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Having coached for the best part of 25 years, I would like to think I know what shot you should hit and the reasons why. I get frustrated when players play the wrong shot. But is it wrong, or is it just wrong in my eyes? Is tennis in the eye of the beholder?
I understand percentage tennis and the numbers don’t lie but is it one size fits all or should we talk more about risk v reward and let players make the decision as your level of confidence in your ability to make the shot will often be reflected in the outcome.
I believe we should always encourage our players to play the way they want to play, play with flair, show their personalities, and express themselves on the court through their strokes but have a clear understanding of risk v reward.
I learned a very valuable lesson when I first started coaching. During a squad session, I had some players playing points. One student when pushed out wide on his forehand constantly hit the ball down the line and missed every time.
From the other end of the court, I suggested he defend cross-court to get himself back into the point but time and again the pattern would repeat. When we were picking up tennis balls, I asked him why he kept going for that shot repeatedly having seen the same result time and time again and his reply was simple: “it’s fun!”.
My coaches eye told me he needed to defend the ball, get back into the rally and start again looking for the right ball to attack but in his eyes, he was hoping to get pushed out wide so he could attempt the most audacious shot he could think of and was not concerned of the consequences in the least.
I learned to look at things through the players eyes and realised that whilst he clearly understood the risk factor with this shot, the enjoyment he got in attempting and sometimes succeeding in making it far outweighed winning some points in his weekly squad session.
I have seen many examples over the years of a player not fully committing to a shot in a match and when I asked about the hesitation often the answer would be “I wanted to play a certain shot, but I knew my coach wanted me to play something different”. In the end they would hesitate and not do either and subsequently go on to lose the point and then become upset because they didn’t trust their instincts.
Understanding that not everyone is going to be a professional or have any aspirations of reaching that level, helps us see the game through the player's eye and can help us guide them towards where they feel success for them lies, not where we deem it to be.
If we as coaches, instil a sense of empowerment in our players then I believe this will ultimately lead to them becoming better players who have a sense of ownership of their game and the confidence to execute when it matters but most importantly, we will have players who love playing the game and will continue to play for years to come.
Craig Christopher is a level 3 Tennis Australia, Level 3 High Performance Coach with over 20 years experience.