Tennis Drills For Juniors - Training Poonky, Part II
This is Part II of drills for juniors, which covers quick preparation and using the body's rotation. The drills here are from my work with Poonky, an eight-year-old girl from Thailand.
The first part includes the warm-up, footwork drills and reaction training.
1. Quick Preparation
The most common expression on this topic is to "prepare early," and one of the ways this has been taught is to "take the racquet back early."
There are two problems with this:
- The player loses the timing on the swing because it starts with an early backswing, then abrubtly stops, and then starts again; so there is no fluid motion and the body is not coordinated to generate good power.
- Although it's good that the muscles prestretch when the racquet is back, they lose the energy stored in them if this prestretch lasts longer than 0.2 seconds. This inevitably happens if the player rushes to get the racquet back too early.
So the key to quick preparation is not to move the arm back, but to just turn the body (shoulders) in the direction where the ball is coming.
I teach this method only to players who are often late at hitting the ball in the ideal contact point (somewhat in front of the body). Some players never need me to tell them to prepare early, because they do it naturally.
Why do some players prepare late?
The main reason is poor ball judgement. (which is typical for beginners and very young tennis juniors)
When a player cannot really tell when and where the ball is coming to his side, his brain cannot initiate the proper movement because it doesn't have the necessary data about the proper time to swing; so the brain waits for data, delaying the preparation.
Once the ball has flown for a long time and nears the player, the brain finally figures out the trajectory and predicts where the ball will be - now the swing can start. But now the ball is too close for the whole swing to be executed in time.
So the player either adjusts by breaking down his technique, or hits the ball too late - behind the ideal contact point. Both cases typically result in a poor shot or a miss.
Although a player will eventually start to judge the ball better and develop the ability to prepare early, he won't do it because he already will have created the habit of preparing late.
So the short term solution - before the player learns to judge the ball early - is to teach him a quick body turn in the direction of the ball.
The key here is that the player turns his body immediately in the direction of the ball (left or right) BEFORE the ball has traveled a long distance. The brain will then wait again to calculate the trajectory, so the backswing and forward swing at the ball will still be a little late.
But, because the body is already turned and the racquet is thus halfway back, the player still will have a chance of hitting the ball at the ideal contact point, which enables the player to hit with control and power.
As you can see, I fake the throw so that Poonky learns to react immediately to the direction of the ball, which she can read from the movement of my arm.
Later, I actually throw the ball so that she learns to connect the early body turn and the whole swing into a smooth and coordinated movement.
Poonky needs to rotate her shoulders without actually doing anything with her racquet. She is used to going back with the racquet, so I have to remind her here and there to concentrate only on her shoulders, and to rotate her body and then just try to hit the ball without thinking about how to do the rest.
In the second part of the drill, where she recovers back to the middle, I also want the real movement, with no walking back to the center. There is no walking in tennis while the ball is in play - only intensive movement - so players need to practice like that, too.
2. Using the Body's Rotation
Most power for tennis strokes can be generated by bodily rotation (angular momentum), not by weight transfer (linear momentum), i.e., moving forward into the ball.
Of course, players need to learn and use both methods depending on the situation and the type of shot they want to play.
This drill teaches players to use their body by eliminating linear momentum. A player needs to put the racquet's butt at his hip and try to hit the ball by just rotating the body (better seen in this video on the backhand side).
There should be no weight transferred forward (no foot movement) and no follow-through; so the only generator of racquet head speed is the body's rotation.
After a few hits the player starts to FEEL that he can hit the ball only by rotating his body, and that he doesn't need to do anything with his arm.
Once a player can do that a few times successfully, I ask him to move his racquet into a comfortable position - at the contact point.
Again, the player should try to hit the ball ONLY by rotating his body backward and forward, without doing anything with his arm. Only by doing that will he feel his body's power.
If he starts swinging with his arm too early in this drill, he will not feel the difference between what the BODY and the arm contribute to the shot's power. He will receive too many signals going into the brain, and will be unable to discern which is which.
But once I see that a player can feel and generate pace by only rotating his body, I ask him to let go of the follow-through so that his stroke returns to normal.
The main difference at the end is that the player feels which movement (body's rotation) generates the most power, and uses that to generate pace if needed; instead of muscling the ball with the arm, which causes tension, and thus a loss of control and power.
Next: Part III - The serve, drills for ball control and footwork, and how to play a set which gives the player a chance to beat the coach.
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