Saturday, November 24, 2007

Radar Guns 101

In this post, we’ll move forward from our ongoing discussion of talking about stroke speeds (or the lack of stroke speed, as the case may be) at the various levels of US Tennis to talking about a more basic issue: how to properly measure your stroke speeds in the first place.

The first thing you need to do is to measure your stroke speeds accurately. To measure your stroke speeds accurately, you need to get your hands on a good quality radar gun and understand how to use it properly.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to use a large variety of radar guns from every price point that’s currently available from the under-$100 “budget” guns (i.e. Bushnell Speedster II) to the $1,400+ high-end guns from JUGS and Stalker. What I’ve learned from using these guns is that as long as you’re willing to spend at around $200 to $300 for a mid-price radar gun, there isn’t a noticeable difference in performance among the various brands, or between guns from different (i.e. higher) price points.

The price for radar guns is more-or-less open ended, and the more you pay, the more features you can get (direct download of data to your laptop, software analysis for the downloaded data, etc.). But the features that are available in the mid-range guns are more than enough for the purpose of getting accurate stroke speed measurements.

In my experience, you will only run into problems if you go the “budget” route and buy the lower-end guns such as the SpeedTrac/SpeedChek (the little black radar box you place in front of the net) or the Bushnell Speedster guns. The SpeedTrac/SpeedChek has improved since its original introduction in the mid-1990s, but when I use the SpeedTrac/SpeedChek side-by-side with a trusted mid-range or high-end radar gun, there is way too much difference in the measurements between the SpeedTrac/SpeedChek and say, the typical mid-range radar gun for me to trust the readouts of the SpeedTrac/SpeedChek.

IHMO, say no to the SpeedTrac/SpeedChek in all its incarnations because who knows what it’s measuring.

Likewise, I haven’t had a good experience using either the Bushnell Speedster guns—either one, Speedster I or II. The problem for me with Speedster I was that it couldn’t measure speeds over about 105 MPH very accurately (which doesn't fly when you work with high level competitive players who can serve over 110 MPH) and of course, when I read the “fine print” of the Speedster I specs, sure enough, it said that the measurement range topped out at 105 to 110 MPH for tennis.

Speedster II supposedly possesses improved technology compared with its ancestor, but still doesn’t seem to measure speeds over 110 MPH with great consistency or accuracy.

Therefore… IMHO, say no to the Speedster as well until further notice.

So, what radar gun do I recommend that performs without going overboard with either price or features?

The radar gun that I’ve found that has the best combination of performance and price/value is a relatively new introduction to the radar gun market called the Tracer SRA-3000 radar gun manufactured by Sports Radar, Ltd. (Homosassa, FL).

In side-by-side measurements with my high-end Decatur radar gun and a friend’s brand-new JUGS R1005, the Tracer, Decatur and JUGS guns perform identically when it comes to accuracy and consistency. The biggest difference between these two radar guns is that the Tracer is cordless (it runs on 6 AAA batteries!), and is much lighter than the Decatur (my Decatur is corded to a rechargeable battery stored in its carrying case).

The other difference between the Tracer and the Decatur and JUGS guns is the price. You can get a Tracer for around $180 retail, whereas the Decatur and JUGS guns will run you a minimum of $700 retail (new). That’s around a $500 difference in price for a radar gun that performs to the level of the “luxury” guns.

The performance and value of the Tracer that I’ve experienced is the reason why we decided to offer it for sale on the TennisSpeed website. It performs at a high level for a great price. What more can you ask for from any product?

OK, so now you have some idea about what the various radar guns on the market offer… So now you may be wondering how to use that radar gun to measure your stroke speeds.

Using the radar gun to get accurate stroke speed measurements is straightforward enough…

1. Mount the radar gun on a tripod (make sure you have a tripod mount on your gun… The Tracer has one, does yours?) to ensure that the gun itself is consistently aligned for each measurement—this makes for the most consistent measurements.

