Sunday, March 01, 2009

Technical Training I: Looks define the result

Everyone loves talking about strokes. What’s textbook? What’s not? What's classic? What's modern? What's a modern classic? Is there even such a thing as a textbook stroke? And so on…

This debate is at the very least entertaining, as well as a complete waste of time as far as helping players to achieve what the want to the level that they’re capable of achieving. (Another frequent debate topic in tennis circles…)

One fundamental view of stroke technique we have at TennisSpeed can be described in 4 simple words:

Looks define the result.

What is so puzzling is that this simple concept simply eludes so many players, parents and coaches today.

What this means is that if you want to hit your forehand with some reasonable hope of achieving the same result as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, the simplest way to do this is to copy the exact movements they make when they hit their forehands.

I pick this specific example of the Federer and Nadal forehands because the technique(s) used by their respective owners is the current state-of-the-art as far as how to maximize the power, spin, and consistency of the forehand stroke goes right now (and for the immediate future).

And despite what the vast majority of instructional articles that exist all of today’s media in either print or on the mighty Web may say, the only way that you’re going to reproduce their stroke is to reproduce their exact body and racket movements, as completely as you’re capable of reproducing them.

Yes, as far as I am concerned, you CAN reproduce the fundamental movement patterns involved in reproducing either hall-of-fame forehand either fully or partially.

What you need to understand is that the quality of your reproduction, the quality of the resulting stroke will be determined by how much innate, or, as many call it—“natural”—athletic ability you have.

If you have the same raw, athletic ability of the actual owners (i.e. Roger or Rafael), then you can reasonable expect to generate the same stroke they have (more or less).

If you have a different—most likely lower—level of athletic ability, then your reproduction will be slightly different (i.e. less powerful, consistent, accurate, etc.) from the original.

What’s impossible is to think that you can reproduce their results by just modifying your existing technique using all available, published instructions in print or on the Internet, or by copying the techniques of other players who aren’t them.

For example, I guarantee you that you will not reproduce the Federer or Nadal forehand by trying to copying the Gonzalez or Blake forehand. And, consulting the resident Web tennis “experts” at places such as;, W—, or, etc is as futile as the previous option as well.

(Let me just say that as far as I am concerned, there are enough free videos of Federer and Nadal hitting forehands on YouTube, that it doesn’t make sense to pay the subscription rates that these sites ask for. Anyway, the rest of the so-called “content” on those sites only serve to dilute, if not contaminate the real value of those sites, which lies in the videos themselves.)

The next illogical stage in this almost absurd situation is the common claim made by the tennis coaching and instructional establishment that their movements are specific and idiosyncratic to them (i.e. Roger and Rafael) alone, and the best that you can achieve is to reproduce the immutable and unchanging tennis technical “fundamentals” they promote that may be present in their technique.

What if the truth is the exact opposite: that you CAN learn their exact movements, and what’s preventing you from doing so is the inability of your chosen teaching pro, coach, parent-coach, or website to figure out what they’re actually doing. There are probably tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of words and images out there that have vainly tried to uncover the principles of the Federer and Nadal forehand.

What you and they fail to realize is that no amount of mainstream tennis technical knowledge or experience will be able to decode the not-so-secret principles (for a select few coaches on Earth, that is) used by Roger and Rafael.

The truth of the matter is that conventional tennis technical knowledge is really unimportant (and perhaps irrelevant) to reproducing their supreme movements compared with understanding the fundamentals of general athletic movement in humans.

Bottom line is this, for all practical intents and purposes, if you want to stroke it like Player X, get some video (high-speed video would be very helpful in this regards: i.e. 200+ frames per second video) of Player X executing the stroke of interest and copy what you see to the best of your ability.

If you want to take it to the next level and understand why you’re making exactly those moves, well… Your options are limited and very expensive, or you can just stay tuned!


P.S. I’ll be in Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open from 3/8 to 3/11/09, so anyone who wants to talk about anything relating to speed in tennis should give me a ring (303.242.5441) and maybe we’ll get together and “talk TennisSpeed” somewhere in the limited shade at the Tennis Garden.

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At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Wildvolley said...

A key to doing this is to take video of yourself hitting. It is usually enlightening to see the difference between what you feel your body doing and what it is actually doing. Video can allow you to develop the form you want to have.

If you look at some of the tennis boards, there are a lot of young players who mimic the mannerisms and dress of the top players but not their actual strokes when hitting. It is easy for players to be delusional about their game unless they "see" what they are actually doing.


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