The Next Stage In Tennis Technique Training: Adjusting

Jan 05

As you start your journey of improvement in tennis, you undoubtedly start playing with fairly poor technique.

You then take lessons, buy video courses and start improving your technique which in turn helps you play better shots. But, there is a stage in tennis where the approach of mechanical corrections of your strokes actually creates more problems than it solves.

Causes Of Poor Shots In Tennis

Contrary to popular belief that it’s always your stroke technique/mechanics that causes a poor stroke or a mistake, there are in fact many more reasons.

At the beginner stage, technique plays a very important role and there is very strong correlation between improvement of your technique and improvement of your overall quality of shots; however, the importance of perfectly correctly executed tennis strokes diminishes as you progress in tennis.

Your stroke may in fact look really good, but it does not accurately nor consistently go where you want it to go.

As you know, only a small degree of change of the racquet angle creates quite a big error on the other side of the net.

Until now, you may have been able to correct the movement of your arms or torso because your movement was far from the correct technique which is based on sound biomechanics.

You had to make big changes in your movement like preparing with a unit turn instead of taking the racquet back, rotating more into the ball rather than hitting forward in a straight line with your arm, using your non-dominant arm to help with body coiling and so on.

In other words, your corrections were quite visible compared to how you used to play.

What you learned is that improving your technique improves your game.

What is critically important to understand is that this approach works ONLY up to a point.

Since you’re now roughly close to the point where your technique looks very good, the changes that you now need to implement will be smaller and smaller.

We are talking small degrees, centimeters and even milimeters, and these changes need to be made at exactly the right timings which can be measured in hundredths of a second.

You CANNOT perform these corrections consciously any more.

Beware of any coach who tells you to open or close the racquet face more when you’re hitting the ball.

Are you really capable of controlling the racquet face for a change of one or two degrees in a split second while you are swinging toward the ball?

You cannot do that consciously, but you CAN achieve a change of your racquet angle unconsciously by focusing on the ball flight, seeing where the ball goes and IMAGINING a higher or a lower trajectory, then simply doing it without being conscious of how much your wrist or forearm changed the racquet angle.

This is a process of adjusting, and we are all using it very naturally throughout our lives.

adjusting process when driving

You learned to control the car’s direction simply through adjusting and not through explicit instruction

When we learn to drive a car, the instructor does NOT tell us to turn the wheel for two degree more in order to make the turn in the middle of our lane.

We simply drive, aim in the middle of the lane and repeat the process many times so that our mind and body “get on the same page,” and in time we learn how to accurately adjust to drive and turn in the middle of our lane.

Everyone, including the instructor and the beginner driver, is perfectly fine with no exact instruction for how much you need to turn the wheel so that you go where you want to go.

You simply see where the car is going, and you unconsciously adjust. You simply WANT to go more to the left, for example, and your hands do the necessary correction.

For some reason, this same common sense logic doesn’t seem so common in the tennis community…

The coaches keep telling the players the micro corrections they should be doing 0.017 seconds before contact with the racquet angle open at 88.6 degrees while their racquet path needs to be steeper by 2 degrees.

Sure, they don’t use these exact numbers, but this is what they ask of you since your shot landed slightly short of what you aimed at.

The players are also on the same bandwagon and keep asking the coaches what they need to do to make their lob land deeper, for example.

I am not making this up. I have been asked this on the court as well as many other similar questions.

The advice to aim deeper or longer or higher above the net seems too simple for them, and they look for some magic formula that will instantly and permanently make their lobs land in the last foot of the court.

But the process from here on is not conscious like what you were used to when you started improving your game.

It is now much more unconscious in terms of being aware of your body parts and how to move them through space.

What you need to pay attention to now is how the ball flies and where it lands.

If it’s not where you want it to be, you need to imagine the correction for the next shot.

Simply said, you need to ADJUST.

With more and more repetition, you will become more and more accurate.

It’s like darts or basketball – you try to hit the target, and when you miss, you try again, this time with a slight adjustment.

[box type=”info”]You know consciously ONLY how you want the ball to fly, but you adjust unconsciously. You don’t know by how much or even which part of your body has moved differently.

This is the process of adjusting, and it is BY FAR the most important part of your tennis training.[/box]

You will surely agree with me that there are thousands of tennis players out there who never had any lessons (or very few) and yet they play extremely well.

They simply played thousands of times and tried to hit certain areas of the court without really knowing how they need to do it.

They held the racquet in their hand and tried to steer the ball to the target. At first, they were inaccurate, but in time they got better.

Of course, if you combine this process with a solid foundation of tennis technique which is based on biomechanics, then you’ll be able to hit targets with much less effort, more power and much better accuracy in the long term.

How To Practice Adjusting

The process of adjusting your strokes unconsciously is well-known to most coaches.

Just drop by an academy or a club, and you’ll very likely see a feeding drill or a playing drill where there is no isolated correction of technique, but there are a lot of repetitions.

So, just for the record, I agree that if the foundation of technique is really poor, repetitions make it even more habitual and harder to correct later.

But if the main foundations of the stroke are there, the player needs to hit a lot of balls into targets as that process will polish the little technical details by itself.

There are a few keys to good improvement with this approach:

1. No pressure. The player must perform a lot of repetitions (drills, games, patterns) without pressure first – meaning that there is no scoring.

