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Coaches Corner - tip of the month



Watching the Ball!

It’s very unusual to visit tennis courts in any setting and see players without one in their racket these days. The more popular term, “shock absorbers,” coupled with the never ending tennis elbow stories that put players on the healing shelf, have popularized these little rubber accessories that are attached to the mains just below the cross strings at the racket’s throat.
But do they actually reduce the string’s vibrations to your arm, or, are they, more than anything else – as this article might be suggesting – just auditory input changers? The manufacturers, of course, claim every shock absorbing benefit known to mankind. More on that later.

In my own dampener lexicon “pingers” are those players who do not make use of them at all – particularly tour pros like Roger Federer among some others – resulting in a high pitched impact sound. “Twangers” use one of the many types of quarter size ones available that fit snugly between the two central main strings as previously noted – first popularized mainly by Pete Sampras with his “O-ring” and utilized by numerous pros and club players alike – producing a medium pitched sound but only when the ball is struck in the sweet spot. “Thudders” prefer the worm like type, favored by a preponderance of club players but almost no tour pros, that thread through nearly all the main strings still below the bottom cross string - delivering a low pitched sound in and out of the sweet spot.

Personally, although for a decade I’ve preferred the long bands, I recently switched to a small one for a quick check-in on my sweet spot consistency. Conclusion – it did make me a more acutely auditory aware of any off center strikes that would ping a bit, but I did switch back after a couple of weeks after deciding that, regardless of the sound, I became convinced that there really was some greater level of shock dampening benefit. Once a thudder, always a thudder.

Racket manufacturers have tried building them into the racket’s grommet strips extending up from the throat piece – a  hybrid of the smaller ones and the “worms” – in the form of inch long “string sleeves” for the center four mains as one example. Those applications were short lived.

Andre Agassi, during his breakout teenage years when he had the long fake locks, the jean shorts, and the day-glo shirts, introduced tying a rubber band around the mains at the throat. I recall Head, his racket sponsor, actually packaging them for retail sale at one point – a special rubber compound from Brazil no doubt.

My own take on the topic is that they do have a dual effect, both in dampening some of the vibration, and, mostly, in altering the auditory input creating a perception of more solid, sweet spot ball striking.

On a more scientific note, in 1999 the prestigious  Journal of Sports Medicine  published a study on the topic: “The Effect of Tennis Racket String Vibration Dampers on Racket Handle Vibrations and Discomfort Following Impacts.” Here’s their bottom line: “Vibration traces from an accelerometer mounted on the racket handle revealed that string vibration dampers quickly absorbed high-frequency string vibration without attenuating the lower frequency frame vibration. In conclusion, we found no evidence to support the contention that string vibration dampers reduce hand and arm impact discomfort.” Here’s a bit more: “…damper mass is not significant compared with frame mass, so elastomeric dampers installed in the string mesh cannot absorb a significant amount of frame vibration energy.” Key word being “significant.”

So perhaps that’s why Mr. Federer and other notables at the top find them completely unnecessary.

Nonetheless, I’m sticking with: If you think it works, then it does.
It’s up to you.

Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

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