Drills! Drills! Drills!
Not the "Hut-toop-threep-fowp!" type. These are tennis drills. Their purpose might be the same, to develop a conditioned response to a recurring situation, but the cadence differs.
At the PTR International Tennis Symposium on Hilton Head Island this past February over 90 demonstrations/lectures were given by top teaching tennis professionals. During the week-long symposium, 36 of them featured a plethora of drills. All had useful aspects to them and presented new wrinkles to an audience of experienced tennis professionals who can always use another drill. This audience numbered over nine hundred attendees, many of them certified tennis instructors, but not all. You do not have to a certified instructor to attend the symposium, nor even a member of PTR. You need only an interest in learning more about tennis from the top teachers in the business.
During those 36 presentations variations of over 300 drills were offered, each addressing a different aspect of tennis, everyone with a specific purpose.
Think that's a lot? Those were just a sampling.
Over from England, Rob Antoun, in his on-court presentation offered 25 drills which focus primary on the attributes of the women's game. Great stuff. Rob is Manager of the Junior Program at Sutton Tennis Academy in London. He is also co-founder of Pro Tennis Solutions, a company which provides training courses and resources for coaches.
His book, "Women's Tennis Tactics," incidentally the only book written about teaching women's tennis, provides 75 drills, most aimed at ladies tennis development.
During the featured annual PTR Drill Exchange instructors volunteer to present their favorite drills. Thirteen different drills were presented, each one having variations which makes the possibilities exponential.
Drills usually have a game-related purpose. There were drills to get ready for competition; cardio tennis drills, fun drills to develop skills in kids under 10, drills to teach tactics to juniors, drills to train the brain to produce winning results, Top Ten Drills for Advanced Players, All Star Drills, a Serve, Rally and Score drill, and a footwork drill by Chuck Kriese, to name just a few varieties. To try to detail any of them would be as to write a book. Where would one begin?
I could start with a drill from Master Professional Ken DeHart. His CD: "Skills, Drills and Games for Beginning Players" has one called "Double Touch." Cooperating partners bump the ball off their racquet to bounce in front of them, then return it for their partner to do the same. This drill has triple aims; seeing the ball, foot movement and ball control.
Another would be from Master Professional Joe Dinoffer, who suggests touching the butt of the racquet to the ground to require the body to get low on volleys.
Many other "why didn't I think of that" ideas, like practicing with three serves instead of two, to focus on a second serve that resembles the first.
Then there's Bill Mountford, returning from a coaching stint in England, who offers a full CD of drills.
And so many more with useful tips.
The question becomes: Where does one end?
Tennis drills can be grouped into three general categories:
- Foundation drills, where the much maligned dead ball feed still has a useful life in teaching basic tennis strokes and on court movement to beginners. Cooperative live ball drills move in as soon as progress becomes evident.
- Functionality drills, where cooperative, live ball drills and recreational level matches are played to exercise the basic foundation with a variety of shots and random on court situations.
- Emotional drills, actually tournament matches, where rankings and titles are involved. Pressure gives rise to emotional situations. Functionality is virtually a given, almost a conditioned response. Experience is a major factor in working through the emotional situations of tournament play. Match tough is the phrase which characterizes this.
Drills, drills, drills.
Most presented were about various aspects of playing the game and playing techniques, but not all. Some exercised fitness routines in drill form, on-court movement and the physical aspects required of better playing.
Certainly playing is important. It does have an important role in development. But first things first, and that means building a playing basis with drills. Playing does not provide enough repetitions of a given shot necessary to build one's confidence in it.
Chuck Kriese, 30 years coach of Clemson University, is one of the winningest coaches in college tennis history. In his latest book, "Coaching Tennis," he notes "philosophers, psychologists and teachers all testify to three areas of human development critical to growth: physical, mental and emotional." In his book he divides tennis training into thirds: 1/3 Physical, 1/3 Mental and 1/3 Emotional.
Taking a cue from this structure, we might place the various types of drills under these three divisions:
- Physical: In this third the drills emphasize fundamentals, stroke progressions to establish a foundation from which the other facets of playing tennis evolve. Dead ball feeds are necessary for basic learning of strokes and movement. You want your beginning students to go home feeling here's something they can do. If Lesson One is too difficult Lesson Two may not happen. As lessons continue, spin, pace and movement can be added to build on the foundation.
- Mental: Based on a solid foundation live ball drills and rallys develop the ability to execute the fundamentals in a game-like situation, making the fundamentals functional. Dead ball feeds get replaced by cooperative rallys and competitive games.
Active play in round robins, club tournaments, tennis parties and other recreational match play are now the mode.
This means being able to recognize situations and react to them, which is the mental aspect of playing. It includes shot selection, strategy, anticipation and movement. The player becomes comfortable with the competitive aspect of playing because of good functionality based on solid fundamentals. Game playing and matches are important parts of the mental third. You want students to become exposed to better players, but not get beat up so badly they turn off on the game. However, for most players, it's recreational tennis and doesn't get to the emotional level. It has to stay fun and for most it does.
- Emotional: The pressure of competition excites emotions. At this point your game is what it is; what you made it. Now,
breathing control, poise under pressure, one's attitude towards winning, all these things loom important in the emotional third of development. Sanctioned tournaments where titles or ranking are at stake are emotional situations. Finals of the club tournament where local status is not to be sniffed at are tense situations. Experience in match play is important in controlling emotions; match tough. Inexperience can lead to getting rattled and when rattled tennis players are not the only people who do strange things.
Hilton Head Island is not the only place to find drills. There are a plethora of books and CDs available. PTR even has an instruction manual on Backboard Drills for Individuals and Groups.
If you can't find a partner to hit with, then any solid wall will give you workout you won't forget. And remember, you can drill on every shot with a backboard; every shot, forehands, backhands, serves, volleys, overheads, drop shots, all of them. The only time you'll beat the backboard is when there are no witnesses.
Drills, then, are the building blocks to a functionally sound tennis game. It's the game you take with you into the tough matches, where, as Chuck Kriese says, "regular stuff is good enough." It should be.
So, all together now; hut-toop-threep--- Oops!
Sorry! Wrong drill.