the ball is already off the strings?

The reason is timing. Think of it this way. The faster the swing, the more challenging it is to precisely time contact. If the ball is contacted an inch behind or an inch in front of the desired point of contact relative to your body, you risk losing control over ball direction and trajectory if the racquet is not traveling forwards just before and just after contact. This is why coaches correctly speak about hitting “through” the ball.

Hitting Through the Ball

So, what does hitting “through” the ball actually mean?

Hitting through the ball has long been an instruction to encourage players to keep the swing path on a relatively straight path as long as possible before contact and also after contact. To understand it visually, picture a racquet with no strings that has a type of invisible force field that passes through the ball.

Tennis is an open sport. This means that incoming ball speed varies from shot to shot (what to speak of placement, height, spin, etc.). This is where the instruction of hitting “through” the ball or lengthening “through” your shots comes into play.

It is very easy to contact the ball slightly early or slightly late. We do it all the time. So, if players keep their swing more linear by thinking of lengthening “through” their shots, it will be easier to control the ball. Think of it like an insurance policy. If you swing a little late or a little early, hitting through your shots will help you hit more of your shots into the court.

 

Posted by Steven White Author and illustrator of “Bring Your Racquet” http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933794240

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Is “Racquet Back!” Still Relevant?

TennisOne’s Joe Dinoffer says that the one-time joke on tennis pros used to be, “Racquet back, bend your knees, that’ll be twenty dollars please.” And I’m inclined to agree. At least in the old days, this was more or less the standard of teaching tennis. After all, it worked quite well for millions of players in the 1960s and ’70s, didn’t it?

Chris Evert in the classic takeback position.

The “old school” recommended a swing pattern for groundstrokes that was simple and easy to understand: Use your hitting arm to take your racquet straight back as quickly as possible to the back fence and then follow through by finishing with the racquet tip pointing at the opposite fence. Boy, a lot has changed in the last quarter of a century.

I’m often asked whether the racquet back position still takes place in today’s game, only faster?

 

Well, not exactly. For efficient and powerful hitting in today’s game, a very different swing pattern has evolved. Nowadays, players only take a quick partial turn of the shoulders and hips to allow them to move quickly to the ball. This is commonly called the “unit turn.”

Still, they say, doesn’t the racquet eventually have to be taken all the way back and paused before swinging at the ball?

Yes and No. Yes, the racquet takes a full backswing. No, it does not pause in the full backswing position. From the partial turn and set-up, better players today perform one fluid and explosive motion through contact and continue with an extended follow through. Note that the racquet does not pause between the initial shoulder turn and partial take back of the racquet all the way through the complete swing follow through. 

And the days of the back fence to front fence swing is a thing of the past. The length of the swing of the tip of the racquet is actually three times longer than in “old school” tennis. The modern player now starts with the racquet tip pointing forwards, then loops it back, drops it in a somewhat circular path under the ball to create the “brush up” needed for topspin, and finally finishes with the tip pointing at the player’s own back fence or even further, not across the net.

This increased relaxation and swing length maximizes racquet head speed. The opposite would be a short swing and tight grip – more or less like driving a car with the emergency brake on.

Of course there are other contributing forces at work. Angular or rotational forces are generated from the circular motion of the swing, and ground or linear forces are created by bending the knees to load energy and then thrusting smoothly upwards with the hit. On top of all that, the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints should be relaxed to create a controlled but whip-like swing that extends forwards through the area of contact as well as around in a circle.

Furthermore, squeezing the grip as tight as possible is not a very efficient way to generate power nor is overall strength a necessity (although if used efficiently it could be a contributing factor).

Surprisingly enough, there are many 8-year-old girls hitting harder than some 250-pound recreational male players! Simply put, relaxation increases fluidity. And the more fluid your swing is, the more potential you have for your racquet head to accelerate and hit powerful shots. This concept holds true for many other sports as well. Relaxed and fluid motions that are also quick are needed to properly throw a baseball or football, as well as swing a golf club.

So just how relaxed should the grip actually be?

As relaxed as possible. Just keep two criteria in mind. First, you obviously don’t want to be so loose that you literally throw the racquet over the net when you hit the ball. And, second, you eventually need to be consistent. Most coaches who look at long-term skill development will say relax first, and with patient repetition, ball control and consistency will follow. The overall idea is that in order to hit as efficiently and effectively as possible, relaxation and fluidity are essential.

 

Posted by Steven White, Author of “Bring Your Racquet” http://www.amazon.com/dp/1933794240

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“Commit to get to every ball”

 Like many other teaching pros, when I look for a youngster’s potential talent in tennis, I look for three things – the desire to win, a good attitude, and most important, good footwork.

 

Footwork is important because your feet line you up for contact with the ball. It’s just that simple. The pros make the game look so easy because their footwork is so very good. They line up correctly for each shot over and over again without having to make uncoordinated body moves and stabs at the ball while trying to reach it like many lower level players do. They understand the importance of good footwork and let their feet do the work in bringing out successful play in themselves. They are able to “groove their strokes”, hitting similar shots over and over again, by lining up the ideal position to play each shot.

 Players wishing to advance their game should make a commitment to reach all balls on court. Your capacity to reach just one extra ball and send it back across the net could raise your game another notch. This may require you to get in shape because when you commit to reach all balls on court, you must be prepared to keep this up for an entire match.

