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Putting Players in Boxes

The philosophy of creating opportunity and possibility to allow players to explore the game from many situations is not only, governed by the coach or facilitators ability to create the environment for this to occur but also the open mindedness and the willing of the players.  I now refer to this thanks to a good friend in football “Acceptance” (Mariman). Acceptance runs wider than players and extends to parents and coaches within the team and possibly the committees and owners of the clubs.  In this context it refers to players unless otherwise stated.

From the very beginning young children begin to develop awareness of their surroundings, actions of others and formulate perceptions of these things and in many cases these perceptions are grossly misplaced.  As a coach, it is not possible to consider a particular child in every situation that they experience in their life, but it is possible to consider their journey in tennis.

The expression “putting players in boxes” is one that is used to describe a closed mind or a mind that is less open than not being in a box.  Without venturing around a Socratic reasoning loop I am going to suggest that everyone is in some kind of box but the size of the box and whether it has ways to enter and exit the box are where they differ.

I believe that true development routes itself in the box being as large as possible, full of experiences both positive and negative and that it is ever expanding, as new possibilities and opportunities present themselves and are experienced.  This is particularly true and relevant for players U12 including mini tennis and only post then do players begin to specialise more with their game style.

I heard recently that personality begins to solidify itself during puberty.  Given this, a player’s personality must be made up of all past experiences, positive and negative and also include routes taken, via decisions made, during situations where opportunity and possibility were possibly possible.  The outcomes of these experiences are what make players the players they are.  Therefore in order to develop a player beyond the current is to simply create the opportunity and possibility to experience something new and potentially improved, and for the player to reason as to whether they see the future possibility and opportunity in order to allow themselves to persevere.

As a side note, this philosophy can extend to the complete game of tennis to from the physical (physical considers the management and usage of one’s body and does not refer to “fitness” or “conditioning”) to the higher order strategies.

To illustrate some examples of some areas where players can be put in boxes that restrict the development of their personality and therefore tennis may illuminate the philosophy and the thinking previous.

Example 1 – A player who has achieved competition success at a young age.

In our club we are fortunate to have facilitated the development of a young girl (11 years old) who in the later stages of mini tennis (green) earned the right to enter and be accepted into Grade 2 (National) events.  Since transitioning into the full ball (yellow) age groups she has also had recent success.

Due to this success she is reluctant in training (group) to experience new possibilities that are created due to a suspected fear of losing as the new situation is out of her comfort zone and something that she doesn’t necessarily need or use in her current matches.  In addition to losing there is more to it than that in that the children she could lose to could use their success to elevate their confidence and reduce that of the girl in question.

The theme of the session was to use the forehand from as many positions on the court as deemed appropriate as it was decided collectively that the forehand does and would be in the future a weapon and possibly the overriding strength.  Therefore it made sense to consider where we could exploit the fact that we have a weapon.  It was also agreed that it is acceptable to hit a forehand from the backhand side of the court both down the line (inside in) or cross court (inside out).  Inside out was favourable due to error margins, and importantly the recovery position being closer to the player than if they went inside in.

Simply players were asked to play points with a scoring system that rewarded shots that win (as opposed to winning shots) i.e forehands from the backhand side are worth more points and forehands from anywhere else are worth more points than the conventional 1.

Back to the girl previously mentioned.  It was noticed that she would rarely take any “risk” or exploit a potential opportunity to attempt to score more points but was content ignoring the game and play as she would a match.  This was primarily, one suspect’s, due to the winning and losing part of point play but of course this defeated the objective of developing and expanding the player’s opportunities. When asked, she made the statements that

“I can’t do that shot”

“I don’t use it when I play”

“I always lose when I try it”

“I don’t know if the pro’s do it”

Is this player in a box? YES! A box that does not allow new experiences to enter and also blocks the possibilities that may or may not be useful.  How is she to know whether this is useful to her if she never experiences it to the fullest?

The box unfortunately in this case is cast iron.  The statements she made suggest that she is not even open to recognising that there may be some merit in what the exercise is suggesting and so the practice itself is completely useless.