This is important because that allows the player to be more relaxed, and ONLY in a relaxed state of mind and body can the body make the necessary adjustments.

If your body is stiff, it cannot adjust to a different ball at a different height, for example, because it’s simply stuck at a certain position.

working on tennis strokes

You must work on your strokes in non-pressure situations where body is relaxed and allows adjusting to take place

So, it’s critical that through no-pressure situations you also consciously try to be looser and allow your joints to adjust to different types of shots.

I’d like to point out here that, in my opinion, the main reason for poor stroke technique of recreational tennis players is playing for points way too early before their basic technique has been established and ingrained.

If you haven’t yet read the Myth of the Tennis Technique, please do so in order to get more familiar with what you’re reading here.

2. Enough time and repetitions. It takes some time for the mind and body to adjust to a certain type of shot, so you must give them enough repetitions to start adjusting.

The minimum time period in my experience is 5 minutes, and usually the maximum is 20 minutes before taking a break.

It will be very difficult to keep high focus for more than 20 minutes. When you lose focus, you will also time the ball worse, see it worse and therefore hit many more inaccurate shots.

Unfortunately you will probably attribute those inaccurate shots to your stroke that you’ve been working on and again lose confidence in it.

In reality, it’s not your stroke that’s faulty and the cause for errors; instead, it’s your loss of focus.

But, as I said, there is this unfortunate association that keeps happening which is that players always blame their stroke technique for mistakes and rarely their mental skills.

3. Playing the same stroke with little variation. When you’re working on adjusting, you need to keep hitting the same stroke at the same target.

That’s because, with every shot you make, you get instant feedback on what went wrong (ball landing too short, for example) and what you need to aim for on your next shot (aiming deeper).

If you keep changing targets and strokes – for example hitting a baseline shot, then an approach shot, then a volley and then a smash – you are not really developing stroke technique through adjusting. You’re practicing something else.

You’re actually tying it all together which is the next step of training in tennis.

True, there is no clear line between all stages of training on the court in real life, but in theory there is.

So, at first you need to try to stick with a certain stroke or perhaps add just a little variation like sometimes hitting cross court and sometimes down the line.

There are many simple patterns of baseline strokes that combine cross court shots and down the line shots, and pros work on them daily.

Peter and I played a 2 cross/1 down pattern, and below you can see another pattern played by Tomas Berdych:

Tomas explains that it helps him feel the strokes better, feel the ground, feel more stabilized, be accurate when he’s tired, learn to move well and so on. Not once does he mention technique.

Your argument may be that he doesn’t need to correct it any more, but I assure you that he was doing a massive amount of drills like this even when he was 12 years old and his stroke technique was not close to how he hits the ball now.

So, in summary, hopefully you understand now more the process of adjusting, which is the unconscious correction of your technique that polishes the small mistakes in your technique.

Basically it means that while your stroke technique looks quite okay, the ball doesn’t really go where you want it and you have a lot of spread around your target.

The cause for these mistakes are minute changes of racquet angle and path that are caused by incorrect positions of your wrist, forearm, body alignment and so on, and these small mistakes CANNOT be corrected consciously.

They correct themselves unconsciously through lots of repetition and the process of adjusting where you don’t focus on your body parts (and how to move them “correctly”), but you focus on the ball flight and keep imagining based on previous shots how you want the ball to fly.

You learned many other skills in life through this process of adjusting, like driving a car, using your computer mouse (try it with your non-dominant hand and see the process in action) and getting better at many games and sports like darts, basketball, pool and others.

And lastly, part true and part for fun, the reason why you don’t read more about this process (and yet it’s what you’ll see in every tennis academy for the majority of training!) is because the tennis industry cannot sell you repetition; they can sell you only instruction. 😉

Yet it’s the repetition, practice, drills and other types of training that amount to the vast majority of tennis training whereas stroke technique amounts to only a small part of training.

Remember the last key point: when your strokes don’t go well, especially at the start of your session, lesson or a match, DO NOT start messing with your technique first, but instead WAIT at least 5 minutes for the process of adjusting to start affecting and correcting your strokes.

See where the ball lands, adjust in your mind only and let your body find and correct those minute changes in the racquet angle and swing path so that the ball starts following your intentions more accurately.

Exhale with every shot. Try to stay loose and, if you can, enjoy the process.

Enjoyment of hitting the ball and the challenge of trying to hit the target over and over again will create that right mixture of focus and relaxed alertness that provides the mind with very clear feedback and allows your body to adjust easily to different movements.

Leave a Comment:

(61) comments

Chavdar Draganinski January 5, 2015

Happy New Year Tomaz!

Very smart article, though that remark about what tennis instruction sites are selling and not able to sell, will not fill your pockets 🙂

Anyway, may 2015 be healthier and successful for you and your family!

Warm regards.

Chavdar (from frozen Laval, Quebec)

Reply
    Tomaz January 5, 2015

    Thanks, Chavdar. The point I am making is that “we” coaches can only sell you instruction and by that you don’t have a good idea of how much repetition you have to make.

    If you could, you would watch me train an adult or a junior and work on their forehand for example for 6 months at least twice a week for 30 minutes or more.

    So you would watch a video of him or her hitting forehands for 1 hour per week and the slow and incremental improvement that would happen over time.

    Then you would be able to realize how little part mechanics play and how big part repetition and adjusting plays.

