Sunday, April 13, 2008

TennisSpeed visits Europe - Part 2 (El juego de pies)

A couple of news items to kick off this post:

  • The Tennis SpeedChain V2 goes on sale at our website (www.tennisspeed.com) later this week. The original Tennis SpeedChain has been transformed into a complete tennis training system that you can use to develop both optimal stroke techniques and increased racket speed. For those of you hearing this bit of news for the first time, I summarized the incredible new features of V2 in my last post which you can check out by clicking here.

  • As this is the time of the year where the college teams close out their seasons with their respective conference championships, and with the NCAA tournament looming, I wanted to give a shout out to all of the teams who were part of the SpeedChain family this season:

University of Tennessee-Knoxville Men’s Tennis (SEC)

University of Tennessee-Knoxville Women’s Tennis (SEC)

Boise State University Men’s Tennis (WAC)

University of Colorado Women’s Tennis (Big 12)

Syracuse University Women’s Tennis (Big East)

UCLA Men’s Tennis (Pacific 10)

University of California-Riverside Women’s Tennis (Big West)

Now, on to the subject of this post where I’ll present some closing thoughts about my European visit in early March…

I wanted to discuss two particular observations from my visit to Spain and Switzerland that have really caused me to shift my perspective about tennis training and coaching.

The first of these observations has to do with the fundamental difference in the training philosophy/approach taken by Jofre Porta and his team at Global Tennis. The best way for me to describe it is to use Jofre’s description of what tennis is really about: tennis is best described as “el juego de pies” or, “a game of the feet”.

The bottom line in tennis is simply this, if you cannot move – using your feet – into the correct, optimal position to strike the ball, playing tennis at a high level is simply impossible. It won’t matter how technically sound your stroking movement is if your feet cannot bring you to a solid position to strike the shot. Your hands, arms and torso cannot compensate for your movement weaknesses… Period.

If your ability to move on the court is somehow compromised by injury, a bad attitude, laziness, or whatever, your whole game is well, compromised at best. And if you need to perform at a very high level to be competitive you should take a careful, objective look at what’s happening below your waist. If you are having performance issues, the quickest way to improve is to work on your court movement skills. Before you even think of tinkering with stroke techniques, work on improving your movement because poor movement is almost always the root cause of poor performance.

During my 6-day stay at Global Tennis, I noticed how much attention was paid by the coaches to the movement and positioning of the players during training. I would say that the vast majority of the corrections given by the coaches to the players during training sessions pertained to moving correctly into the proper striking position for each and every shot (i.e. moving to a position behind the line of the incoming shot as rapidly as possible then forming the hitting stance). I could probably count on my hands the number of corrections pertaining to the stroking movement (the movements above the waist, that is) over the course of the 4 to 6 hours of daily on-court training that goes on there.

Does that mean that the Global Team doesn’t care about those movements that happen “above the waist”? Absolutely not! They definitely pay attention to what the other half of the body is doing, and they understand – rightly – that the main cause of any serious errors or flaws in the whole, integrated stroking movement (that involves the integration of both lower and upper body movements) are caused – triggered – by movement flaws and issues. The upper body “reacts” to the action of the lower body, and therefore if the lower body action is flawed, by definition, the upper body action is similarly flawed.

In other words, the Global team correctly understands that the optimal movement is the true foundation of playing high-level tennis. It also became very clear why Moya and Nadal emerged as Grand Slam champions having been trained in this approach, apparently from the very start of their life in tennis.

This philosophy described by “el juego de pies” used at Global is in stark contrast to what I saw in various training facilities in Switzerland (including training sessions involving federation-sponsored players in their National training center in Biel), and what I have seen here in the US.

The contrast between the Global approach and everything else I’ve seen so far everywhere is that where Global focuses on movement first, everyone else is clearly focuses first on what’s happening above the waist with the stroking movement of the hands, arms and upper body, and then they pay attention the player’s movement “skills” second. It’s as if they believe that they can make up for their poor positioning using their “superb stroke technique”.

Many simply fail to realize or understand that again, it’s just not possible to have “superb stroke technique” without “superb movement”!

This primary focus on what’s happening “above the waist” is tantamount to placing the “cart” before the “proverbial horse”. It bears repeating this message again and again: if you don’t or can’t move into the optimal striking position for each shot, by definition, you can’t make an “optimal strike”. You can’t produce your “best shot” if you can’t move to the “best striking position” for that specific shot.

Am I beginning to sound repetitive?

OK, one last time then...

When your movement goes awry – for any reason – this means that, by definition, your game goes awry as well.

Want to get your game back on track? Immediately focus on moving correctly, and everything else (i.e. power, control, etc.) tends to fall back into place automatically.

The second observation I wanted to mention was the stark difference in the general reaction and attitude of the people I met in both Spain and Switzerland toward the whole SpeedChain training concept and product(s).

You see, here in the US, I would say that 90% of the time, the tennis community here from players and coaches to parents and trainers, responds with great skepticism and sometimes outright hostility toward the very concept of the SpeedChain. When I reflect back on these experiences, it occurs to me that one common denominator shared by these SpeedChain “detractors” is the fact that they simply do not believe or understand that US tennis players – especially at the high-performance level – effectively have a stroke speed “deficiency”. And this “racket speed deficiency” may be a key factor in explaining why there are so few American players who have been able to compete successfully at pro level.

The bottom line is, the Americans have told us that “no (speed) problem even exists”, so there’s no need for anything like the SpeedChain. In contrast, the Spanish (at least among those Spanish coaches and trainers I met at Global in March) and the Swiss coaches and trainers I met reacted like this: “You guys solved that problem? Let me see the SpeedChain! Show me how this works!”

It was quite a refreshing change to talk to people who were largely open-minded and receptive to the very idea of the SpeedChain, to say the least. So, it makes me think that maybe we need to seriously consider setting up shop somewhere across the Atlantic… For once, the Europeans will take the innovation lead (at least when it comes to speed training), and it’s the Americans who will follow.

One thing’s for sure, I’m going to look very seriously at which German and Spanish classes at the local JC will fit into my busy schedule!

TTFN!

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