I would suggest that the fact that it is currently not in use in her match play is what is preventing her from accepting.  Without this buy in there is no moving forward.  The solution therefore is to open her mind up to its possibility.  This can be done by showing professionals doing it, showing her peer group doing it (if possible), demonstrating the merits on the court in a more comfortable environment such as an individual lesson and possibly providing strategies to cope mentally with the negative perception of failure when in fact it is developmentally positive.


Example 2 – Closed drills with no open play

Every type of drill has its place if the purpose and the context are understood and agreed.   Where there is no relation to the actual game is where the drill is just a drill and nothing else.  In my mind the purpose of practicing something is to then put it into the game where it is appropriate or at least have the possibility of using it in the game if the opportunity arises.

Some drills, however, are there to support another drill which in turn translates to the game.  For example, a volley to volley practice could be designed to improve hand skills that in turn will allow greater possibility when approaching the net which will be used as a strategy to win points in the game. The question is does the player understand this?

One thing that I advocate around the club (to those that are prepared to hear what I have to say, which incidentally in most cases I am prepared to listen to them) is that where possible drills should be designed with the game in mind and therefore should take place at the relevant positions on the court.  This may seem obvious and I am happy if it does.  As an example take a practice that is fed out of the basket that works on hitting rally balls to keep the opponent in a neutral position behind the baseline. The key parts are where is the player standing? Where is the coach feeding from and what constitutes success.  Depending on age and state and there are court dimensions defined.  Let’s take an orange court.  This for me does not mean that the player stands on the baseline or in some cases inside the baseline closer to the service line.  For me the sign of a good quality orange player is one who can rally from between the orange baseline and the real baseline (i.e. a step or two back from the orange baseline).  In a purist mind, there is no logic in a player practicing rally from the service line (unless for a warm up or a support drill) as this is not the appropriate position.  At some point in the practice the player must experience rallying from the correct position and have it confirmed that this is the goal of the development (if they can’t already do it).  In summary, the context must be correct!

If the player is finding it difficult then the coach employ’s various strategies to aid the player in achieving this goal.  The beauty is that the player has experienced what is required and has the choice to strive towards it.  If the player was never to experience rallying from this position they will be unaware that it exists and of course all the physical, technical requirements to achieve from this position rendering them a bit useless when this situation undoubtedly presents itself.

The same could be true about drills such as “2 cross 1 line”.  A player would become competent at this pattern but may be placed in the box of “2 cross 1 line” and not ever expand into other possibilities.  Is it unheard of to play line first?  If it was then I personally, would never have done anything in tennis. Within “2 cross 1 line” I ask myself the question what constitutes cross and what constitutes line?  Is it not true that there are many ways to achieve this pattern and ultimately doesn’t the choice to go down the line depend on player’s decision to do so?  In addition, shouldn’t players make decisions out of their own curiosity and evaluate the success or possible future success?

Closed practices in themselves run the risk of placing players in boxes that dampen creativity, personality and development.  Variation, context and experimentation make a seemingly closed practice more “open” and of more interest in a curios mind that is that of a child.

There are probably other examples of ways to put players in boxes and I leave some thoughts behind,

  1. Does teaching to the test (for example maths) put a person in a box rather than prepare for real use?
  2. Is this what the talent id tests do?
  3. Is this what the competition structure does?
  4. Do parents and coaches get sucked into these schemes?
  5. Would we better off with less structure and more freedom at younger ages?

My philosophy is one of growth through experience and my job is to create learning possibilities and opportunities within the game of tennis.  This extends into the world of biomechanics providing opportunity for the body and subsequent techniques providing possibility for tactics and tactics possibility for strategy.  All of which can work in reverse to aid understanding.  Open play and conditioned, themed play are integral for players to try and experiment thus creating new possibilities and opportunities.  These new possibilities and opportunities that are currently their learning are experienced in conjunction with expressing their inner personality and growing as complete person.  It provides focus and desire to learn the new skills that are required to succeed in the new situations.  This will only lead to more opportunity and possibility and a more complete experience and development of the player.





First of all you read the title right! FC Barcelona in the UK offering coaching?  A friend of mine was taking his child along so I couldn’t pass the opportunity to observe the worlds greatest team’s coaching methodology!