    But as I said no one is showing that as it doesn’t really make sense for anyone for watch 1 hour of forehand repetitions per week for 6 months.

    But because you don’t see there repetitions and all you see online is instruction, your perception on how to work on strokes is badly skewed / distorted.

    Reply
      Chavdar Draganinski January 5, 2015

      Hi Tomaz,

      Your point was perfectly clear from the beginning. Thanks again for elaborating.

      It is a fine art to distinguish and decide what to reveal in an online instruction. You are very good at that. In most cases you are patiently and intelligently making your point in contrast to other online coaches that are desperately trying to sell something, anything. You make people think and not just follow advice mechanically – this is what separates your site from all the others.

      Best regards.
      Chavdar

      Reply
Christina January 5, 2015

I feel blessed to have been taught by a tennis pro who has a similar vision as you. Especially starting as an adult player, hitting a lot of balls and working on basic technique has served me well.

That being said, every person uniquely will have strengths and weaknesses. It is here that we start to look at technique instruction to see if we have developed bad habits and if it’s possible to improve/alter/change them.

I won’t ever be taller and as I age I doubt I will get faster so I feel like it’s imperative to be a good student and utilize my strengths and strengthen my weaknesses!

Thank you for reminding us to do less and not change things so quickly. I think even in lessons or drills the pros feel obligated to correct or instruct so that you feel they are watching/they care/they are offering something of worth since you are paying for it.

And it’s easy to get caught up on the “new” forehand or new stroke you “must” learn when in fact at least for recreational players, the fundamentals and repetition would serve us better than micromanaging a trendy Djokovic forehand (which replaces the trendy spintastic Rafa forehand which replaces the trendy hitch serve of Andy Roddick….)

Reply
    Tomaz January 5, 2015

    Good point, Christina, don’t get caught in the latest “technique” some pro is using. In fact, you should more look at good recreational players for examples as “we” hit with quite simple and yet efficient strokes.

    Reply
Robert January 5, 2015

What you are talking about here is right on the money. I spent a good part of two years of my tennis life rebuilding my game, which meant reestablishing fundamentals and learning new techniques across the board. While that is an ongoing process, at some point I realized that I pretty much had learned and figured out what I needed to do technically, and that I needed to spend the bulk of my practice time hitting balls to targets from different parts of the court, at different heights, etc. This allowed me to improve my timing with the new stroke elements, incorporate more dynamic footwork, and do things, for example, like get a feeling in my body for the alignment needed to return a sharp spinning serve on my backhand side from the deuce court cross court to the service line-sideline corner. Having the techniques is one thing. Being able to apply them in situations in point play is another.

Reply
    willie Williams January 5, 2015

    Thanks, you confirmed what I learned this weekend. WOW Keep it going!

    Reply
bruce hann January 5, 2015

hi Tomazi -thanks for your very useful instructions (h.p.n.y. 2015)
and videos that all give such helpful tips and good technique
to handle ball stroke play.-footwork & concentration go hand in hand.
kind regards, bruce (from down under)
ps: look forward to view videos on topspin & serve tips.
and if possible, part of which in slow motion.

Reply
    Tomaz January 5, 2015

    Thanks, Bruce. Sure, will keep your ideas in mind but make sure you check all the videos in the serve section.

    Reply
sandip January 5, 2015

Happy New Year Tomaz.

I constantly watch your videos – they are very simple and step by step method to understand technique. I apply on my son its work, but after same repetition he plays in his style, goes in the zone situation.

How he play continually in adjusting situation please give guidance. thanking you.

Reply
    Tomaz January 5, 2015

    Thanks, Sandip. Yes, there is always a personal style of playing on top of technique.

    The tricky thing to figure out is whether the style includes sound biomechanics or not. I suggest finding an experienced coach to take a look at that.

    Reply
Greg January 5, 2015

Happy New Year to you too, Tomaz. As I learned to drive a car only in my forties as well as stepped on the tennis court for the first time, I am highly sympathetic towards the car driving analogy 😉

I think what you say has a lot to do with confidence. You have to believe in your own technique being sound enough to be able to “forget” about it. But that’s not always easy because we are so flooded with information about technique because of the internet, we’ve come obsessed with it. We all want to become better players, so it strikes a chord within us. Thanks for reminding us where the real work lies.

It’s not always easy to find a hitting partner willing to play these drills, therefore I try to hit the wall at least an hour each week, focusing on rhythm and staying as loose as possible, while trying to hit the same place on the wall over and over again. I love it and it has helped me tremendously.

Reply
    Tomaz January 5, 2015

    Thanks, Greg.

    Yes, you are being flooded with too much information, of course, lots is marketing related.

    You don’t have to trust your technique, you need to trust the process. Your technique improves automatically through process of repetition if you allow it.

    Yes, you must be loose and comfortable and practice in easy conditions.

    I will post more tips on how to do that. I personally did not have one lesson in my life and as you can see from my videos, my technique is quite good.

    I learned everything only by watching closely the strokes of pros, swinging in front of the mirror so that I had a good awareness of my body in space and hitting millions of balls in easy conditions – namely just rallying.

    That is the main process of learning which I hope to explain more in the future.

    Reply
      Greg January 5, 2015

      You never had one lesson in your life… wow, that’s quite an eye opener to me. You remind me of a guy at my club, who never had a lesson too but plays super smooth and technically fine. “You don’t have to trust your technique, you need to trust the process.” – that’s mindfullness in a nutshell (and that’s what I’m gonna do: keep it in mind).