 The first thing you can usually look for when stroking problems develop is slow moving feet. This is why so many professionals of the game train so hard to keep their tennis play at the highest level. They too have made a commitment to reach all balls on court and fully intend to uphold this commitment, no matter how many miles they have to run during the match they play.

 

This lesson is an excerpt from Bring Your Racquet: Tennis Basics for Kids

 www.kirkhouse.com/books/bring-your-racquet

 Amazon.com

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Teaching Tennis to Children

Teaching young children is not as easy as you might think. It can be very challenging. There are some adults, coaches and parents who are born with the gift of being able to communicate with children with great ease. For coaches and parents with less teaching experience where small children are concerned, here are some general principles that you should consider:

  • When giving instructions, speak clearly and slowly
  • Try not to show fear – children can spot it a mile away
  • Try to use vocabulary that they understand
  • In order to get and maintain their attention, be excited
  • Attention spans are short, so keep your instruction short
  • Refrain from sharing negative thoughts
  • When they do something right – tell them
  • Try to be animated to show enthusiasm
  • When you can, get down to eye level so they feel important
  • Use repetition when delivering simple messages of instruction

It is up to you to see that the child actually learns. There are many ways to teach children. Although court time is a very good lesson and putting them on the court and allowing them to do the activity will teach them to some degree, they cannot learn effectively. We need to consider what we teach.

 For the younger players (5-7 years), we need to begin with the fundamental skills of running, jumping, and balance to create players with athletic skills. Reception skills including visual tracking, following the ball, and eye-hand coordination should also be included. As the players progress in skill and age, we can begin to include coordination skills that will enable the player to use the body in the most efficient manner. This includes the use of both sides of the body, the arms and legs in different ways, and eventually, an overall development of multiple skills.

 Now that you’ve learned a few things that will help you to teach your child certain elements in the game of tennis, it’s up to you to get him or her wanting to come back to the court. My advice to you is to make the practices as fun as possible.

 When teaching your player, movement and balance should be emphasized throughout the lesson. Try not to deliver too much information on technique. This will only confuse young players. Some simple guidelines and key teaching points are listed below: 

  • Start by teaching them a ready position that is effective and comfortable to them.
  • Use a ball as often as you can during your initial step of the lesson.
  • Do fundamental activities before specific ones.
  • Have the child practice moving in all directions.
  • Teach the players how to move, don’t assume they already know.
  • Don’t use the entire court for play.
  • Teach to keep the head still and eyes focused on the ball.
  • Teach good posture and control of the lower body.
  • Teach them balance by lowering their center of gravity.
  • Have them use their knees and joints to create stability.
  • Form a wide base with the feet to create a good hitting stance.
  • Coordinate the use of the arms and legs to help control the position of the upper body.
  • Teach them to keep their shoulders level on all rotations and swings.
  • When tossing balls for them to hit, start out tossing close to the body then progress their movement outward gradually.

www.kirkhouse.com/books/bring-your-racquet

 http://www.wishpublishing.com/tennis.htm Teaching Tennis: Protocol for Instructors

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“Maintain a winning attitude”

Nothing can hurt your game more than a negative attitude and a lack of enthusiasm for what you are doing. Ask your self a question. Who is responsible for your attitude? Well, I’m here to tell you that it is you and you alone. Strive to form positive thoughts in your head and in your heart whenever you walk on the court.

 The fiercest opponent you’ll probably ever face in tennis is a “bad attitude”. Tremendous abilities can be wasted when a bad attitude sets in. It can block out your desire to learn, destroy your ability to concentrate, and slowly break down your self-control. You could even say that your tennis future hangs in the balance when a poor attitude creeps into the picture. Think discouraging thoughts and you’ll be a discouraging player. Think encouraging thoughts and you will be an encouraged and motivated player. What you think about most often will form your attitude. So control what you let yourselfthink in order to develop and maintain a positive attitude.

 A winning attitude doesn’t mean you should become obsessed with “winning”. It is striving for your best effort and regularly playing up to your best potential. It is channeling all of your energies into the determination to be the best you can be. Many of the top players try to raise the level of their games with a little fist pump after winning an important point. It can work for you too.

 

 http://www.kirkhouse.com/Books/Bring-Your-Racquet

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“Cut back on your errors”

Most of the points in a tennis match are over after only three or four hits. At every level, the majority of points are lost and not won. This means that most of the points are won due to errors rather than winners.

 The best way to understand errors is to learn the four mistakes in tennis. They are:

  • hitting the ball into the net
  • hitting the ball over the baseline
  • hitting the ball wide to the left
  • hitting the ball wide to the right

 Once you’ve made contact with the ball, these are the only four errors you can make playing the game. The object is to avoid making one of these four mistakes by learning to keep the ball in play.

Even though this is a very basic premise, it is one that is easily forgotten.

The net is where the majority of the errors are made in tennis. The best tactic to use to avoid making this error is simply to aim two nets high when making shots. By swinging low-to-high, the ball will clear the net with a greater safety margin, allowing fewer errors to be made into the net. This “lifting” of the ball on your strokes will help to insure success over the net – often the number one obstacle in tennis.

 http://www.kirkhouse.com/books/bring-your-racquet

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