No such thing as easy
How many times have you had someone ask for a lesson on returning slow second serves, hitting a mid court ball which sits up or easy put away volleys?
It is often said that in order to change someones behaviour you first have to change the way they perceive or think about the situation. In this case I believe this to be true as the common perception of these types of shots is that they are ‘easy’.
When it is broken down it can be made fairly obvious why these shots are not easy but in fact they are ‘different’.
Skill acquisition theory dictates that when you send and receive a ball the more factors you change in a shot the harder the skill is. In the case of receiving a slow ball that sits up you have to change not only the speed of the shot but also the height, the distance and in some cases the spin of the shot. In most cases you will also want to send the ball in the opposite direction from where its come.
Hang on a minute, that means you have to change all 5 ball characteristics, height, direction, distance, speed & spin. Wow that doesn’t sound so easy all of a sudden.
Lets use a mid-court forehand as an example. Imagine the player has attacked into the backhand and received a ball which sits up and allows your player to move up the court sits up just waiting to be smacked into the deuce court. Add the thought the opponent starts to cover this shot and you end up having a lot of players trying too hard or playing too safe. This is perfectly normal human behaviour. When under pressure people play safe or try too hard. Therefore it is important that before you even go about attempting to help them develop the execution of the shot you change the way they think about it.
Consider one or more of these questions for your player….
Who is in charge of this point?
Can your opponent run faster than you can make a ball travel?
Are you closer or further away than normal from your target?
How does the flight path of the shot change compared to your normal shot.
Hopefully the answers will be….
I’m in charge, I can definitely hit the ball faster than they can run, I’m closer too and if I hit with a lower, more direct trajectory then it gets there even sooner.
By helping your players understand fully the situation they may approach the shot with a more calm attitude. Remember you can be calm, relaxed and focused yet still hit cream away the ball for a winner. Roger Federer seems to have done reasonably well appearing this way.
When it comes to the execution there are a few teaching points you can use to help your players execute this shot just the way they want.
Set up of feet – body – racket
Feet – As this ball is going to have a higher contact point it is important they give themselves more space than their normal forehand. It is minimal, maybe even just a few inches but they require more space in front and too the side to execute this shot well. If the ball sits up and they can position behind the ball you will often see the load being on the right leg. However if it is a shorter ball and the contact point is going to be lower you may see a left foot load.
Body – If this shot is to be struck at chest – shoulder height they will most definitely need a large rotation through the hitting phase. This may be around the 180 degree mark. Therefore it is vital your players prepare the shoulders appropriately with the hitting phase in mind. How many times do we see our players muscle or play with too much arm on this shot?
Racket – As the path is going to help deliver a shallow trajectory it is vital your player prepares with their racket above the contact point. The racket head will then drop to behind or below the contact point giving the same fluid feeling as normal.
Hitting phase –
Legs – There are 2 common techniques you will see players use for this shot. JUMP or HOP. For the jump your player will need to set up early on their right leg (if right handed). From here they will jump from their right foot to their left foot within in the hitting phase. The hop is used when the player has a slightly lower contact point and/or when they want to hit with more spin
Body – As mentioned already the body will rotate approximately 180 degrees through the shot. This will often see the player have their back facing the right side of the court at the end of the hitting phase.
Racket – For a jump forehand the racket will travel in almost a horizontal path through the shot. Of course you can apply some spin to give margin but be careful as hitting a lot of spin from up around shoulder height is not the most comfortable and natural thing to do. From a shoulder height contact you are better to flatten out the strike. However on a hop you can drop the racket head slightly lower to impart some natural spin on the ball
No shot is hit in isolation, you must always reposition on every shot regardless of how obvious you feel it should be the last shot of the rally. Ensure your players take up the appropriate tactical position for the next ball.
Finally and possibly the most important factor. If this ball is to feel part of the players ‘normal’ repertoire they must hit 100’s if not 1000’s of them. Repetition is the mother of all skill.
So in summary, if someone believes they are missing ‘easy’ shots quickly point out they are not easy they are different. Paint a logical picture of the situation so they remain calm and focused on the task at hand. Ensure they fully understand the adaptations they must make in their set up and hitting phase to make this ball change in all of the ball characteristics.
And above all……. practice practice practice it!!
Check out the video of Stan Wawrinka hitting a jump and a hop forehand from a short ball. Apologies for the background noise. I recorded this on court when a lesson was late in showing up. I’m a busy man so got to take advantage of these windows of opportunity.
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Thank you for taking the time to read the article