      If you will ever incorporate wall drills in this learning process, I’ll be the first one running towards it 😉

      Reply
        Carlo December 23, 2016

        Does repetion and adjusting training work well on a wall or in some kind of self-feeding drills? Do you have any tips?
        The problem at the club level ( at least at my club) is that 95% of people have fun only in a match play, no matter how low the technical level is. . What’s important it is to say everybody who beats who!
        Pros usually end up giving pearls about technique because they must show they are doing something.
        Training by myself would be a big plus to my tennis journey but I don’t want to mess things up. A ball machine is a little too expensive in my opinion.
        Any advice would be much appreciated,
        Thank you
        Carlo

        Reply
John January 5, 2015

Hi Tomaz, another great contribution on how to improve. As a 70 year old player I have found trying to change aspects of my swing consciously has proved virtually impossible as subconscious habits are so deeply en-grained. Changing by repetition does work as long as you can give it the time. The challenge is when there is a basic flaw in technique particularly when it then leads to injury. This can affect professional players as well as recreational players and there are many examples especially wrist injuries associated with the two handed back-hand. How would recommend changing a basic technical flaw in any stroke that doesn’t respond to repetition?

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Hi John, very good question.

    On one hand, I believe most technical flaws will correct themselves under the conditions mentioned above:

    1. You need to play without pressure and you need to play slow, nice and easy. You need to play a lot of mini tennis and try and be as comfortable as possible.

    The problem arises because we want too much too soon and we look for power way too early before the stroke is technically completed and that breaks down the whole process and introduces tension again.

    2. You need to play a LOT. I used to play 4-6 hours per day for about 5 months per year. 90% of that time was just hitting down the middle nicely rallying with my friends.

    All coaches that give you lessons and that you see them play with good technique have had so much repetition that you can’t imagine.

    3. You need to focus only on the ball flight and not on technique.

    4. You need to hit the ball in the optimal contact point. The #1 reason for “poor technique” is actually hitting the ball late.

    Follow the drills on deep balls and on fast balls on how to hit on time.

    5. Be patient and not outcome oriented (meaning when is my stroke going to be good), but process oriented (how did that shot feel, let me adjust a little bit…).

    6. Enjoy the process of hitting balls and again not focus on outcome or pay attention to mistakes.

    On the other hand, get an experienced coach and ask him to poinpoint that technical flaw and work with a basket feeding in very easy conditions to correct it.

    Combine that with lost of repetition with the 6 points mentioned above and you’ll be on the right track.

    Reply
      John January 6, 2015

      Hi Tomaz
      Thank you for your words of wisdom. I will try to put it all into practice. I need to be more patient. I am too keen to see improvement.
      John

      Reply
glenn prottas January 5, 2015

Tomaz, Good to see you are starting the new year with a big bang! The “language” you are speaking is the true language of tennis and of learning altogether. It is sound and ordinary. What is strange is the attitude of your average tennis club. I think you hit the target……$$$.
I learned to play tennis at about 13 .I Never had a lesson. My mother would drop me and my friend at the court and pick us up 5 hours latter. Our strokes were chaotic. We had fun and we were learning. Later I got lots of lessons and got to play better, now I want to go back to the boyhood days, We hit and learned and had lots of fun.
Outside of a tennis academy it’s hard to find player of a like mind. In my years of searching only found
about two. How about settling up something were people who read your blogs can get together and hit some? Could even be a fee for such a thing. Better than a patronizing hitting pro at 80 $ an hour.

Anyway thanks for sharing your sanity.

Glenn

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Thanks for sharing, Glenn.

    Yes, I know that it’s so hard to find a fellow tennis player who just wants to hit and enjoy the process.

    The ego is too strong for so many and they look to feed it through an occasional lucky winner or through winning matches against not so skilled opponents.

    I agree, we need to find the playfulness again and enjoy the game. See the above 6 points I wrote to John. These are the keys…

    Reply
Arturo Hernandez January 5, 2015

John,

Great question! I also had a set of bad habits engrained in my serve that I had to correct. I am still working on getting them cleaned up. I think that it requires practicing off the court with shadow strokes. This will help to engrain new habits. Then try practicing alone or just hitting with no pressure.

Then I would film the stroke and try to make adjustments. Tomaz will definitely have some suggestions in this respect.

One thing he is big on is trying to figure out why your body is doing something.

For example, he made me realize that I had a notion that I had to hit the ball way up. So I would make all kinds of adjustments to my technique on the serve.

The tricky part is toggling between the conscious thought needed to initiate a correction with the unconscious practice. It requires lots of back and forth initially. But eventually it will become automatic.

Good Luck!

Arturo

Reply
    John January 5, 2015

    Arturo,
    Thank you for your comments particularly the one about figuring out why your body is doing something. I too have bad habits en-grained in my serve. I have a great fluid action when doing shadow strokes and I have been doing plenty of shadow swing repetitions. It’s when I try to hit the ball that the en-grained bad habit re-appears! I will take up your suggestion about filming and see if this helps me to solve the problem. I have tried filming in the past and it was seeing myself in action that I realized that a number of flaws. Before that experience I thought I was technically sound!
    John

    Reply
tomi January 5, 2015

a great video indeed. one interesting point – peter obviously models his technique (his looks too) after fed. it looks nice but have you ever considered what would happen if he took nole or andy as models. is he an all court player? would a different model make him play differently tactically & mentally? or is it best to find one’s own way – free from someone else’s technical peculiarities?

all the best in 2015

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Very good point, Tomi.

