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Type "A" or Type "B" Player?

Ron Waite Photo
Ron Waite, USPTR

Back in the dark ages when I was an undergraduate student, I recall that psychologists had identified at least two distinct personality types…Type " A" and Type "B." It has been a long time since I studied Psychology. Today, they may have identified more types.

In my capacities as tennis coach and tennis instructor, I have observed at least two distinct types of players. Always willing to borrow, I have labeled these player types, not surprisingly, Type "A" and Type "B." Usually (but not always), I am able to place my students and team players into one of these two categories. I find it imperative to understand each player’s type in attempting to formulate a teaching or coaching plan.

In observing many of the men and women who compete on the pro tours, I notice that they, too, can be fairly readily categorized as either Type "A" or Type "B." Frequently, these players’ coaches will seemingly approach training with player type in mind.

So, this month’s article is dedicated to defining each player type, determining what type you may be, and giving you some guidelines that may accelerate your playing progress in light of your player type.

First, I would like you to answer a series of questions. Try to be as candid and honest as you can be in determining your answers. However, if you are in doubt about an answer, try to go with what is your first impression or response. We will "compute" the answers to these questions later to help determine what player type you maybe.

  1. When I train, I find myself trying to vary my training routines. I am constantly looking for new ways to train. I do not usually fall into training "ruts."
  2. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  3. I find myself frequently reading instructional materials on tennis and/or asking my teaching pro/coach questions regarding my game.
  4. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  5. When I watch televised, tennis matches, I am often times focusing on a particular player’s strokes and/or strategies. I look at televised matches as a means of improving my tennis game.
  6. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  7. When I compete in tennis matches, I find myself preparing a game plan before the match begins. I try to tailor this game plan to match the surface and my opponent.
  8. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  9. When I compete in tennis matches, I am frequently aware of my opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. I never miss noticing that my opponent may be Left-handed.
  10. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  11. When I compete, I find myself adapting my game to the opponent and to the surface if I am losing.
  12. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  13. During game changeovers, I keep my mind on the match and attempt to assess what is happening on the court and why.
  14. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  15. If early on in a match I seem to be hitting lots of errors, I usually can figure out why and adjust appropriately.
  16. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  17. When I am competing in a match, I find it relatively easy to control my anger and any negative thoughts that may enter my mind. Any outbursts are short lived.
  18. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  19. Usually when I compete or train, I am not easily distracted by off court activities or by spectators.
  20. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  21. When I lose a match, I try to figure out what happened, learn from the experience, then put it behind me. I rarely dwell on losses for very long.
  22. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  23. When I am not playing tennis or competing, I am able to put tennis out of my mind and enjoy other activities.
  24. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  25. I am usually very conscientious about my equipment. I try to make certain that when I prepare for competition, I have all I that need in my tennis bag. Some players may think that I pack much more than I need.
  26. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  27. I try to set clear goals and objectives with respect to my tennis game.
  28. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

  29. I generally find competing in tennis an enjoyable experience…even when I lose a match. I truly enjoy the competition.
  30. _____ True _____ False _____ Uncertain

Having answered these questions, it is now time to tabulate the results. First, count up all the "True" answers and put the total in the appropriate line below. Then, repeat the procedure for all the "False" and "Uncertain" answers.

TOTALS: _____ True _____False _____ Uncertain

If you have answer 8 or more questions with a "False," you are what I call a Type "A" player. If you have answered 8 or more questions with a "True," you are what I call a "Type B" player. If you have answer 8 or more questions with an "Uncertain," I suspect that you are not really in touch with your game. You might want to reconsider some of your answers. However, there are some players who just don’t fit completely into either category, and you may be one of these.

Although the above questions are not the only indicators of player type, I have found them to be remarkably accurate with those I teach and coach. So now, I need to define what each player type means.

Type "A" players are usually characterized by good to excellent athleticism and usually possess at least one weapon in their arsenal of strokes. Type "A" players are usually those players who play their best on "auto pilot." They need to simply hit out and to play their games. If they are on and if their games suit the surface and opponents, Type "A" players usually prevail. However, they are also prone to some serious losses…often times against players that they believe they should beat.

Type "A" players can very easily "think" their way out of a match. They need to focus upon what they know best and play the style of tennis with which they feel most comfortable. Type "A" players do not perform well when they are taken out of their comfort zones. Execution is everything to a Type "A" player. They feel great pressure to win, and frequently, they are unable to control their emotions (positive or negative) on the court. When they are way down in a match, they usually show defeat in their eyes and body language. Often times, they hold onto their wins and losses longer than they should. When competing, Type "A" players may seem a bit one dimensional, but this is usually not a valid perception. Rather, Type "A" players just do not take advantage of all of their skills, strokes and abilities.

On the pro tours, Kafelnikov, Ivanisevic, Novotna and, to a lesser degree, Venus Williams are examples of Type "A" players.

Type "B" players are much more cerebral players. Frequently, they will be called "heady" players. They may possess a weapon or weapons, but they are willing to hit any shot. Sometimes, the Type "B" player takes the form of the dreaded "pusher." Type "B" players are usually probing their opponents for weaknesses. They generally approach the game with effective "counterpunching." They are not afraid to dominate a weaker opponent, but more often than not, the Type "B" player is helping her/his opponent lose. Quite often, Type "B" players are real students of the game of tennis. They are always looking for a new way to win. Type "B" players may show some emotion on the court (positive or negative), but these usually dissipate rather quickly. Stability, patience and persistence are the mainstay of the Type "B" player’s. game. Type "B" players usually know exactly what and why things happen in a match. They are learners and are constantly improving their games…many times without the assistance of a coach or a teaching pro. On collegiate, high school and club levels, Type "B" players fair very well.

