The more I have dived into learning about tennis, the more I realize that there will always be another level of understanding to this sport. Whether it is through my own experiences playing and teaching or through others that I meet. In this week’s trip to Spain, I have found a lot of new ideas from others to take home to teach my own players. I had the privilege to watch juniors of all ages train to either get to the pro circuit or earn a tennis scholarship in the United States. As you can imagine, there’s a lot riding on this type of training so the intensity of their practices and matches are magnified. I wanted to share what I learned through my observations, conversations and interviews of tennis coaches and players. Hopefully you will read some ideas that you can take to the court with you as a player or coach.
Training Is Not On Clay As Much As You Think
I hit on clay only one day and that is because the indoor courts were not available. The players hit mainly on hard court, which makes sense as most of the tournaments that are international are played on hard courts. I was under the impression that clay was all that they would hit in Spain but I stand corrected!
Practice Matches Are Daily, Not Weekly
Each day, players had practice matches woven into their 4 to 5 hours of practice. In those matches, players had different point systems to play with. For example, the server would start 0-30. This gave players more practice with pressure situations so they can start automating their performances during matches rather than relaying on what they remembered to do while playing.
You Can’t Tell Who’s Good Until They Play
After talking with top 100 junior in the world Digvijay Pratap Singh, I was surprised when he said his practice partner does not do very well in matches. It was explained to me that he has a harder time putting together points. There isn’t a plan of action that needs to be differentiated with his opponents. Consider this something that you should try too. Just because you have a better forehand or serve does not mean you are going to win the match. The player who uses their tactics better will have a much higher chance of winning. As Djokovic says about the players on the tour “everyone has a good forehand.” So what will you do to stick out in your matches?
You Can’t Do It Alone
Having high ambitions in tennis requires a support team. Players here have a coach and physical trainer to get them strong and confident for future tournaments. Many of us are not trying to go pro but the same philosophy works in other aspects of life. Take that mindset when putting together your own support team in tennis. Do you have a few practice partners? A trainer for fitness? A significant other or family member for moral support? All of this matters in trying to improve in tennis.
Shadow Swings Matter
Perfect practice makes perfect and that is an emphasis for top players. The juniors will shadow swing to have a better idea of what to implement into their shots. Try doing this with a mirror. You might be surprised to see how different your strokes really care compared to how you see them in your head. Filming yourself is a great idea too as this will uncover some flaws in your technique that will ultimately get you better.
Weapons Are Important
How the top players stuck out was their ability to hit the ball hard on a certain shot. Let it be a serve, forehand or backhand, the top players could muster up a lot more pace than their opponents. Consider finding yourself a weapon and keep working on it to improve it. Building up your weapons is a better idea than just focusing on your weakness.
Positive Energy Matters
The players that maintained their positive energy were the more successful players in their matches. This requires tremendous confidence and a positive mindset that can be difficult to stay constant in a flawed sport such as tennis. Try to have rituals before your points to get your mind in the right set. Even Jorge, the coach of Digvijay Pratap Singh told me that the mental strength of juniors is the least worked on yet most important to become the best player you’re capable of becoming. (See the video below for more info on this through an interview with Jorge)
Practice Has A Purpose
Each practice emphasized a situation that they would see in a match. For example, one player was allowed only to slice the ball while the other players worked on hitting on the offense and creating pressure on their opponent. This allows players to feel more comfortable when they are in both an offensive or defensive position. Consider having a focus for all of your tennis practices so that you do not become stagnant in your progress.
Stacking The Deck In Practice
Not only did practice have a purpose but many times one of the players was given a situation where they were to be challenged out of their comfort zone. For example, a player would hit on the baseline to two players on the other side of the net with one of the players hitting volleys and other hitting groundstrokes. This was difficult for the single player as he/she would have to hit balls coming from a volley or groundstroke, which challenges their timing and tracking ability.
Everyone Is Friendly
This was the most surprising for me as the tennis world often has a reputation for not being the most helpful to outsiders. This was not the case in Madrid. Coaches and players took the time to answer questions and also invited me to see their practices. It was encouraging to see this and an inspiration to keep sharing and supporting people in their pursuit of improving their tennis game! A big shout out to Javier! His hospitality was above and beyond what I could have asked for. This trip would not have happened without him. Watch for a video in a week to explain how he hits such a great one-handed backhand.
Here Is the interview with Coach Jorge, who trains top 100 junior Digvijay Pratap Singh at the academy. I hope you get something out of it!