    I think for very visual players, they need a model.

    I also had Andre Agassi as a model for my forehand and Becker and Edberg for backhand and volleys. I copied the strokes thousands of times in front of the mirror trying to swing like they do.

    I played volleyball so the serve just came naturally to me.

    You need to have a crystal clear mental image of how the stroke is performed if you want to have good technique.

    The danger is if you stick to the “role model” for too long and try to copy him / her perfectly instead of allowing your natural style to take over.

    That’s why it’s critical for Peter now to stop thinking about technique and do a lot of playing drills and play lots of matches.

    Those will automatically bring out his most natural and comfortable stroke technique based on his talents and skills.

    Reply
      tomi January 6, 2015

      totally agree. thanks.

      Reply
Camille January 5, 2015

You Are The Best.
This is exactly my challenge.
Kept trying to understand why my improved strokes were not transferring to games And wondering what to do about it. Would be so great if you could talk about doing this w. The backboard, if possible. As another person commented, it is quite hard to find the right hitting partner.
Where do you teach.

Happy New Year w. blessings galore.
Camille. Senior player. Houston, TX

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Thanks, Camille.

    I teach in Slovenia most of the time but am now in Singapore to make some videos.

    For the wall / backboard, the best advice I can give you is to hit the ball on the second bounce. It gives you more time.

    So make sure you’re far away from the wall so you can hit on the second bounce – if of course you’re working on technique or repetition or timing.

    If you work on moving quickly to the ball, reacting quickly, hitting on the rise and so on, then play on one bounce.

    Reply
Keith Hampton January 5, 2015

Thanks Tomaz: I always love your emphasis on feel. Here, I particularly liked your admonition at the end to “wait” if my shots are not accurate. Let the adjustment happen. This is often the difficult thing: just to wait and let it happen naturally.

Thanks again,

Keith

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Thanks for pointing that out, Keith.

    I still wait for my strokes to start working. My eyes need to start tracking the ball well, my brain needs to go into overdrive to judge the ball well and my body needs to be loose enough to quickly adjust to different types of incoming balls.

    And my feel needs to come back for me to properly gauge with how much force I need to hit each different ball to make it land where I want to.

    As you can see, that’s the main process going in one’s mind and body. Obviously this cannot function optimally after 5 shots, right? 😉

    Sometimes I takes 20 minutes for these small processes to fall in place. And all that time I know what’s going on and I am waiting for them to fall in place.

    I can guarantee you one thing after playing tennis for over 25 years: you cannot force it. You cannot force yourself to play better through some conscious technical instruction.

    The most important conscious process for me is to always try and hit the ball in front. All I am trying to do is not be late and hit in optimal contact point. The rest falls in place after that.

    Reply
Marcelo January 6, 2015

Tomaz and writers of the blog: happy new year !!!

Thanks Tomaz for the new contribution, very clear. First of all, technique, then repetition and now, when we incorporated both, the most important concept is judge the ball when its fly and apply the unconsciously knowledge.

Its a good comparison with the process of driving, I have other example: when you learn a non native language. By the way, sorry for my English.

Very, very important learning for me, every article of you.

Thenks. Best regards.

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Thanks Marcelo,

    I agree but even during the phase of learning technique we need to have lots of repetitions because while playing we learn to judge the ball, time the ball, find the right distance to it, hit it at different heights and so on.

    Technique training doesn’t necessarily work on those and having “correct technique” and hitting the ball late still makes you play very poorly.

    Reply
Jim K. January 6, 2015

Excellent advice Tomaz and the peoples’ replies were outstanding. Your article was food for thought: while my son was home for Christmas, he made it a point to visit his “master instructor.” My son reflected on the good old days – 1. 45 minutes of instruction per week,2. Practice-practice-practice on his own just about every day, 3. Monthly gathering where players of all ages and abilities(veteran pros joined in) would come together to play 4. Then, the big event where everyone would have an opportunity to show “their stuff”(improvising)in front of an audience. And that process went on for years! As I nostalgically “look” back, I recall the hours and hours of practice – repetition seemed to be the rule along with an emphasis on timing,rhythm and yes, “adjusting.” Tomaz, that winning formula applied to my son, the accomplished musician, and it applies to me – the tennis player/coach as well.

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Wonderful, Jim, thanks so much for sharing. The mind / body need some time to ingrain what has been learned consciously.

    We must also learn to trust ourselves to develop good technique.

    I bet that 99% of us coaches who teach tennis now (online and on court) have received much much less information than we now share – and yet we learned to play pretty well.

    Reply
John C January 6, 2015

Another great article Tomaz and very much in keeping with the ‘think it/ feel it/ don’t force it – just let it happen naturally’ vibe of your site.

I really chuckled at the comment by the interviewee in the ‘academy’ video asking about the differences between the Spanish academy and typical American instruction and he noted that in Spain (maybe Europe generally) the pupils just hit lots and lots of balls and the instructor doesn’t constantly stop and interject with his expert analysis of what the pupil did right or wrong (which the pupil likely already knows anyway). Seriously – when I watch most pros around here in America – these guys practically stop and chat/analyze after after 2nd or 3rd shot and want to have a complete discussion of what just happened. Talk about wasting time … and money …

Again – really enjoy your site and your insights.