The first thing I noticed was the coaches manner, personality, delivery, teaching ability, whatever you want to call it there was serious command for their space and the children are in line.  Even the “liveliest”  of kids were snapped into line and ready to work.   The question is though is this because it is Barcelona or is the respect and authority achievable by all coaches?  Either way it was there!  At one point a coach explained the drill and then added on the end that he did not want to see certain behaviour as it was disrespectful to each other as team mates and developing players.  A philosophy built on moral values!

Each session started with a warm up but not as one may think.  The Barcelona way demands the ball as the main “actor” and must be present in everything that is done.  Warm up with the ball, rest with the ball, work on acceleration…with the ball.  Interestingly the warm up consisted of all the ABC’s etc but was specific to the theme of the day.  Also it lasted about 20-25 minutes with short drinks breaks between progressive exercises.

The main content was delivered in an hour session with only 2 distinct drills being set up.  This suits me as the children never left the theme of the day whilst also there was enough “openness” in the drills to close down various teaching points. Interestingly this allows the drill to be personalised where there was difference in ability at certain points of the drill.

The second half of the morning consisted of a similar warm up followed by very open games with a barrel of rules to abide by that were there to promote the theme of the day.  There was some form of scoring system (not always about the ball going in the goal) and the children were engaged with achieving the game.

During games, drills, warm ups coaches observed like hawks constantly intervening and stopping the activities to explain, reinforce, correct and improve the players.

Overall I think the most outstanding part was the communication of the coaches.  The Spanish coaches were firm but fair and demanded discipline but did it in such a way that the children responded and worked at every task set.  I spoke with one of the coaches who told me that when he keeps on top of the discipline the children think freely about football and the task.  If the coaches don’t get on top of the discipline the children think freely….NOT about football.

Generally the expectations are high but, and this is hard to explain, it wasn’t about how good the drill looked.  Sometimes the drills were difficult and the children weren’t able to do it all perfectly.  I know some coaches who would not like this and regress thinking that the children need total success.  Here the children were praised for aspects of the drill that they did well in context.  Interestingly a seemingly good pass was not praised as it did not fit into the context of the drill and therefore deemed incorrect.  In another example a player dribbled around 5 players and scored.  This was met with a sharp scolding as the drill was to pass and move and the team need 5 passes in order to score.

Due to the fact that there were only 2 drills in the session the players had time to access the drill and improve their performance and understanding along with the constant intervening by the coaches.

Another example of intervening was in a drill where the theme was “dribbling”.  Now, there was a passing and shooting in this drill also but after a while the coach intervened.  He wasn’t happy with the way the players were accelerating once they had dropped the shoulder to take on the player.  All a bit slow.  So he demoed and gave example and clarity to the children.  He could of picked anything in this drill really but the theme is the theme and this is what he observed as important.  Players re focussed and progressed in the drill.

The methodology seems complete in that it covers the 4 performance factors and in every drill there is purpose relating to a theme.  there are a handful of teaching points available within the drills that coaches can emphasise to the complete group or personalise to individuals.

For obvious reasons I think that this is not the complete picture as there was talk about “functional movement” something that if tailored correctly could really enhance the capability of the players in performing some of the drills.  I am sure that there are elements to the development in Barcelona that is not exported but frankly I am not sure the UK can handle all of it at once.

As I write these random thoughts and observations I keep remembering one single word that shapes the reason why Barcelona are Barcelona.  This word is PHILOSOPHY.  Barcelona create players to play the Barcelona way.  There is no movement away from the Barcelona way and it suits the players that play for Barcelona.  They are humble about their way and method but do not see any other way…and why should they.  They are open to sense and logic which probably is already in their method.  In my tennis experience there is lacking of individual philosophy and even worse when it is dictated to coaches from the top (LTA).  A philosophy should be based on your own thinking, logic and it also needs time to grow and develop.  Be under no illusion that Barcelona are not constantly striving to improve their philosophy and method but it has to suit them and it has to make sense.  From U10 to pro Barcelona teach their way and as they put it, it reduces the confusion for the young players.

The other word that appears twice in the above paragraph is SENSE.  This is a word I heard a few times and again in conversations.  Everything that is done has purpose and the players try to execute with sense.  There is some reason to everything no matter how fine.  As I mentioned before, things that make no sense in the context of the drills are not praised no matter how good the outcome might be.  This is because in the context it makes no sense at all.  Dribble around 5 players when you are supposed to pass two yards.  Makes no sense and in the end this cannot help develop the player.  Sense and understanding seemed to be key and then practice this sense and understanding and become better.

