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Mind your P’s for Perfecting Play

by Tony D. Adams, USPTA Professional

While I’ve been teaching tennis for seven years and have been certified for three years, I’ve been playing and coaching tennis for 27 years. As a USPTA certified professional, I’ve been working within the youth tennis program for the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section in Woodbridge, Virginia and its’ affiliate, TGA. I have also been coaching area high school teams, including 100-plus roster players, and also independently coaching players from more than 400 families. I played for 10 years overseas while serving in the military and competed stateside on USTA teams in league championships and area district tournaments.

My experience in tennis helped me to develop a successful playing and coaching philosophy. My teaching system includes components that key on specific terms which helps me to communicate various skills to my students. I would like to introduce my strategies that focus on six key words starting with the letter “P” and share them with other teaching professionals. The below terms include poise, patience, position, pace, placement and power in the order of importance. Together, these skills help players build on a successful game plan.

1. Poise
Poise is related to a player’s thought processes/decision making during a point, set or match and is directly associated with problem-solving during competition. Poise is concerned with learning to play within one’s capacity for a given shot and change shots against opponents with contrasting and varying styles. For example, when a player is late to the ball, by using more poise he or she can hit a high and deep shot instead of a weak rally ball when forced back or out of position and gain more recovery time to be in position to hit the next set of shots. Having poise can help players remain in the shot-making moment, just player and ball, so that the player can finish successfully through the ball without interruption of thought or emotion.

2. Patience
Patience is just what it sounds like, and can be integrated into practice before and during a point, game, set or match. I continually want my students to take more time to power up their legs for the shot and set the racquet, and then hit a cleaner, stronger shot using what I call the “power step” with trampoline effect falling into the shot. I find myself telling them, “bounce, bounce, pause, explode and smack through the ball.” This helps my more competitive students gain advantage during tougher points. I also believe more patient players will serve at a higher percentage and more effectively win their service games through smarter, more efficient serving.

3. Position

I expect my students to use positive energy and get in a better position so they can hit cleaner, less risky shots and experience fewer errors in any given match. Good footwork and finding dynamic balance before and during a player’s shots are essential ingredients. Achieving the best position starts with a good ready position and split step, especially with more advanced players, so that higher-level players can quickly anticipate shots and get in position to “hit the right shot at the right time”; another phrase I often use in teaching. One point of interest for any coach should be helping students learn how to transition to the mid-court, get into a nice unit turn. This is a good time for skipping to a player’s open-stance power position and hitting around and up on the ball (turning the arm over). This is what I refer to as a cut-shot similar to how Rafael Nadal hits his forehand, which helps to strike through the ball and keeping it well within the court without sacrificing good racquet head speed. Further, I realize that patience is even more important for younger, less-confident players who are working to learn better backhands. This happens when students reach for the ball instead of moving to and attacking the ball. For best results, early forward momentum should take place prior to the bounce on the backhand.

4. Pace
The fourth “P” is one of the most important attributes of successful high school players. Since emotions play a vital role in a high school player’s results, how players manage energy and emotions is central to controlling the racquet and managing the pace in his or her game. Thereby, nearly all of my practices with my high school students incorporate hitting for rhythm at each player’s ideal pace for both forehands and backhands. For example, one of my students might have 80 percent pace on his forehand, but only 65 to 70 percent pace on his backhand. It’s important for the coach and player to find this mutual understanding of what pace is correct for the given player’s shots to effectively work the point without  sacrificing silly errors. Hitting with the right pace and working the point with rally balls instead of simply playing up to his or her limits too early in the rally or at the wrong time in a rally can be vital in winning close matches. Considering the above, it’s important to help players speed up and try to increase their pace with all shots to allow them to play first-strike tennis when necessary.

5. Placement
Without understanding a player’s pace, placing the ball is often too challenging. Learning to place the ball is not often practiced enough, especially at a player’s ideal pace. While most young players really enjoy hitting hard, hitting angles and deep balls at slower speeds can be tremendously effective in luring players out of position. When working angles including outside-in and inside-out style shots, down-the-line practice, high-and-deep balls and various slices, the coach should help players figure out his or her ideal patterns of play and pace so they can regularly play to his or her strengths. At the same time, I try to help students learn to anticipate obvious angles of their opponents’ shots by following learned patterns or generally playing cross-court angles. The coach and player must ultimately be flexible enough and have alternative patterns that target noted weaknesses of a given player. Players have to be brave in changing his or her game strategy when he or she is being beat at his or her typical game.

6. Power
The sixth and final “P” is power, which becomes evident in a player’s game as they compete at increasingly higher levels. Power has its biggest place in tennis when players utilize “first-strike” style tennis. If players are equal or challenged in the baseline game, it’s a good time to implement more “strike-first” style tennis early in rallies. While power is not necessarily for everyone given a player’s style, today’s tennis tour players seem to hit the ball faster in most matches, but sacrifice errors. Basically, when the opponent’s ball is sitting just above the net, I encourage my students to hit high-style attack shots with great power.

Implementing the six “Ps” of poise, patience, position, pace, placement and power creates a great foundation for a well-rounded game. The key is to find the right blend between the “Ps” for your player(s). *

About Tony Adams
Tony Adams lives in Springfield, Virginia, and works as an independent USPTA tennis professional and teaching pro for the USTA Mid-Atlantic Region. He started playing tennis after high school and competed while a soldier in Germany for the US Army. At his current position at Fort Belvoir, he has won the Intramural Tennis Championships the last four out of six years.

 
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