Reply
TK January 6, 2015

Hi Tomaz

Happy New Year – and thank you for the brand new blog! Great stuff – as usual.

I totally agree on your points that hitting a lot of balls helps you to find the right feel for strokes. However sometimes our minds cheat ourselves and makes us believe a wrong movement is correct because it feels good. I can give an example: I was feeling that I play quite a decent Tennis for the short amount of time I am playing tennis (started in August last year – but quite intensively, several hours a week – with coach and hitting partners). However, my coach kept telling me that I am hitting forehands too far behind my body, aka too late and too far outside my body. I tried to understand what he was saying, but in my feeling my forehand felt ok and at correct timing – and my balls went where I wanted them to go (well, most of the time at least… ;-)). And because it felt correct to me, and it also looked ok to me when I was hitting shadow strokes in front of the mirror, it was hard to change, as I was clueless how to change it.

But then, the moment of eye opening came: My husband made some videos of me playing. First, he filmed standing on my left side, slightly in front of me. And from that angle, the forehand looked ok to me. However, then he moved to my right side and filmed from my right front side. And there it was: I saw exactly what my coach was telling me all the time. But because I was so used to hit the ball at this late point, it felt good to me and my body managed to control the ball also from this incorrect point.

Therefore I think it is important to have a lesson with a coach from time to time or have someone making a video when rallying with a hitting partner, just to get an “objective” feedback about the technique – as sometimes, our mind can be quite subjective ;-).
The hard work started afterwards, changing the “bad habit”. It is so hard to convince the body that the “good feel” from before is no longer ok and in the beginning it feels so wrong and the balls don’t go where you want them to. But again: hitting a lot of balls will help to adjust the feeling to the correct technique and bring back the good feeling.

Thanks again for your blog(s). It stimulates my reflection in a very positive and supportive way!

Have a good time
TK

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Thank you for sharing, TK.

    Yes, obviously lessons with coaches and online instruction as I and my fellow coaches are doing are important part of getting better.

    My experience though and my concern is that many players resort too quickly to mechanical corrections and start thinking about their strokes the minute they don’t hit exactly what they aimed at.

    And that approach simply doesn’t work. It’s not my opinion, it’s a fact that every tennis player can agree with.

    Everyone has experienced paralysis by analysis and how the harder they tried to fix their strokes and the more they thought about it, the worse their shots became.

    In most cases the solution lies in waiting for the adjustment process to start working. I do this every day on the court and it seems the most normal thing to do as is waiting for the car to get warmed up before I attempt to accelerate it faster if needed.

    But when I talk with my students, they have never heard of this, such critical concept which is adjusting only in your mind and waiting for the strokes to start working.

    That’s why I am sharing it as I see that the only solution players know of is conscious, mechanical fixing of their strokes.

    If this really worked, no one would be reading my blog since by now everyone’s shots would be perfect. 😉

    So to summarize – yes, there is a place for conscious, mechanical correction of strokes that is best done with an experienced coach.

    There is also drilling, playing and hitting thousands of balls that is going on in every academy and tennis club where coaches know that only a massive amount of repetition will help groove those strokes and actually make the shots consistently and accurately land in the court.

    There’s also the part of waiting for your mind / body to start working at their best which usually takes a few minutes and that again no one so far has mentioned as far I have read other tennis blogs – and yet it is something the most normal to me every day I step on the court.

    Reply
Tom January 6, 2015

Tomaz,
Another excellent article. Thank you.

I guess a lot of people continue to take tennis lessons because they are not confident that their technical skills are good enough, even after they have been playing for several years. Is it possible for a student to know when he or she has developed good-enough foundation skills and technique so they can concentrate on practice?

The other thing that occurs to me is that if we take up tennis later in life (as I did) then it is difficult to find time for the hours of practice that may be needed to improve one’s game naturally. Students are hoping to find a shortcut to improve faster, and that is why I guess they seek coaching. Have you any advice for those of us who are able to play maybe for only a couple of hours a week but still want to improve as quickly as possible?

I’m looking forward to more of your excellent videos in 2015. Thanks again.

Reply
    Tomaz January 6, 2015

    Hi Tom,

    In my opinion most adult tennis players are way too critical of their strokes as unfortunately they compare themselves with the pros.

    That’s really not a fair comparison to make.

    You are the best you can be with your current skills and talents every day you step on the court. You cannot be better based on your talents and the amount of tennis you have played.

    Being negative and critical does not speed up improvement, trust me. Being positive, relaxed, in a playful mode and really enjoying hitting balls while working on something small in your game works best.

    Practice needs to be part of tennis training at any level regardless of current level of technique because practice (drills, cooperative games, …) develop strokes in other ways and develop many other key skills that isolated technical training does not develop.

    As for shortcuts, there are almost none. To develop good timing and smooth technique, you need to hit a massive amount of number of balls.

    My advice is the same for any amount of time you can play per week – hit many balls in a friendly rally down the middle while looking to be comfortable, loose and hitting in ideal contact point.

    Look at your trajectory and try to improve it on the next shot. Do that for at least 20 minutes every session you play.

    Then work on something else or even be more conscious of a certain mechanical part you want to correct.