The drills and games seem to be few (similar in spanish tennis) but teaching is abundant.  Clear techniques, tactics and requirements allow the players to grow, develop and become well rounded players.  SIMPLES!

If you have read this far you won’t mind one more little interesting point…..

Some of the coaches have limited English (I even spoke to them in Spanish) and I have begun to think of language as being an issue. The instructions given by the foreign coaches in English were short, concise and easy to comprehend.   Since I have been learning Spanish I have found when translating  material from Spanish to English how simple the language is in terms of being able to understand what is being said.  I put my hands up here that when coaching I have sometimes gone into too much detail and elaborated topics when there is no need.  Children require simple language with simple requests for easy understanding.  Again another “simple”!

Un abrazo





WOW! What a great effort so far from team GB.  Although there are some questions that are arising and some interesting debates on how did this happen and what are we to do to maintain and grow this success?

Are we just a sitting down country?  Surely not. And we can build on the successes of Ennis, the boxers and even the gymnasts who put in a historic performance.  There is a slight “British” feeling of we just take part in some of the events as we celebrate coming 13th and the like and although an improvement (I think), is it enough of an improvement given the time scales?

Anyway, this is where we are and so what are the plans for the future? We need to be careful now as the legacy of the Sydney games is seeing the Australians struggle.  Clearly the investments in cycling has paid off along with good coaching and good athletes and we are still dominant in rowing.  The thing that has stood out for me is that in some of these events, the athletes have only been participating for short time spans (last 4 years for example) and this says something about the sports requirements, does it not? There was a track athlete (I forget his name and the event) but he stated in his post race interview that he had been on the lash for the last 2 years and only begun to work hard for 6 months prior to the event.  Not a great training model but again only 6 months to get to Olympic standard?  It is interesting as Andy Murray dedicated his entire life to winning his gold medal.

On 5 Live just the cycling director was asked how to get young people in the sport or any sport and once again I forget his answer.  This is because I drifted into thinking that young people don’t need to be in cycling as one can be Olympic standard in a short space of time.  This however assumes that the person is a strong, well-rounded athlete with the mentality of such a sport (one which I don’t possess).  However, I am not sure this could be said about a skill sport like tennis.  The development pathway for a young person (starting in primary school) suggests Athlete before sportsman/women and this is where possible we are missing a trick.  This model is somewhat unproven and difficult to follow logically in a technical sport such as tennis but, having said that, I believe that physical competence only helps develop technical skills and that the rate of skill development is and can be sometimes too quick at the expense of training other attributes required in the sport.

Now following on from “Athlete first” as a model of developing people to participate and ultimately compete at the highest level they are capable of, one must look at what goes on in schools.  There is no hiding from this! I don’t believe there is a need for 5 hours nor do I believe “sport” is the answer.  This might seem odd..but wait

Why do children do “extra curricular” activities?  Isn’t it because the schools can’t offer expert teaching, time and resources in some of these activities so one must source them outside of school?   Also since they are not done in school, it makes the attractive?  I understand that this is not possible for everyone but one must consider what the purpose of school is and prioritise.  Maybe there needs to be sports provisions in ADDITION to the curriculum.

Now I firmly believe SOME physical activity must go on and I also believe it needs to be delivered correctly (by qualified teachers who can teach children + have the extensive knowledge of athletic development).  There is an issue of P.E teachers who don’t have a high enough level of knowledge but are great teachers of the information they do have, and Coaches who are terrible teachers but have the knowledge.  A combination seems logical!

In terms of the hours, I think that 2 per week should be sufficient, providing quality and content are the primary concerns.  When I say 2, I mean 2, not 45 mins because it took 15 minutes to get changed and put trainers on the right feet, stand in a line with fingers on lips and take the register.

In summary,

  • Athletes first – Sports later
  • Quality delivers – TEACHERS with knowledge!
  • 2 solid hours per week
  • Athletic Development Curriculum – (movement – function, agility, speed, control, balance etc  coordination, sending/receiving, etc)
  • Provisions for sports (after school clubs, additional “games” lessons)

Is this impossible?  Will it cost that much more to educate current teachers or train new ones and have the dedicated within schools?  That sort of job sounds good to me and I would do it and do it well!

