Customizing player development is comparable to customizing a car for higher performance. Players are unique having different playing styles, athletic DNA, and maturity levels both mentally and emotionally. As coaches, we provide the training atmospheres where players can have the opportunity to customize their game in all these areas. The question then becomes as coaches, do we possess the necessary tools to guide players toward discovery in becoming Champions on and off the court.
So much information about technical skills can be found across social media and I’m hopeful the future of tennis coaching will continue to improve as coaches develop players beyond these necessary technical skills.
Customizing is an acquired art that is developed over time as we explore together the importance of training not only the body and mind, but the soul of learning to be “players” of the game, not just “hitters”. Discovering how to guide players in playing the game is what causes the player to “come alive” on and off the court. There tends to be a perpetual tendency of placing too much attention on perfecting technique instead of learning and loving to “play” the game and enjoy our time on court. As coaches, are we giving space to this discovery? If so, we are well on our way to guiding players on their journey to loving and playing the game for a lifetime.
Less than 1% of junior players will play college tennis, and less than .005% of those college players will have a chance to play at the ATP/WTA/Challenger Tour level. As tennis coaches across the US and the globe, how do we preserve this perspective when guiding a player towards customizing their game?
The idea of customizing a player’s game is very similar to customizing a car for performance. I’m a big car guy and every since I purchased my first car at age 16, I’ve customized all of them in some way. Never satisfied with just the way the car was when I bought it. I had to find the style, the personality of the car and thus I had to discover what I wanted the car to be.
The first step in guiding a player to discover how to customize their game is: What are their reasons for playing tennis? This answer will reveal what kind of “engine” is under the hood. The engine is the heart of the car. What is the player’s driving force, what’s in their heart, how much power and “drive” to succeed is already innately in them? Now, engines can be customized for sure to high performance – at the same time – the “kind” of engine in the beginning will tell you as a coach whether there are going to be inspiring adjustments, an engine rebuild, or total replacement to a larger block. When it comes to a player repurposing their reasons to play tennis, as a coach you can make or break the situation. Spending time discussing, observing, and guiding a player’s purpose for play in a creative, purposeful training atmosphere is the beginning of customization to performance.
After discovering what kind of engine (purpose) the player possesses, customization can begin. Physical training (fuel) has to be addressed as a major factor in performance. It’s crucial to understand the physical attributes of a player at different developmental ages when moving forward to customizing movement skills, technical skills, and emotional/mental development. The proper fuel for the engine is vital to performance, what a player eats and drinks, how they train physically, and the emotional and mental training atmosphere provided by parents and coaches, will determine power to the engine (purpose of playing) for the player.
Higher performance will depend on the suspension of the car. If you’re customizing a sports car to perform at a high level, the suspension has to include performance parts. A player’s balance, agility, quickness and speed – their ability to accelerate and decelerate while maintaining a solid foundation will depend heavily on promoting physical strength. The strength of a player’s ankles, legs, hips, trunk(core), and shoulders make up their “suspension”. When and how often to train when fine tuning the suspension is vital to maintain performance and manage injury prevention. Performance cars must have performance brakes, the suspension has to support the torque of the engine at acceleration.
A performance car must have periods of rest and recovery. Fine tuning your game as a player, modifications with the computer (mental skills) by improving and automating tactical patterns to increase efficiency. Players need physical rest between competitions and training – proper inspections of the suspension of a performance car will ensure peak performance in the next competition or race.
Aerodynamics are key to a performance car’s ability to handle the curves of a track, the car will maintain its stability if modified lower to the ground for better handling at high speeds. A player will develop a lower center of gravity by dropping the hips to produce a solid athletic stance. Movement will be fluid when the head remains still throughout the point of contact and finishing stage of the shot. These attributes will yield a high performance aerodynamic player.
Of course, you can’t ignore the aesthetics of a car or an athlete. The type, condition of tennis shoes needs to perform at optimal levels based on the court surface being played. Performance wheels and tires, width and mass, must be taken into consideration to match the suspension of the car. Elite equipment can be the difference between optimal and mediocre performance on court during a match. The proper tension and string material, racquet weight and balance, light weighted and breathable clothing can enhance aerodynamics and feel when playing.
Many considerations should be taken into account as to how much customization can be achieved with a certain car type, the body, engine, suspension, and aesthetics. Same with tennis athletes, what type of physical capabilities do they presently possess, what are the possibilities for future growth and maturity? Mental and emotional potential? Training environment? A visionary coach guides a player through a customized discovery process to determine what playing style fits the player’s personality and potential. Whether the player’s desire is to play at the highest performance level like the ATP/WTA Tours, College, High School or play the sport recreational for a lifetime – customization is personal and individual attention is the key to optimizing success.