Posts Tagged ‘development’

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!

Hi again,

Ok so this might be a little different but then again it might just be blatantly obvious.

I am sure we have all heard, whatever your sport that there is a technical requirement in terms of execution of an action.  I know there is in tennis and that it is something that is prominent in many tennis sessions.  Personally I believe in functional technique on the tennis court as this allows a player to explore tactical options and execute theses tactics to a high level.  I also believe that technique is redundant in isolation and that there must be a desired tactical outcome that provides context for the technique.  I also believe that this extends to movement and footwork and all round physical attributes.

The thing is that there are degrees of tactical outcome that is available as a player develops their skills and understanding.  Take for example the simple tactical of moving your opponent. One can place the ball to move the opponent using simple “bunting” technique where the ball goes in the intended direction but the technique does not affect the ball in terms of spin etc and as a result applies small pressure to the opponent.  The same tactic can be executed with vicious spin, pace etc utilising angles that will apply maximum pressure to the opponent. In addition there are all the degrees of execution in between.

All the other factors (physical, technical, mental) limit the execution of the tactic so the coach must firstly show what the final result will look like and start the player on the road to reaching it.   In this post we are concerned with technique.

Many coaches have differing views on this and also coaches from a physical background also have input into developing athletes/players.  There is a view that a player must develop the technical skills (sports specific ) early and there is the alternative view in that fundamental movement skills should be the emphasis.

Here is my thought – isn’t technical development movement skill?

to elaborate take the “shape” of a ground stroke.  A player must learn to coordinate the swing path and the kinetic chain to produce the most efficient stroke.  Moving an object in this motion such as a football will educate the body in the desired execution.  Allowing players to hop, squat, rotate etc will also stimulate the appropriate sequences that will be required to execute the strokes.  Holding the racket and re producing the strokes also helps as does movements such as arm sprials and 3D stepping/balancing exercises.   In addition there must be some receiving/sending and as a tennis coach wanting tennis players I will use throwing and catching over the net along with drop feeds to be hit progressing to feeding over the net and rallying.  All this can occur within a single session and that over the a period of weeks players can develop movement skills and tennis technique which in essence is simply the moving of the body in a set way.  Any human is capable of moving the racket in the “right” way.

Once the player has developed the basics and the coach is refining and introducing more complexity one should not forget that the movement skills will really help in the learning of new skills and dealing with greater complexities.  Taking a 360 approach, including body motions, footwork, movement and racket skills (in context) players will become rounded in competency.

Good luck to all..


Hi All,

Recently I read our club newsletter and in the staff profiles it said that I was the “Performance” coach.  As nice as that is I started to think about the wording and the message that this sends to the members, in particular the juniors.  In addition to this a few coach friends had mentioned that they prefer the “development” coaching.

I became confused (this is not difficult for me).  The words just don’t make sense and I will begin to explain why.

“Performance” tennis seems to refer to the “talented” ones or those that show a greater degree of competence at a certain age or stage.  “Development” seems to be considering everyone who does not fall into the “performance” category.   This infers that there is a transition a player can make from development to performance tennis?

Having done some thinking on this development can be linked with improvement.  This makes it independent of standard or skill competency.  Simply every time a player is on court with a coach the aim is to develop or improve as a tennis player.  Performance coaching is a redundant term as the goal of the coaching sessions is still to develop and improve the players tennis.    After all a coach is aiming to develop the player to improve the performance within a match.  This is the case always.  If not then there is a question to be asked as to what the point of coaching is.

Some issues that come up in my own head is that not everyone is at tennis coaching to try to become number 1 in the world and of course the vast majority won’t realise this but that does not take away the fact that they all have the right to learn to play tennis.  Develop their skills to improve their performance when they play the game.

There will be degrees of coaches who specialise in certain areas but in the centre I work in every player is in development (as primarily U10) even those reaching national standards.  Every person who enters the centre is in the same boat of wanting to play tennis and therefore they have the right to be taught and developed.

Coaches, whatever the qualification, experience etc should all be aware that they can teach people to play tennis and play tennis well.  Whether the player is once a week  or 4 times a week a player must be taught as this will allow the player to realise success.  Success will breed enjoyment and enthusiasm.  Circumstances in terms of money and parental interest play a part in the whole rate of development discussion but still foundations can be implemented to future proof the players.

I see myself as a both performance/development as my primary goal is to enable everyone who steps on my court to learn and improve at tennis which means developing technique, tactics, physical capabilities and a mind set to play the game.  the players I work with are good but that is because they have been taught and they have learnt and worked hard to improve.

I am a coach with the goal of producing tennis players (whatever that means).




Due to a few conversations this week the theme of “exploring the game” has been bought up quite a lot in regards to players on court performance and development.

When a player is learning a new skill should the player be exploring this skill’s usage within the game?  In my opinion yes they should otherwise the skill is not worth having.  For example in learning to contact the ball on the forehand the overriding theme is contact.  There are many ways to contact the ball that will result in the ball being sent in different directions, with different flight paths and with different spins.  For a player to fully master the skill they have to experience all of the possibilities (3D).

Exploring will teach the player what currently works, what did work and surprised the player, what didn’t work but might in the future, what I am confident with and so on giving the player a full view of the game that is at their disposal.  In doing this and experimenting will in the end be priceless to the player as they will understand what they do best and when and how.  They will have stamped their personality on the game and be able to deal with situations that occur however demanding.

This isn’t as rosy as it first appears.  What an ideal development approach this is and wouldn’t it be fantastic if all players did this.  Well they can, it’s just that there will be obstacles in the way that we as coaches will have to deal with as they present themselves.

As an example there is a boy at the club who is a magnet for the net and he loves to get there.  He is sometimes successful and sometimes not but he is learning when it is appropriate for him and what shot’s he needs in order to be successful approaching and playing at the net.  He is happy to try this in matches too and is sometimes the reason for losing perhaps when other options are better suited.  Is this really a problem?  I think that is up for debate really as I quite like to see the exploring but where the result is important it’s not great.

In other scenarios players who can explore the game a lot due to high skill levels may end up trying things that again cost them matches or points.  Is this really a problem?  Depends on age, experience and goals maybe?

I think my approach is to constantly encourage players to explore the game in a variety of situations and pressures.  Something I have not really done is guide them to understand what works when and allow the player to construct an individual game plan.  I have tried to be as open and encouraging of individual style and personality as possible but I think there is still a need to define tactics and decisions in terms of educating the player (what works, could work, why that didn’t work).

Thoughts are much appreciated.  I know this post is a bit flaky but could be interesting…

Speak soon,