We could call it Athletic Development Co ordinator (lol)

I think that we have to run with the passion and success of the Olympics and allow those educators with passion for developing young people become the vehicle to future success (in sports and health and life).




Hotspot Response system

Hotspot response is a sensor based fitness training aid suitable for use by all in sport and fitness.  It can be seen as a “game” by young users, used to measure specific aspects of movement by coaches and athletes or simply provide a fun and interactive means of getting moving and improving fitness levels.

Up until now reaction trainers have been static but with Response™ you not only react to the lights but also move to the correct coloured spot on the ground. Activate with hand or foot for truly versatile training. Simply move a dot or two to create a new exercise challenge!

The reaction now has purpose and the movement itself can also be trained.

Whilst static systems do train hand eye co-ordination and reaction, they are limited in relevance in sport by there being no requirement to move.  With Response™ the coloured lights on the base are merely the initiator – it is the following movement that really makes the system so game specific. The coloured spots can be placed in any position or pattern to create many variations of exercise. Have them close together for fast feet and positioning skills or spaced out for movement dynamics and fitness work.

Response – React then Act – Reaction Training How it Was Meant to Be.


The Hotspot Response consists of 4 individually coloured sensors (red, blue, yellow, green) and a base unit.  It has 4 modes of operation, rsp1-4, each with its own functionality and use.  See descriptions in the image below!

Response mode descriptions

Hotspot Response can be used in a wide range of exercises with a whole host of progressions!

Response Exericses

Tactical Movement is a concept that encompasses all of the 4 performance factors and their linkage in particular the limiting effects of each factor on the overall desired outcome and development goal.  It is a holistic approach to player development putting tactical and physical “contextual” competency at the heart fuelling technical and mental development for a rounded a competent tennis player.

The article recently posted entitled Tactical Movement, I admit was a bit on the long side.  It was a few month process to write and it will become central to the Tactical Movement Workshop I am putting together (rough outline is at the bottom of this article should you be interested).  The aim of this post is to bring out the key messages from the article that form the basis of the thinking behind tactical movement.

Limitation Model,

The limitation model states that the tactical intention governs the requirements technically and physically.  Mentally a player must understand the overall process and the application of the techniques (both racket and physical) and also relate the practices and drills to achieving the tactical intention. Since the mind governs the body the understanding and application limits the technical response to the tactical outcome.  underpinning technique is bio mechanical fluidity and within technique comes footwork and movement patterns that are best suited to the tactical intention.

Therefore there is a requirement to develop physical “contextual” competence that includes footwork, movement and body function in conjunction with racket skills with the overall outcome of a tactical desire.  Within coaching, there must be intervention that addresses this area.

360 approach

The 360 approach calls for attention to be paid to developing footwork and movement patterns to support technical and tactical requirements.

Through a complete sequence of execution from initiation to recovery a player’s body function capability is the limiting factor in what is possible.  Professional players do what they do because they can and even they can and will do it better with improved body function.  In a coaching environment, working with developing players, development can occur if the players body can do what it is being asked to and hence the degree at which they can do it increases.

Quality Factor

In striving for the best quality players must be challenged and taught effective means to push the quality factor.  The body limitations, positioning, court coverage, footwork application and recovery will directly impact the quality factor.

Movement and Footwork

Movement and footwork have a tactical relationship with the game and can be developed and progressed.  Players can be taught how to cover court effectively, which footwork steps to apply when and appropriate recovery within situations.  Further more each of these areas can be broken down and developed from static function of the body to dynamic implementation with the ball. As one may break down the forehand cross court and one can also develop the function of the body to aid in this stroke and furthermore consider the ways of reaching the stroke and recovering from it.  Depending on the situation will depend on the requirement of the body, footwork and movement.

What is coming…

In the coming months my aim is to produce and re visit articles that tie this concept up into a deliverable.  From theory to practical exercises and drills to facilitate the development of young players (primarily in U10 mini tennis) but also applicable to older performance players.

