“Nothing is more terrible than activity without insight.”
Years ago, Will Smith, before he was known for blockbuster summer movies, rocketed to music stardom rapping ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand.’ It’s the perfect description for many parents who are investing incredible resources in their kids’ tennis aspirations.
They take them to lesson after lesson, drive them to tournament after tournament, all the while hoping that progress is being made. They’re not really sure it’s heading in the right direction, but, not knowing exactly what to look for, they keep writing the checks and logging the miles.
If this describes you, here are some issues I see that you might want to look for:
Drifting Back Swings
It’s heart wrenching to watch a kid spraying balls being prompted to focus. Meanwhile, the player’s stroke is gyrating like a drunken Salsa dancer during the back swing. The issue is not mental focus. It’s a completely inefficient stroke pattern. The best swings set and drop off the shoulder turn and do not go beyond the side of the body in the back swing.
Turning Shoulders for Power
Without proper instruction, a child naturally tends to seek power by opening the shoulders with the swing. This is a compromised path to power that will result in the swing breaking down; increasingly so as they grow up and face faster hit balls. In high level strokes, power comes from a dynamic uncoiling and halting of the body, which ‘slings’ the racket forward.
Wobbly Serve Motions
The issues are many. Most deleterious is the palm opening skyward in the back swing, leading to the ball being heaved. It’s often a result of an undeveloped throwing motion, and it’s compounded, once again, by a compromised way of seeking power. In excellent serves, force is stored and released through an efficient structure into a whip-like arm motion.
Now, if you recognize some of these issues, don’t panic or get down on yourself or your child. It’s not going to change overnight, and it may harm. What will help is learning what elements to a high level game are primary and taking steps to integrate them gradually and tenaciously.
My parents did the best they could for me with the resources available. Unfortunately, the coaches around me just didn’t have the complete knowledge to help me as a junior. This is a different time, though, with coaching knowledge improving and online resources.
Find out as a tennis parent what you must understand. Your time and money are worth it.
Appeared in Totally Tennis Magazine July/August 2011 Edition