Winter time tennis coaching in London – It’s minus out here but we’re smiling

The best thing about loving your job is that whatever the environment throws up you adapt!! This week the Winter has been biting hard for us outdoor tennis coaches in London and whilst it never ceases to amaze me how the kids turn up in shorts and T-shirts (only then to realise how blooming freezing it is) we cater, adjust and adapt.

Last night (see photo above) it was a biting cold night but for Matteo and myself. But despite these elements the end of term Friday evening tennis group tournament was as fun as always. The kids bring their warm spirits and love for the game onto court with them and it is infectious. Happy coaches and happy kids is a great formula for any tennis coaching session.

The worst part of being a tennis coach during the winter – sunny sky but frozen tennis courts!

There’s nothing worse than waking to blue skies and sun before realising that the temperature is close to zero. Leaving for work this morning took longer than usual. Not just because putting on five layers of clothing is a chore itself but then waiting in the car for the engine to warm up and defrost the ice enough to drive.

It is a beautiful sparkling sunny day over North London. Finchley was glowing with the frost but i had not anticipated the tennis courts being unplayable. It is the first time this morning and by the time i had WhatsApp’d the morning group they had turned up. Sadly we had to abandon play but not before we tried and agreeing that ice skates are needed!

Rest and Recovery – An essential part of sport and training

As it was my son’s birthday I’ve just had most of the weekend off the tennis court. After a four hour shift of training on Saturday morning I came home, collected my son and we went to the Emirates Stadium in Islington to watch our beloved Arsenal FC. What a treat for us both and whilst it wasn’t the best performance against Huddersfield we managed a 1-0 win. It made me think about the physical endeavours on the Arsenal team (three intense top level matches in 6 days) as showing up on the pitch and thinking about the importance of rest and recovery to help keep the performance levels we would want and hope to achieve.

Feeling refreshed after the change of scenery I can report on the essential inclusion of some rest to aid recovery as a tennis coach and for my tennis players. Including proper downtime off the court, whatever the player’s level is so important. The demands of learning, training, thinking, understanding and processing what is being passed on takes mental energy and this energy can only be found through good eating, rest and having fun off the court!!! Make sure you schedule some in.

Working hard is hard work – but the results are worth it!

Luke

I know that it can be tough to put everything into a training session. It doesn’t matter what your level or in fact what you are doing, if it feels like the energy reserves are low then giving your all is tough.

On the video (highlighted ‘Luke’ at the top) you can see how hard my performance player worked despite the fact it was cold, late at night and he was tired. I set up a set go lines laterally along the baseline and then asked he keep jogging on the spot. The trigger was me calling ‘go’ when he moved to the next space and to the tennis ball. Hard work but he gave it his best and as i always point out learning, changing and ultimately improving is a process but the results will reveal themselves. And when they do boy does it feel good!!

The psychological importance of the coach – player relationship

Last night with our outdoor courts busy for a team match i travelled to a local indoor centre to train. Here i met Luke, who at 16 is doing really well, has a mightily impressive LTA rating, and had just reached the semi-final of his first ever grade 3 (LTA system) tournament.

Due to his exam schedule, bad weather and illness this had been our first training session in three weeks. Afterwards i reflected on how important the session had been. Not just to continue our technical and tactical work but as a chance to ‘catch-up’ on his efforts on the court since we had last met. He had been holding onto all his thoughts, both positive and negative, for these three weeks and was badly in need of letting me know how it had all been going.

This makes me think about the need, in a close relationship, to share and be heard by someone of importance. It is the basic principle of counselling, to externalise something held internally, and in tennis which is perhaps the toughest psychological sport so important.

It was a great session. Not because he played well, in fact he was rusty and physically his fitness had dropped quite a bit through the exam and revision period, but because we were able to reflect together on his efforts and plan the Christmas break tournament schedule he left feeling more positive and looking forward to the future.

High winds over North London – time to practise our volleys!!

No doubt the visit of North Atlantic storms provides testing conditions for our tennis. But when the ball is swirling around I always turn to volley practise to keep things moving in a more controlled manner than the wind. Volley technique requires close attention to the ball we are receiving and in winds where this is highly unpredictable it really reveals the attention being paid to our opponent and technique.

