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Pete Sampras changed from two-handed backhand to one-handed backhand at the age of 14. Well, yes this is an advance change. One old coach by the name Dr. Fischer suggested him that change. Pete Sampras at the age of 14 and the team around him accepted Dr. Fischer’s experience, advice and wisdom. By the way, his two-handed backhand was doing very well for him. Young Sampras took two years for this change to become part of his game. Numerous losses and no great junior ranking as a result.
– Nick Bollettieri
The Change. This is the most challenging part of the game.
Our changes might not be as drastic as Pete’s example above, but it is a fact that if a child has to go to the next level a change is a must. This change can be in the form of –
1) Adjustment – big or small depends on the child’s game
2) Adding a new thing
However, the transition is challenging. If you are winning even more challenging. Again – why change when things are working well. This is the common thing we hear at times but we need to understand who is saying it, when it is said and what was the overall context.
Well, the legendary coach like Nick Bollettieri who is responsible for making some +ve changes in some pros games states that bringing change is one of the most challenging parts of learning the game.
At our level where we have our children growing up, here is one way it can be done.
When your child faces difficulties during matches, those barriers need to be addressed asap. Some simple but common examples of such barriers are –
1) First serve hits the net too often
2) Return of the second serve is defensive
3) On the run forehand is difficult to return at times
4) Lots of unforced errors when playing on fast surfaces or playing opponents who have more racket speed
There could be more gaps –
5) Misses volleys most of the times
6) Drive volleys mostly goes on net
7) Backhand is not consistent, can’t hit five in a row
8) Key ball (opportunity) attacks go out or go to net
9) Can’t play high balls
10) Sun in eyes makes serving very very tough
And the list can go on and on. We need a keen pair of eyes to record these challenges. And then record the score. And then record the shot selection. These are the challenges. What are the answers to these challenges? More practice can’t be just one high-level answer. Our children are practising more today. Can’t be more than that. What else can we do?
But first, how will you make sure that the correct gap is recognised in the game? The 10 examples above were easy to write for us but is it so easy to understand the exact gaps in your child’s game?
This you need to ask yourself. One obvious way is to learn how to chart the match. Google it and learn it. Then try and chart every match your child plays. Create match reports. Then discuss it with your team in detail. This will help your team. See what they have to say about it and if they are in a position to identify the real gaps (root cause) in your child’s game. You understand that the above 10 examples are the indications of an underlying problem but not the problem itself. They are symptoms. Problem identification is the job of an expert. For instance point 9 above is – “can’t play high balls”. This could be because of a wrong forehand grip. That is identification or the root cause.
Another example – point 5 above states “Misses volleys most of the times” is a problem. Don’t go for volleys unless you are pushed (after picking a drop shot) is a workaround but not an identification of root cause.
Post identification of the root causes your team should come up with a schedule for fixing the gaps. This needs work. A match like situation needs to be created via practice matches or drills etc. Again same example of volleys for instance – encourage the child to come for volleys and now an expert should identify the root cause of it not working. It should be then fixed by training the child and overcome the root cause. Again the new fix needs to be tested by playing practice matches and tournaments. When all this is happening – be prepared for the losses. These frustrations would eventually be the path for improvement. Furthermore, all the good parts of the old game need to be kept intact too.
Sounds like a lot of work? Yes, it is as it requires a tremendous amount of planning and execution too.
In all this, a parent is squeezed in the middle wondering if this continuous improvement is taking place or not OR are our kids just getting trained on the daily basis without anyone realising and thinking about the much-needed change.
Unless you have a full time dedicated travel and personal team, who works with your child 1on1, you need to step in. Is there any other choice?
Think about it.