    And secondly, if you can, really do a lot of shadow swings in front of the mirror, just after you have watched some basic shot technique, ideally in warm up from a pro or a good recreational player.

    See what they do, then do 200 repetitions in front of the mirror. Do that every day for a month and you’ll see great improvement when it comes to technique.

    You’ll still need to play a lot to be able to adjust to different balls well and have good timing, but you can clean up your technique / mechanics really well if you watch yourself swing in front of the mirror.

    Reply
      Marcelo January 7, 2015

      This answer is equal to a lesson.
      Incredible tips !!!
      Thanks.

      Reply
marcus January 7, 2015

Most enlightening as per usual Tomaz

So to gain that extra power to get the ball through the court with relaxation is racket head speed the by product?

avid follower whose help from you is changing my game for the better

marky

Reply
    Tomaz January 9, 2015

    Thanks, Marky.

    I am not sure I understand your question but the main source of power on the forehand is torso rotation. On one handed backhand is more leg drive and pulling your shoulder blades together and then extending after the ball.

    Reply
Aine January 7, 2015

Dear Tomaz:
Your advice with regards to thinking constantly about technique very pertinent to my personal attempts at improving my hitting!
When things are going poorly I try so hard to continually correct my strokes that I lose all of my other good hitting techniques.
However, I have a long-standing bad fault of cocking my wrist just before I hit both on backhand and forehand ground-strokes.. even though I start with my wrist lowered properly have to think each time to keep it lowered & relaxed..I get so frustrated as I lose all decent drive power when my wrist elevates..I thought muscle memory would have corrected this by now..
Any ideas for me..
I love your teaching videos.. you are such an excellent instructor..
Many thanks.

Reply
    Tomaz January 8, 2015

    Hi Aine,

    You can see the danger here: almost everything I say will make you think again. 😉

    I suggest you play some mini tennis, nice and gentle and try and be as comfortable as possible. Don’t try to play “good”, just play.

    You’re on the court to enjoy yourself, remember? So enjoy hitting balls on mini tennis and after 5-10 minutes observe your wrist and what’s going on.

    Of course until now, don’t think about technique but just adjust. See how you played the ball and adjust slightly for the next shot so that your partner receives an easy ball.

    Do that a few times for a few sessions and let me know what happens.

    Reply
      Aine January 16, 2015

      Hi Tomaz:

      Did as you suggested…
      Much better this morning @ 07:00 -07:00 hrs… it really works when I relax & just enjoy hitting the ball..
      But,I have to keep thinking of not thinking now ha,ha,.
      I watch your videos over & over again.

      Many Thanks,

      Aine

      Reply
        Tomaz January 17, 2015

        Great! I call this: consciously trying to be less conscious. 😉

        Reply
          Aine January 18, 2015

          Tomaz:

          You wrote in one of your comments;
          Focus on the BALL FLIGHT… you are sooo right..
          Heavens this is really important…
          When I focus on the ball trajectory my feet do the right thing… somehow!!!
          The simplicity of a tennis genius.. how did you come to know all this?

          Aine

          Reply
          Tomaz January 19, 2015

          Years and years of playing, trial and error, thinking about the game, solving problems on court every day with many different players… 😉

          Reply
Aine January 7, 2015

Happy New Year..

Aine

Reply
Ronald Gaines January 8, 2015

I agree that it is important to practice hitting both forehand and backhand from the baseline. Do you have any suggestions for tennis players who like to come to the net? What is the best technique for the aggressive tennis player?

Reply
    Tomaz January 9, 2015

    Hi Ronald,

    The process is the same except when volleying there’s much more of finishing the rally. So you can have a player at the net and one on the baseline pararel to the net player.

    The net player hits a few volleys back to the baseline player – how hits back at the net player – and then the net player finished the volley into the open court.

    Repeat on other side, repeat with cross court rallies and finish with a down the line shot. So many variations you can think of – you just stick to repetition and looking to hit targets.

    Reply
Ken January 8, 2015

I cannot, as always, add much – Tomaz’s instruction so complete, this module and two before; wonderful holiday gifts to his community…

But he is thinking beyond the mechanics of tennis, and to that end I suggest his ebook ‘Tennis Strategy Encyclopedia’, also…

However, I look forward to more instruction from him about how to ‘see’ earlier by anticipating trajectory, ‘initiating blind’ through reading visual cues (strokes, as demonstrated; poach volleys, too) and associated drills – because process can change your sense of time in relation to ball on court, increasing relaxation and perhaps – fun…

You can learn strokes. Diligently practice. But these tips about ‘finding the ball’ (Oscar Wegner always called it that…) naturally – it is next generation instruction, again, from Tomaz.

Thank you.

Reply
HansPi January 14, 2015

Wow !

It is working. I tried it last week in a training session, this week in a game.

Both times just great.

Thanks

HansPi

Reply
Paul January 14, 2015

Hi Tomaz,

Great article as usual!
I totally agree there is a time for learning technique and there is a time for adjusting.
That’ve said, in my view there isn’t a point where you don’t have to (can’t) learn technique anymore and just have to focus on the proces of adjusting. I think it’s a constant cycle where you first define a goal, then learn the crucial technical elements to achieve that goal and last you go to the proces of adjusting.