I always have a couple of favourite games and drills fro day’s like today. Taken from my Cardio Tennis training, ‘3 volleys’ across the court allows me to feed balls from near the net to the players who start in a static position before having to move laterally across the tennis court taking volleys as they go. Really highlights the need to move in relation to the tennis ball arriving and not rushing into an anticipated court position. Spacial awareness and footwork is tested but the drill is fun and can be catered to the players physical and technical level in a really useful way.

Open or closed stance? – Coaching dilemma’s and philosophies

There has been a lot of debate for years over how tennis coaches should teach. In particular has been the question of the forehand, forehand grips and stances. Should i teach them the 'open stance' (body facing the net and opponent) or the more traditional 'closed stance' (body turned sideways). More recently has been the 'semi-open' stance, a mixture of the two.

My thought on this question has changed over the years, as has my coaching philosophy because actually i believe the tennis coach should be fluid and dynamic in their approach and deploy a teaching style that suits the individual. The more i work with kids at the beginning of their tennis journey the more i observe their natural penchance to stand 'open stance'. So why not teach and allow them to develop that? Historically a lot of coaching has been to look at the professionals and ask, how does Nadal (or whichever pro) hit and stand, what grip does he use, well if it works for him then it should work for us too. Sorry i just don't agree. As i stated before my philosophy is flexible, i like to analysis and think dynamically and so i will try and help the individual reach their potential with whatever tools (physical and mental) that they possess.

Grey skies over London but sunshine on the tennis court!

Heavy grey winter skies loomed over our tennis club in North Finchley today. But seven hours on court was like little rays of sunshine. The morning started off as usual with the 9-10am teenage yellow ball group. It had been raining hard an hour before play started so numbers were a little low, but it gave a great chance to play whole court singles, winners up losers down. Five minute rounds brought out both the nice friendly side of the group – i don’t know if you’re shot was in but i want to be fair so you have the point – changed to a more competitive atmosphere as the rounds continued. At the end all were happy with their performance and as usual the banter was absolutely great. i always love that group. It may be a long day on court but with a start like that the rest is easy!!

The private lessons saw a combination of ages but recently I have been working on core strength to help open stance forehands. On the aerobic step the guys hit drop feeds. Really useful exercises working on balance and focus on the racket contact point!!

Happy weekend!!

The psychology of tennis – Unlearning habits is so difficult

A great lesson this morning has made me reflect long and hard on the difficulty of unlearning old and sometimes bad habits. Today we were working on Peter’s forehand volley a shot he has always struggled with in matches and regularly brings to our weekly coaching lesson to think about, practise and try to technically change.

As our lessons have progressed I have been able to reflect and realise the difficulty of technically changing the shot versus his desire to ‘put the ball away’ is causing a conflict. His attacking impulse has affected technique as eagerly rushing to the tennis ball often causes timing errors. The result, he has low confidence at the net.
By using a ‘figure of eight’ cone drill. Cones positioned wide enough apart to make Pete think about his recovery and footwork we were able to expose and begin working on slowing him down, and ultimately how this affects volley execution. A work in progress but also a really useful lesson.

Onwards and forwards. Progression and learning something new is a process. Change definitely is not easy or instantaneous and we will keep practising.

Woah winter has arrived – where’s my thermals??

Wow out of nowehere winter has arrived. After the heat of the ATP World Tour final over the weekend and ‘Sasha’ Zverev’s stunning win it was back to outdoor tennis for me.

 

Arrived at the club club yesterday for  coaching yesterday and was met by both Autumn and Winter. Leaves falling from the trees being blown by a freezing wind!! The tennis was great. A couple of private lessons with two teenagers working on the accuracy of receiving the ball and both tactical and technical outcome.

 

Our 6-7.30pm squad rounded up the day. Hard work on the footwork and fitness training followed by point playing drills. Volleyers played points out cross court with no lobs followed by short sets.

 

This morning the forecast says sleet and snow. What the heck?? Where’s my thermals? Time to wrap up and get out there for the morning adult drop in session and keep my gloved fingers crossed that the really dodgy weather holds off!!