A rough outline could be

  • Limitation model
  • Movement concepts (flight, move in balance, fluid move – Action Zone)
  • Emergencies and opportunities (coping and exploiting)
  • Holistic approach, exploiting comfort zones, exploration and growth within coaching
  • Application/handling Pressure (importance of movement and footwork and court coverage)
  • Technique is movement
  • Basic bio-mechanics and functions of the body (general and tennis related)
  • Tactical Movement (Pro analysis, U10 mini tennis)
  • Practical development of Tactical Movement (static/dynamic exercise, footwork development, progressions to ball)


Thanks for reading




Hi All,  Firstly to those who read Tactical Movement thank you and thank you for the great feedback also.  I have written this as post publishing Tactical Movement as some interesting thoughts came up and I wanted to share this mind field with you all.  Enjoy!

Applying Pressure Vs. Defend/Rally/Attack

I am sure that many coaches have done some variation of the “defend, attack and rally” drill and the purpose of this is not to dispel its use but to offer some thoughts as to ways to make the best out of it.

I have used this exercise from a player perspective, i.e. the player who is choosing to rally, attack or defend and also where from the opponent perspective where the player considers what his/her opponent is doing.

With young players the wording and their connotations have caused me a few issues along the way.  The word attack is the primary offender as to very young players they associate this with ball speed.  Attacking tennis must be played hitting the ball faster, and in many cases causing errors and quite drastic ones at that after all the work they have put in to create this “attacking” opportunity.  Similarly defending is considered to be slower than rally and that rally is medium, again all related to ball speed.

Rally by definition is a ball that keeps the opponent in a neutral position, ideally preventing “attacking” options and also not requiring any defensive mechanisms.  This suggests that two players can rally from neutral positions and that the ability to rally from many positions on the court, providing they maintain the opponent neutral is also rally.  As the competency of rally grows we end up with professional players rallying at extremely high levels which can be perceived as attacking play but really it is rally, just they are good at it.

With younger players there is obviously a wider rally potential and that the match up of players where one player rallies the other defends or a rally ball from one player is seen as an opportunity to attack, meaning that they are not rally balls at all.

This leads me to thinking that the desire for high quality rally balls is of great importance and not from single position but from all over the court (to include rallying on the move).

Time and Space

Tennis is really a game of time and space and controlling both parameters.   These two parameters appear in varying situations.

  1. The time available for a player to manage the space in which they must move and execute
  2. The time and space required to effectively recover
  3. The effect of this on the opponent


Hitting into a space causes the opponent to have to manage a distance (space) in a certain amount of time.  If the space and time is managed well by effective reaction, court coverage and selected footwork then the player will be able to execute an effective shot maintaining rally.   If not then the player must adopt defensive techniques in order to solve the problem of lack of space and time.  The player must be able to create suitable time to recover.  Depending on the management of space and time the player will be able to exploit the space and time of the opponent who will have to manage their space and time to counter.

A player will be comfortable rallying in certain situations and at a certain level and will also have a programmed view on when it is possible to attack and similarly when to defend.  However, player’s choices of these may be contrary to our views.   A player may choose to defend when in fact they could rally and hit a more effective shot given that they had or could have the physical and technical competencies to support this new tactical desire.

There are times in a game where a player will utilise varying ball speeds, spins, flights etc in order to manage their space and time and also to have some impact on the opponent’s space and time.  All degrees of these can be used in any of the three situations although some will be more desirable than others. This is where pre conceived understanding of rally, attack and defend can cause problems.

In essence a player will resort to defending when they feel it is necessary and similarly attack.  It is worth considering whether when a player resorts to defence the player could rally and that surely the player would want to rally before defend where possible.  Also in considering attacking there are more options than just increasing ball speed.

The Pressure Scale

I have thought about using a pressure scale as opposed to Attack, Rally, and Defend in order to encompass more options within play.  In an ideal rally situation both players are 50/50 in pressure and arguably at zero pressure (or the centre of the scale).  A player can apply a pressure in numerous ways by exploiting the opponent’s space and time using a variety of ball speeds, spin, flight, direction etc.

In any instance a certain amount of pressure is applied to the opponent (simply because they now have to deal with and execute their tactics).  In rally the opponent’s goal is to play a shot that keeps the opponent neutral and hence brings their pressure back to 0.  The opponent will want to manage the space and time by covering court efficiently and within the given time frame created by the oncoming ball, apply a footwork pattern to firstly execute and secondly allow recovery, play a shot that allows appropriate recovery and cover the said court again efficiently.

