I’m not a fan of using repetition to practice when training players.
I use repetition drills very rarely. Repetition drills are when a player has to hit many balls one after the other, either from a basket feed or with someone at the other end giving you the same ball.
Repetition drills contain very little that is similar to match-play. I understand it looks good to people watching the lesson from a distance outside the court and on Instagram posts but repetition drills offer very little to players wanting to develop a new technique or pattern for their next match.
Often coaches feel that they have done their job by showing the student the new technique and then drilling it many times through repetition. They believe the transfer of information (the new technique being taught) from practice court to match court should happen automatically and is the players responsibility.
This is false. It’s the coach’s job to introduce the new technique AND to create a “Connection” to match-play so that the player can integrate what they have been taught.
Part of creating this “Connection” is the ability to recall the key elements of the new technique. By training the recall abilities of the player you are ensuring a smooth transition from practice court to match court.
I focus mostly on training a player’s RECALL of a new stroke or match-play pattern. Here’s an example which can be used by you for any stroke or pattern you desire…
“Martina” was trying to improve her serve so that it’s a bigger weapon and can do more damage to her opponent in matches.
I worked with Martina on her front foot, in the knowledge that a technically better front foot will improve her timing, feel and power, and that will translate into a much better service weapon.
This is the stage I deviate from conventional training methods. Many coaches would have her hit from a basket, perfecting the serve and the front foot in particular for the remainder of the lesson.
This is the “Repetition Method” of teaching a stroke. With basket repetition the player is solely practicing technique by means of muscle memory.
Training a player using the “Recall Method” is different and much more effective than the repetition method, especially later when the player needs to use the technique in matches and under pressure.
Here’s how I trained Martina’s ability to Recall the key elements of the front foot. There were 5 key components I used that you need to be aware of when training your players:
1. Common Errors
Martina and I took note of the common errors that were occurring as she tried to implement the improved front foot during the serve.
One of those common errors was her tendency to shift her weight onto, and off her Front Foot too quickly during the serve. Martina was rushing the technique and needed to spend more time on top of her front foot during the service motion.
By identifying the most common errors that occur the player can focus on these common errors and be more aware of their remedies
2. Strengths and Weaknesses
I asked Martina which service target was her least preferred option when serving and she told me it was the serve down the “T” (middle) on the deuce side.
This is where we focused our attention mostly in the drills and points that followed.
Make the player aware and practice those vulnerable parts of a player’s new technique that have the potential to cause problems later in matches
3. “Point” focused
After a very short time of showing Martina the front foot technique we very quickly progressed to playing points.
The reason is I see no value in repeating the front foot technique many times from a basket, when under match conditions later other factors will be tested. Those “Other Factors” cannot be tested while hitting from a basket.
If you are training tennis players always remember that tennis is competitive and includes scoring… all new techniques must be taught with the understanding that the new technique must help the player win points and that it must hold up under pressure in matches.
If there were no consequences to us making errors or playing poorly what would be the point in trying to improve!
Creating consequences for Martina helped her improve the front foot faster. While playing points Martina was faced with the following consequences (you can try to introduce these consequences to your players also):
SCORING: Because we played points and kept score (short tie-breaks are perfect), if Martina’s serve didn’t perform well she lost points and obviously then found it difficult to win!
RESULT: If Martina didn’t use the front foot well the ball tended to go long over the service line (out). If she used the front foot well the serve would be much better.
She got immediate feedback on her new front foot technique based on the whether the ball went in or out – consequences!
DECISIONS: Serving from a basket (repetition) doesn’t involve decisions on what type of serve you want to hit. During the points the decisions Martina made each time she served had consequences.
She had to perform the new front foot technique AND make good decisions about the speed and placement of the serve and live with the consequences such as her opponent
attacking her 2nd serve, approaching net on the Return or simply continually putting her under pressure because her serve is not good enough.
Don’t wait and expect the “Connection” from practice to match-play to develop automatically. It just won’t happen.
By teaching recall whenever you work on a new stroke or pattern you are ensuring that the player is prepared for up-coming both technically and mentally.