Technology: You Don’t Always Have to Plug It In.

I wish I had more time to watch TV, but I don’t. A great show on public television, that had a huge influence on my way of thought was Connections, a 10 part documentary series that showed the development of technology over time leading to modern scientific breakthroughs, thus illuminating the genius technology that occurred before electricity. Recently a coach asked on a public forum if there was an app that could easily track attendance month to month for a student, and I suggested a clip board with a printed spreadsheet. My sarcastic response got some likes, but I wasn’t just joking. In our search for more, bigger and faster solutions, we sometimes leave the power of the obvious.

Phases of Training

As we drill down deeper into planning, taking it out of the big picture of Preparation, Pre-Competitive, Competitive and Active Rest into examples of what would happen on a certain day we are met with one of the ancient technologies: The Calendar!  Sometimes the very best and easiest way to draft out the details of the daily schedule is with paper and pencil.  Writing and erasing sometimes is much better than typing and deleting. While those over the age of 50 are likely to remember the days before computers, those below the age of 30 probably find it hard to remember the days before cell phones, and/or what life was like before SmartPhones, and may find themselves asking “Is there an app for that?”, or stating “I wish there was an app for that.”

Pardon the lengthy introduction, so now let’s get into the daily planning. We have purposely left out any daily plans for the Preparation Phase and you will discover why if you read last weeks blog. If you are just picking up this series this week, we urge you to start at a seminal point in development at the first in this series.

Looking below you will see four sample days from Bill, followed by three sample days from Styrling. Cryptic notes are easy to follow when you have the full plan completely written out, and/or your team knows the routine. Notice the difference in style of presentation…

Example One   Pre-Competition Phase Practice

2:15pm  Practice Begins because school had not started yet.

Warm Up is 15 minutes

2:30pm Players are assigned courts and either work on Loops and Angles, or doing the transition challenge.

2:55pm It’s not written but we will take a short break for water and explain the next segment.

3:00pm A quick 15 minute segment of poaching to build the habit, with a diagram showing diagonal movement.

3:15pm All Players Lob and Overhead for 7 minutes each.

3:30pm An intense bout of exercise. Previously we had not done 15 sprints. I can explain side sprints if you like.

3:55pm a full five minute rest after sprinting.

4:00pm Kamikaze is a doubles game where the net person must attempt to touch the first shot from the returner. If they do, then they cannot lose the point.  If they make an error on the volley the point is replayed.  A regular set can be played or just 4 service games to allow each player to be the net person.  Variations: Serving team can have a bonus point for net person making first volley, or return team can get a bonus point for net player failing to touch the ball. (I said I would explain below, but really I am explaining above)

4:30 Cupcake is fully explained in my book. Three groundstrokers hit big forehands at three net players. The game goes to five. If the groundstrokes win they become champions, run to the other side for volleys. If the volleyers win, then a new team of three groundstrokers comes into the game. For the sake of space here, let me know if you want the full rules.  Three players on each side make spaces to volley smaller, and places to pass smaller, creating a challenge of precise placement.  It’s a fun large group game.

4:45 Practice ends.  It was a long practice, because school had not started yet.

One Pre-Comp Day

Example Two Pre-Competition Phase Practice.

2:00pm Practice Begins  with a low movement drill, no running, no stretching, but a low stress activity.

2:15pm X-files is a short court game played crosscourt, and balls cross each other from two games on one court.

Works short angle shots and concentration due to another pair on the same court.

2:30pm An intense bout of exercise. This one more explosive than the one before.

2:55pm a full 5 minute break.

3:00pm S/R – Serves and Returns  for 30 full minutes.  6 players per court, two servers for every one returner. Servers take turns serving two balls to the returner who gets more continuous practice while servers learn to slow themselves down to a more realistic speed. Every 10 minute (9, to allow a minute of walking), rotate, each player should get 20 minutes of serving and a slower pace with 10 minutes of returning.  As the season progresses this becomes 21 minutes, then 15.

3:30pm Players assigned to courts and have specific challenges bases on singles, doubles, and skill level.  This is where a lot of magic can happen if we give them good challenges.  Beginner players can get stroke work. Singles players will play challenge sets for the ladder.  Doubles teams play one bounce doubles, and others have a stroke to work on.

4:00pm  Singles players have a challenging footwork skill to develop. All other players work on lobs and overheads.

4:30pm  Game:  Stations, where the first shot must be a lob or overhead.  Game: Cupcake for dessert?

5:00pm  Practice ends.  Rarely do we have 3 hour practices.

Two Pre-Compete Day

Example Three – Rainy Day Plan

It’s great if you can secure a classroom or some gym space.  If you can play in the gym. I have a lot of fun ideas.  Most commonly you can get into a classroom to do a light warm up and some stretching.  Maybe there is enough room to throw some medicine balls around and do some fast feet or other burst training.  If not, having a fun discussion of strategy starting with having players summarize what they know about strategy for singles and doubles. When you can then ask a question that they don’t know the answer to, then you can work with player’s natural curiosity to deepen their understanding.

Making everything into a game by choosing teams and having a great quiz show makes or a really fun experience.  You can give prizes like overgrips or a pre-approved energy bar, but make sure players don’t have allergies to any of the ingredients.  A great thing to do is to split strategy into two categories one for singles and one for doubles.

Rainy Day Plan.jpg

Example Four An Easy Rest Day.

A day like this is VITAL to the success of your team.  Players get very stressed out after a very tough competitive phase against top competition and league rivals. Give them a day to rest recuperate and be together having fun no matter if they win or lose.  Let the players choose the games and play them in reverse order.  I have had players say they want to skip the practice because they don’t feel like its a valuable experience.  Sadly, some players have been programmed not to have fun. I find this to be a vital time of team bonding, and enjoyment that leads to a lot of great morale so that when the chips are down, the players realize that it’s really supposed to be a fun time. A couple times during my career players have asked if we could have a normal practice because we did not play well enough in our competition phase, we did not have much hope of going to the post season, and they wanted to perform better in the final round of competitive phase, only once did I grant this wish completely.

3:30pm 15 minute dynamic warm up.

3:45pm a quick recap of the competitive phase, successes and lessons learned

3:55pm  Vote for games to play

4:00pm  Game #4 Player’s Choice

4:15pm  Water Break  Jokes, Grunting Contest

4:20pm  Game #3 Players Choice

4:40pm  Water Break Story Telling

4:45pm  Game #2 Players Choice

5:05pm  Game #1

5:30pm  Practice Ends.

(no image)

Here are three examples from Styrling

Pre-Comp Practice 1

Competitive Practice 1

After seeing these your reactions may run the gamut.  Some of you are loving my chicken scratch, because you like I am tired of coaches who are so anal retentive all the time.  Let me reassure you that just because the writing is sloppy doesn’t mean I don’t run an airtight practice, but also won that has space for fun and getting to know each other.  Others may have lost respect for me and now are loving Styrling’s approach.  There have to be some people in the middle. What you can see here though are two distinctly different styles of presentation on paper, but the same amount of organization, although with different amounts of time allotted to each item.

As always we welcome your questions and feedback.  Coming at the end of July we are going to have a one day sale on Lifetime membership to USATennisCoach, LLC and a one week sale on your first certification with us.


Bill Patton, Executive Director is the Author of The Art of Coaching High School Tennis and Visual Training for Tennis.

Styrling Strother’s  Book    7 On Court Strategies to Enter Your Play State was released July, 2017


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