On the pro tours, Martina Hingis, Sanchez-Vicario, Michael Chang, Kucera, and of course, John McEnroe (emotional outbursts notwithstanding) exemplify the Type "B" player.

Now, you may ask: "Where do I place people like Sampras, Agassi, Graf, Davenport, et al?" Well, the answer is really quite simple…they are both. Most often, I find that these truly great players began their careers as essentially Type "A" players who through experience and proper coaching were capable of integrating a Type "B" strategic approach to their games. In my opinion, this is why they become truly great players.

Now, Brad Gilbert was an archetypal Type "B" player (albeit a bit more emotional than what is normally the case). He could reach the top 10 and he was able to win some big tournaments. His book, Winning Ugly, sums up his approach to the game…do whatever it takes to win. He realized that there are no "style points" in tennis. Still, despite his success, he is not in the same league as a Sampras or Agassi (he does, however, deserve lots of credit for helping Agassi become more Type "B" — like).

On the pro level, my belief is that to be truly one of the best, you need to first be an accomplished Type "A" player. You need big and reliable weapons (note the plural in weapons). However, to move up a notch, you will also need to have the ability to sometimes adopt a Type "B" approach to the game. That is why I have such respect for coaches like Brad Gilbert, Bob Brett (the man who helped Boris win his first Wimbledon), and in days past, Pancho Seguro. These Type "B" players, upon retirement, are able to help Type "A" players move up a notch. In my opinion, these are the truly best coaches.

Fortunately, on the collegiate, high school and club levels, both player types can reach the top. Why? Well quite simply, the competition just isn’t as fierce. The playing field is usually a bit more level.

What is important is to realize what type of player you are and train accordingly. If you are a Type "A" player, you need to do lots of drills. You need to know where to hit a ball from any position on the court and imprint these placements in your tennis memory bank. You want your shots to be automatic. There should be no decision in your execution. You simply hit the ball where you have trained yourself to hit it. If this is good enough to win, so be it. If not, you stick with the plan and attempt to execute it better the next time.

When I encounter Type "A" players, I do not try to change their orientation to the game. I have seen many coaches try to make a serve and volleyer out of a Type "A" baseline player…with little or no success. Rather, I try to put them through drills that replicate match play. They learn through a very rote methodology to hit shots over and over. For example, if the player has a great forehand, I will have him/her run around it every time the ball is less than half way into his/her ad court. This becomes automatic in time…requiring no thinking or reflection. I will have him/her hit this shot crosscourt 80% of the time (the percentage shot). This way, the player goes crosscourt unless there is a clear and compelling reason to go down the line (For example, if the opponent is drawn out wide on her/his ad court). When competing, the Type "A" player is free to do what she/he likes to do most… simply hit the ball…usually with pace!

Type "B" players should train differently, in my opinion. They need to play lots of sets with their coaches. The coach should discuss, after each point, what options the Type "B" player should or could have selected in the situation. Type "B" players need to work on game strategies more than strokes. Of course, they need to be able hit and execute well, but unfortunately, most Type "B" players have, at best, only a single weapon. They are not likely to develop any more in any short period of time. They can, however, become great champions without lots of weapons…if they use their powers of observation and their critical thinking skills.

A very simple (and admittedly inadequate) way of separating Type "A" from Type "B" players is as follows: Type "A" players will hit drop shots out of frustration or desperation…Type "B" players hit drop shots as winners.

In the Connecticut area, James Blake competed on the HS level without ever losing a match…in fact, I believe he never lost a set. He competed well in college, playing for Harvard. He is essentially a Type "B" player. He can hit almost every shot well, but doesn’t have any real dominating weapon. Having turned pro, his results have been less spectacular than he, and the USTA, had hoped for. It is very hard for the Type "B" player to make it on the pro tour…this is why Michael Chang deserves many kudos! I think that James can become a threat on the pro tour. But, he needs to develop at least two weapons. This will take some time. In a sense, he needs to force himself to go into a Type "A" training mode. He must decide what weapons he can adopt and work on them until they truly are weapons.

Parents of players often times ask me: "What should I do to help my child become the best tennis player she/he can become?" If they are very young (under 11 or 12), I recommend that they find teachers and coaches who will train them as a Type "A" player. In this way, they develop automatic and solid stroke production. Usually, this will lead to the development of at least one weapon.

If the child is older than 12, an assessment of player type and associated decisions need to be made. Assuming that the child is a Type "A" player, one needs to know how many weapons she/he has and how reliable are they? If these areas are weak, I would recommend a Type "A" training approach to solidify the necessary foundation. Later on in her/his tennis life, Type "B" training can be added…usually on the collegiate or satellite levels.

However, if the child is naturally a Type "B" player, she or he will rarely improve with Type "A" training. She/he needs to develop the strategic breadth that will allow them to adapt to many competitive situations. If she/he is given this type of training early on, her/his high school and college "careers" will probably be successful. If the Type "B" player is exclusively given Type "A" training, he/she will probably become frustrated and feel inadequate. Why? Because he/she will perceive that he/she does not comparatively possess sufficient weapons. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that the Type "B" player will greatly benefit from Type "A" training…Brad Gilbert had absolutely no weapon. However, they can succeed if they learn to use the breadth of their game wisely.

Once in a very rare while, a child will come along who possesses Type "A" strokes and a Type "B" player personality. These are the true prodigies and deserve to get the very best training available…they truly have a future in professional tennis!

So, take inventory of your approach to the game of tennis and train accordingly. If you do, I am sure that in no time you will become a tennis overdog.

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This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


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