2. To get the most accurate measurements on groundstrokes, place the radar gun behind the contact point and place the tripod in straight line behind the intended flight of the shot. Make sure to set the height of the radar gun at the intended contact height of the stroke (i.e. if you intend to make contact at waist height, make sure the gun is also set on the tripod at waist height).

Therefore, if you want to measure the speed of your down-the-line forehand, a simple way to check that you’ve placed the radar gun in a straight line directly behind the path of the shot is to point the radar gun toward the area of the court where the forehand will land (Figure 1).




Figure 1. Radar gun positioning for down-the-line forehand (gun positioned in a straight line behind the path of the shot).

3. To get the most accurate speed measurements for your serve, set the height of the gun as high as your tripod allows. Place the tripod behind you in the same line as your hitting shoulder. Similar to the speed measurement for your groundstrokes, align the radar gun itself in a straight line directly behind the intended flight of your serve to obtain the most accurate measurement (Figure 2).

So, if you want to measure the speed of your slice serve, a simple way to check that you’ve placed the radar gun in a straight line directly behind the path of the shot is to point the radar gun toward the area of the service box where the serve will land in the service box.



Figure 2. Radar gun positioning for slice serve (gun positioned in a straight line behind the path of the shot).

When you follow these 3 simple steps, measuring your stroke speeds becomes a breeze.

Maybe now you are wondering about which strokes should you be measuring…

I have been measuring maximal serve and groundstroke speeds for my players in the same way the WTA measures its players to create its “Power Index”. I have been measuring maximal (and average) forehand, backhand, first serve, second serve and overhead speeds (of balls hit into play, of course!) in both training and live matches.

I have also been measuring so-called “rally speeds” where I measure the ball speeds during “neutral” groundstroke rallies (neither player is in an attacking or defensive mode/position). The “rally speed” of a player tells me a lot about what tactical options are available to a given player. And yes, there is a great difference in rally speed when comparing the various levels of competitive tennis from juniors and high school varsity tennis to college and professional tennis.

The difference in “rally speed” is quite similar (among US players) to the differences in serve speed that we’ve been talking about at some length in recent posts. That is, there is about a 25 to 30 MPH difference in rally speed between juniors and professional players.

To sum it up, go get your hands on a decent radar gun and remove all of the myth and mystery from your game. Measure your stroke speeds and create your own “speed profile”: average speed of your fastest forehand, backhand, first serve, second serve and overhead. Now you have a way to compare yourself to other players with known speed profiles to see where you really stack up…

Then, measure your “rally speed”, and when you finally look at the numbers… It will be a number that probably won't be keeping Roger, Rafa and Andy awake at night.

Don’t be surprised when you find out that your speed profile is well, more like a “slow profile”. Get it?

Starting with my next post, we’ll be getting into what you all have been waiting for…

We’ll start talking about how to increase the speed of the various strokes from a technical and conditioning perspective. And I’ll begin talking to you about one of the special projects I’ve been working on recently that has truly blockbuster potential in changing the way tennis technique is taught by coaches and learned by players.

So stay tuned…

TTFN!

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2 Comments:

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous WildCoach said...

Thanks for the advice. I was about to drop money on a speedtrac X device, as these are popular and commonly referenced in online discussion. A more accurate gun for roughly the same price makes more sense.

I commend you for taking a scientific and empirical approach to tennis training. Too many coaches are still stuck in the past and think that having tennis players jog is sufficient to get them fit to play high level tennis without recognizing they are training them to limit their potential.

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger SpeedMaster said...

I'm glad I was able to help you.

Yes, the American tennis establishment needs a more objective and analytical approach to training players at all levels.

I've only begun scratching the surface of what I've learned (and measured) over the years.

Hope you'll stay tuned!

BTW, as I mentioned in the blog, I'm selling the Tracer radar gun on our website (www.tennisspeed.com) for $184.99 (incl. S&H!)...

 

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