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Coaches Corner - tip of the month

OCTOBER, 2011:

 THE EASY BALLS ARE NOT EASY

How many times have you heard your peers mumbling something like this after a perceived bad miss: "C'mon, how can you miss a ball right to you?" How many times have you thought the same thing?

Jak Beardsworth Tennis: Oct 2011 TipYet these "easy balls" are from it. They negate the advantages of "bodies in motion stay in motion." Instead they enable the opposite "bodies at rest stay at rest." Make no mistake about it, this is no easy conundrum. But it’s not unusual at all for players to misperceive the difficulty inherent in handling these kinds of balls, particularly in doubles where you’re only covering a small part of the back court and the balls are right in your zone.

Balls that require lateral or forward movement trigger the bodies in motion response. The natural athleticism triggered in hitting-on-the-run recall one's motor skill memory and fully support ball striking timing. It just flows.

Incoming balls right at you, body shots, disable this process and lead to static positioning, i.e. just standing there and waiting. That would be analogous to turning your car’s engine off at a red traffic light, resulting in a disconnection from the task at hand versus keeping the motor idling until the light turns green even though you’re stationary. On the tennis court that’s a recipe for repeated "how could I miss that ball" unforced errors.

If that's not enough, factor in that it's much more difficult to read the bounce angle on a ball that's right in front of you than it is if it's off to one side.

Stutter steps become the only viable solution. Think Jimmy Connors, the best proponent of this good footwork component ever. Not the fastest player of his era, but the best at staying in motion when balls were approaching right at him. Although not going anywhere, Jimmy would take 3,4,5,6,7 little steps before launching his shot. Eye-foot coordination supporting eye-hand coordination. That’s how it works! Why do you think he goes down as one of the very best returners of all-time? Footwork.

So forget about the "get-set" cue I still hear being bandied about far too often. Do not get planted. Do not stand there doing nothing, waiting for the ball which, in the absence of physicality, always leads to over conscious negative thinking and its accompanying glazed-over poor ball tracking. Instead "set-up," utilizing those stutter steps, to create the same no-brainer athleticism that occurs so naturally when you're on the run.

Good stutter-stepping footwork seemingly doesn't matter - until it does.

 


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