Both players have fluctuated up and down the pressure by applying and feeling pressure.  There has been no need to defend and no player has been able to attack?  Simply pressure has been applied and managed.

Controlling points

Through the application and management of pressure which links seamlessly to the management of space and time which is underpinned by effective tactical movement players can understand how they can control points.

Points are constructed by searching for ways to increase the application of pressure.  When serving, there is chance for the server to apply pressure from the outset.  The returner aims to neutralise and the players will be somewhere on the pressure scale post these shots.  When both players are at the back of the court players will look to construct a point by testing the opponent’s space and time and when appropriate apply more pressure.  This could be through repeated shots to a weakness, playing the ball side to side, injecting pace, using angles and a whole lot more.

This suggests an overwhelming importance to consider rallying in a wider context and also to consider the other 2 situations (attack and defend) in more holistic way.  For example a player may finish the point with a drop shot having constructed the point through consistent rallying exploiting space and time.

Quality Factor

There is of course a variety of quality in play from mini tennis through to professional levels and therefore there becomes a quality factor that at all levels must be considered. Andy Murray’s rally ball is of a much greater quality than mine and within that match (if it were to happen) I would find it difficult (maybe impossible) to rally and apply pressure against him.  Similarly my rally ball will affect certain players in the same way.  The qualify factor dictates that a player can manage the space and time well enough to execute a stroke that manages the pressure and applies a certain required pressure to the opponent.

If two players are rallying but one can maintain a higher tempo than the other, the player with the lower tempo or lack of sustainability at the higher tempo, will break first through error or opportunities to apply pressure.

I am sure we have all seen a player who can get to ever ball and get it back with seemingly low quality but the other player makes the error first.  There could be a few reasons for this.  The player with the lower quality shot is managing their time and space well, although presenting opportunity for the opponent to apply pressure.  The opponent sees this opportunity but tries to apply pressure through pace and continually increases this pace until the error appears.  This, I would consider, to not be very smart play.  The player has neglected rally and assumed the old meaning of attack, instead of applying more and more pressure through direction, controlled pace and spin etc where undoubtedly the opponent would be forced to strive for higher quality or alter tactics.

A player will want to be able to inject pace into the ball in order to reduce time for the opponent and there is a time and a place for this as is there for any other shot.  It is the point of the shot and the way the space and time is managed that will affect the outcome.

Limitation model links

My limitation model suggests that the 4 performance factors (technical, tactical, physical, mental) each limit one another, the tactical factor being the one that provides purpose for the others.

Taking the rally concept the tactical outcome would be to be able to rally over increased distances and in varying court positions under certain degrees of pressure.

The considerations that follow are

  1. To what degree can the player do this?
  2. What techniques are working and which could do with some help?
  3. Is the player covering the court?
  4. Is the footwork choice appropriate?
  5. Does the player recover effectively and to an optimal position?
  6. Does the stroke keep the opponent neutral and apply sufficient pressure?

Although there is a racket requirement to handle to sending of the ball there is also a heavy movement and footwork requirement which precedes it.  In order to rally in such a wide context a player will need a host of physical ability including applying certain movement techniques and footwork patterns to achieve the tactic.  If players are doing this well then the racket skill can be optimised.  Ideally it is all done in conjunction at the same time.

Considering this in a holistic manner to include the 4 performance factors players will understand what it is they are trying to do and also understand the progressions that you employ as a coach to improve certain areas within the whole game.

Note on Mini Tennis

This idea can be worked on within mini tennis red, orange and green and of course full ball.  The idea being that if a player can rally from behind the baseline with a sponge ball can the player rally on the move?  Can the player manage the space and time on the red court?  Can the player use a variety of shots to manage pressure and apply pressure?

I believe that a player in mini red can do these things and that this is what will effectively allow players to reach high levels.  If a player struggles to manage space and time on the red court how can you justify moving to orange?

This last part on mini tennis is to put the logic of keeping children in the stages for as long as possible in order to fully develop the skill set and understanding of the wider game.  It is possible for a player to be behind the baseline, using a variety of shots to play the game, managing space and time and looking for ways to exploit space and time of the opponent.

