The analytical approach to learning tennis techniques is based on breaking the stroke down into parts, learning them separately, and hoping that the player will be able to put them back together.
This process actually works quite differently when it comes to adult tennis players and kids.
In fact, in my personal opinion, the analytical approach works well for kids but actually creates a lot of problems for adult recreational tennis players.
Learning tennis technique ONLY analytically, in my opinion, causes more harm than good.
Obviously, children’s brain is in the development stage and can absorb and synthesize information much better than an adult brain can. But that’s only part of the story…
Without even thinking about it, children naturally WANT to move their bodies in a way that is the most comfortable.
Therefore, they naturally put back together strokes that we coaches have broken down in parts and worked on in private or group lessons.
Children in tennis clubs and academies also practice a lot, and these training sessions include a lot of drills and practice matches.
They also do a lot of conditioning exercises which at young age focus on developing hand-eye coordination, general body coordination, dynamic balance, reactions, agility and many more.
Therefore, I see 5 main reasons that the process of synthesis takes place without notice when it comes to junior tennis:
1. Kids want to move in the most comfortable and effortless way – therefore, they do not force “correct technique” into their body. It merges slowly with the natural way of movement.
2. They play drills and games where they do not think about the mechanics of their strokes – and this process of repetition grooves the technique into their subconscious.
3. They do not obsess about correct tennis technique and therefore soon forget about it. That allows the information to pass from the conscious part into the subconscious part which knows how to put all the parts into a whole in a smooth and fluid way.
4. They engage in the development of other motor skills like coordination, dynamic balance, and footwork that help the body work more efficiently and develop better ways of generating force in the body.
5. Kids are not under time pressure – they are not ego-driven or impatient to develop good strokes. They accept that the process of improvement is very long and again don’t force rigid techniques into their bodies.
Most tennis instruction in private lessons with kids therefore focuses only on tennis stroke development through analysis – meaning through teachings of the mechanics of the strokes – because the synthesis simply happens with kids where there’s enough variety in tennis training involved.
The picture is completely different when it comes to adult recreational tennis!
1. They want to develop “correct tennis technique” and do not listen to their bodies when there’s discomfort or even pain. They are willing to force their bodies into pain so that they have “correct tennis technique”.
Therefore, they kill the harmonious movement of the body that generates force easily, and they prevent the synthesis of separate parts back into the whole.
2. They obsess about perfect tennis technique and believe that the more they think about it, the better it will be.
But this approach keeps the information in the consciousness all the time and doesn’t allow it to pass to the subconscious – meaning that they do not allow the process of automation of a stroke.
The most common causes for that are actually the coaches themselves because they only correct technique rather than involve players in various drills that would take their attention off their body and make them focus on tasks like reading the incoming ball, improving timing and rhythm, improving the feel for the strokes, hitting targets on the court, working on tactics like making opponents run, looking to wrong foot the opponent, and so on.
3. They often take only private lessons and play points when they play on their own – which means that they do not have enough repetitions in situations without pressure where they could automate their technique. In other words, they don’t practice enough – they only get more information in private lessons and do not groove the strokes in practice.
Playing points creates pressure, and the person doesn’t allow the body to swing freely because that is also the process of letting go of control, and that is not possible when the match is so important and the ego is at risk of embarrassment if the player loses.
4. Most adults do not develop motor skills any more in separate training sessions. Even worse, some engage in fitness and similar health and wellness exercises that develop strength through isotonic exercises (lifting weights, pulling cords, etc.) rather than dynamic exercises like throwing medicine balls or situations where footwork, dynamic balance, and dynamic force are developed (soccer, volleyball, etc.).
These isotonic exercises encourage “slow strength” while tennis requires fast dynamic movements of mostly relaxed muscles that contract in a different way to generate speed rather than force.
5. Adults are often impatient, especially if they haven’t trained in any sport previously in their life. They have no idea whatsoever how long it takes to develop correct foundations of a stroke and therefore want to have good technique very soon.
They see themselves as smart and competent and believe that moving the racquet in a certain way shouldn’t be such a problem. Therefore, they are not patient and then want to take shortcuts in the process.
In most cases, adults simply follow the instruction of tennis techniques to the T and do not allow the subconscious to take over. In the process, they destroy the body’s ability to naturally generate effortless force through optimal speed of movement of certain levers and using certain swings and momentums.
I have personally been teaching tennis to kids and adults for over 20 years, and the difference in the learning process when ONLY the analytical approach is taught is enormous.
Simply put, kids combine the technical analytical instruction with their desire to be comfortable (which is nothing else than the body’s signal of telling you what is a natural way of generating force), while adults do everything in their power to perform the movement “correctly,” even when it doesn’t feel comfortable and it doesn’t produce any natural force.
Kids also forget what they were doing the day before, while adults keep three more things in their minds besides the one or two things the coach is asking them to do. That creates confusion that results in poor ball tracking and lots of errors.
Therefore they do not get positive feedback from their attempts and unfortunately “try even harder” to think, which results in even more tension in the body.
Kids know that they are kids and that they are imperfect and not very skilled; therefore, they see mistakes as something normal. That allows them to let go and allow their body to move freely; thus, they retain the ability to generate momentum through free swinging.
Adults, on the other hand, see mistakes as something bad, as they see themselves as successful and competent – in other words, their ego doesn’t like seeing mistakes.
So, when they are learning tennis techniques, they desperately try to do the correct movement and sacrifice the body’s natural way of movement for the sake of not making mistakes and not being embarrassed.
Therefore, if you’re an adult reading this article and you’re looking to develop good tennis technique, you MUST:
include the process of synthesis into your stroke development (using feel-based drills and tactical drills you can find on this website);
That is the only way to reach the End Goal – which is to actually be able to simply play the ball and enjoy the game or focus only on tactics if you’re playing a match.
Thinking about technique takes a part of your brain power and concentration, and you have less focus on tracking the ball – and you therefore misjudge the ball and make more errors.
As long as you’re thinking about technique all the time, you’ll be making far more errors in the game than you should be and your strokes will lack fluidity and power.
Try to become a kid again, be more playful on the court even when taking lessons, allow yourself to make more mistakes, and allow your body to swing freely.
Play many more times just hitting freely without any ego-based goal (like winning a match), and simply try to hit the ball well where you feel that your body works in harmony without any tension.
Focus on ball trajectory and how cleanly you hit the ball – this will then allow your brain to merge the technical instruction you’ve been working on with the natural way of movement that creates effortless power – and eventually sound tennis techniques will emerge that simultaneously produce a lot of effortless power and allow easy adjustments to different situations in the game.