Written by Todd Widom
For some of you who follow me on social media, you know I have a passion for golf as well as tennis. I grew up playing golf with my father at six years old and have continued to play for fun. When I retired from the ATP Tour in 2010, I was able to compete with many high-level golf amateurs in my community, which raised my level further. Some of the amateurs played on professional golf tours, so for me to be able to compete with them; I had to improve my skills. This was a chance to see how good I could become and have some fun in competitive games outside of tennis. When I was a child, golf was used as a way to spend some time with my father and to take my mind off tennis.
The basis of this article is to go over what I see all the time from junior tennis players and tennis coaches from a teaching perspective. Has tennis turned into a highly technical sport like golf? I can tell you from experience that when you are playing golf whether you are hitting long shots or short game shots, if you are off by fractions of an inch, you are not going to hit a clean shot and you may be spraying golf balls all over the place. This is not the case in tennis. Tennis is too fast to be thinking about whether this or that is in position properly to produce a solid hit tennis ball. I am seeing all these complicated steps to hit a forehand, backhand, or serve and the other shots in tennis. This merely produces more money for your child’s coach. That is right! Your child is going to go through all these highly technical tennis lessons, the camera may even come out and you can hit balls for the hour trying to perfect a little technique. The next lesson will be the same and so on after that.
I have trained juniors that have been brought up this way by their former coach and I can tell you from experience that the kids look like a bunch of stiff technical robots. Every time they miss a ball they are not sure if it was the angle of their wrist, angle of their head, or even if their right foot pinky toe was pointed correctly. Do you understand my point? Then, when they play a poor match, they come back to their coach and this or that was wrong technically and they go through the whole process again with all these super complex steps to hit a ball. This equated to more money for the coach. What this produces is a dependence on the coach that is unhealthy, because every time they miss hit a ball or something goes wrong, they need a camera and a lesson to fix the issue and it becomes a never-ending cycle of highly complex tennis lessons. This is exactly why I constantly see juniors that have hitchy and stiff strokes. The strokes are not natural and there are way too many thoughts going on in the junior’s brain to be playing tennis when a ball is coming at you at a fast speed.
When I start working with a player that has all these highly technical thoughts, it takes time to retool their brain. You need to teach them how simple the tennis strokes are but what you also must do is make sure they are not dependent on you. If your child cannot think and make corrections on their own, they are not going to have much success playing this great game. It is only them who are going to be able to win and lose on their own.
My tennis upbringing was with highly physical tennis groups and lessons that taught you swings, grips and movement all at once. It was not a salesman type lesson that taught you one certain technique, and then the next lesson the same and so forth. These coaches were killing many birds with one stone, but they also produced champions. The sole goal was not to make a bunch of tennis lesson money, but it was to produce high-level players. The money will come when you are producing great players at a rapid rate and not try to sell a bunch of gimmicks to some uneducated tennis parents.