Thanks for reading!

Download my latest article (1st draft) on tactical movement (tennis).

Tactical Movement

Feedback welcome!

P.S it’s quite long..:)



I am very excited about writing this article as it has enhanced my coaching philosophy and approach ten fold.  I will try to explain the process and the reasoning as I go.

This evening  (Monday 20th Feb 2012) I took the protoype Response System to my coaching to see what the reaction (ha) would be to the system from a player perspective and also to see how my coaching would / could alter.

I set the system up for a 20 second work period, set up a square about 2×2 metres and explained that the light would come on and that they (the player) are to move to the corresponding dot.  Then they were to look for the next light and move to that dot and onward.  I also used the other features to stimulate, engage and challenge the players.

The first thing I noticed was that the players movement was really stretched by this implied reactive pressure.  The intensity level was through the roof and the enjoyment was great to see and they applied themselves really well to solving the movement puzzles presented by the system.

I trained 4 players in 3 different sessions and the differences between them were very interesting.

Physical competency played a part in the measured output of the players.  It was evident that from an anatomical / functional point of view that better posture and movement capability in all planes resulted in better scores.  I think this is quite accepted but probably missing from many coaching sessions, particularly sport specific coaching sessions (I am working on a series of articles to address this).

Most sports require some reaction to a stimulus and then to move and execute some action.  This reaction to the stimulus is of interest.  In most, “reaction” trainers that I have seen there is no requirement to move from position A to position B.  In this case, the reaction trainer, for me, has been a difficult concept.  With Response however, there is a requirement to move and this requirement can be as big or as small as desired.

The pressured style of movement that was observed suggested that the message from the reaction to the muscle groups was delayed and/or confused.  Interestingly, the players who could play tennis at higher tempos and more consistently were observed to move more fluidly in response to lights changing.   Over the part of the session I used the Response, I altered drill patterns and distances, exercises, the position of the lights (moved the system to the other end of the court) and created movement puzzles for the players.  This seemed to be very engaging and the work rate was fantastic.   Improvements were made with some confusions within the drills popping in and movement mistakes being made.

This provoked my thought process to consider the possibility that players thoughts were clouded when performing the sport and the focus was not on simply playing.  The idea of working with the subconscious is a concept that I was recently presented at Anatomy in Motions level 3 (Gary Ward).   Tennis is a busy sport and there is all manner of possible things players can be thinking about when performing drills, points etc that may have either effect on their outcome, i.e. positive/negative.    Thoughts associated with thing like where they are hitting, how they are hitting, does the ball have spin, oh no I missed etc.

When players observed a new light they automatically performed a split step and this was very prominent during the activities with response. However, when playing/drilling in tennis this step is sometimes missing,  maybe due to drifts in focus, time delays in the stimulus, relief after sending the ball back.  They likened a new light to the contact point of the opponent  and decided that they would shout the word “GO” as loud as possible in their head as they saw/heard the contact. The aim of this was to fill their head with the word and it’s noise thus impeding other thoughts to enter their mind.

The impact of this was that the movement and court coverage was drastically improved and I was able to really pressure them with the feeding.  Taking it a step further, I wanted to reduce the thoughts whilst hitting so we chose words such as “Bang” “hit” linked with breathing out through their own contact.  The words were again shouted to fill their head and when I asked what it was like, they said that the words took as long as the breathing out, BaaannnGG for example.  The aim of this was to allow the body to just do as it knows best.

Results again were good and the players had a really positive response to the work. We had stronger strokes, higher rally tempo, increased consistency not to mention more fun.


There is a place for reaction training and its impact and linkage to coaching and performance is great

Reaction is one thing but body function is a limiting factor where required to move and execute.  This means that, as a prerequisite or in conjunction with, there must be attention to the body requirements (in 3D).

Using stimulus as focus points, allows clearer thought and the body to simply do as it knows best.  It almost simplifies the messages from the brain to the body to more like “red light – body go” as opposed to ” red light – panic – pull levers – wait not that one – what about this one – ok that will do – come on – made it – dam it there’s another one”

It allows the players to just do and correct (attacking the subconscious effectively).

The Response is a great tool to engage players, make training useful and linked to the sport, provide significant challenge and aid in making performance related improvements.

It was a lot of FUN!