For example, a beginner just wants to keep the ball in play (control is the goal), therefore he needs to train the technical elements to get more control (stable hitting zone, balance, etc), after he grooved this elements he most go through the process of adjusting before setting a new goal.
After a while he then wants to add some speed to the ball, therefor he needs train the technical elements to get more speed (leg drive, body rotation, etc), after he grooved this elements he most again have to go through the process of adjusting before setting another goal.

Since I think you are the best instructor on the net, I would be very interested if you can agree with my vision? Or maybe if you have some additions to it?

Thanks in advance and keep on the good work!

Paul

Reply
    Tomaz January 14, 2015

    Thanks Paul.

    I agree, if someone keeps working on their technique, they keep adding new little technical details and then they need to groove them.

    My goal here was more to point out that there is a lot of tennis improvement that happens simply through practice and of course understanding and applying “adjusting”.

    I know from experience that most adult tennis players seek solutions for their problems ONLY in technique and do not understand that the main causes of their errors are minute changes in racquet angle and path that improve unconsciously through repetition.

    I just wanted to share this common sense and every day approach to working on strokes that happens in every club and academy and yet no one online seems to mention it.

    The path to high quality tennis game is a long one and it requires a lot of hitting.

    Information on how to do it can take you only so far, perhaps it gives you 10% of your final tennis skills. The other 90% are developed through drills, games and matches.

    Reply
      Paul January 14, 2015

      Thanks for your answer Tomaz.
      Good to point out indeed.
      I agree, the challenge in our open skill sport is mostly about timing and feel (not technique) which can be best developed through (open) drills and games.
      Looking forward to the next topic;)!
      Maybe you are willing to do a topic once about the development of technique with kids and/or beginners. I’m curious if you for example teach them to serve with the full motion and a continental grip from the start or if you go in stages.

      Best regards,
      Paul

      Reply
Bart January 18, 2015

hi Tomaz,

Interesting article. I recently played the Australian Championships which was a grade 1 senior ITF tournament. I didn’t play great but also not too bad. But to my surprise I was very nervous, started to be tense (not relaxed) and suddenly my strokes were all over the place. A few days after the tournament I started to train again but suddenly my strokes are all off, questioning my technique. After reading this article, maybe I should stop thinking about the technique and just focus on where to hit the ball and adjust accordingly?

Bart

Reply
    Tomaz January 18, 2015

    Hi Bart,

    At your level technique is not the problem. You start missing shots because of mental issues or when someone disrupts your rhythm and timing – which is what tennis is all about. And what you noticed happened in the match.

    Your goal in the match is to re-establish your rhythm and timing.

    And in my opinion, NEVER think of technique during the match. It does not help.

    Your technique is what it is at that moment. You are missing because of minute changes of the racquet angle, because of lack of clear intention, because you may have lost focus, because you are playing a good player who is giving you a challenging ball that you cannot control every time, etc.

    These are the problems that need to be solved in order for your strokes to function well.

    If you work on technique, you isolate a few practice sessions and work on technical changes – although I doubt that’s what’s needed.

    Most likely it’s focused practice of certain shots and patterns which constantly need to be practiced in order for you to stay “sharp”. And that’s “adjusting” type of training.

    It’s what goes on daily for most of the time in every tennis academy.

    The reason why you still weren’t hitting well after the match is most likely because you blamed technique for mistakes and lost trust in your strokes.

    Losing trust in strokes is very bad. Really, really try not to do it.

    It’s almost never the stroke that is the problem as I mentioned above. Solve those causes and your strokes will function well again.

    Reply
Bart January 21, 2015

Hi Tomaz,

Thanks for your advice , you are spot on with your analysis.

I lost faith in my strokes, doubted my technique and was thinking about this during the matches.

My backhand, normally my best shot and hardly one I miss also fell apart, something I never experienced before.

I lost focus, mentally started to fall apart and only when I got angry internally and smacked the balls it started to get better

Thank you again so much,
If only you would live in Australia
A few lessons with you would be amazing

Thanks
Bart

Reply
    Tomaz January 22, 2015

    I lost my backhand once too, Bart. I couldn’t put the ball in the court. So I serve & volleyed and chip & charged so I didn’t have to play backhands except returns.

    I lost closely to a really good player so that’s my comfort. I lost closely without the major stroke. 😉

    Always look for positives. Negativity is very dangerous for tennis…

    Reply
Carlo December 23, 2016

Does repetion and adjusting training work well on a wall or in some kind of self-feeding drills? Do you have any tips?
The problem at the club level ( at least at my club) is that 95% of people have fun only in a match play, no matter how low the technical level is. . What’s important it is to say everybody who beats who!
Pros usually end up giving pearls about technique because they must show they are doing something.
Training by myself would be a big plus to my tennis journey but I don’t want to mess things up. A ball machine is a little too expensive in my opinion.
Any advice would be much appreciated,
Thank you
Carlo

Reply
    Tomaz December 24, 2016

    Hi Carlo,

    Yes, you can do adjusting on the wall but you have to aim at something, that’s the key. Because adjusting is based on aiming at a target and getting the feedback and then adjusting.

    So make sure you have some targets painted on the wall and that you aim at them, then you will be constantly adjusting and improving your accuracy.

    I am aware of the unfortunate fact that 95% of the rec tennis players just want to play for points and that doesn’t improve the technique, at least not to get to the next level.

    So spread the word – as I try to do – about the importance of practicing and eliminating the imperfections of each stroke so that the player can reach new levels of power and control in time.

    Reply
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