Today’s post is a guest post from Mountain Side Racquet Club’s Director of Tennis, Steven Ondish. You can check them out at mrctennis.com!
For every kid who was brought up playing and having success with flat-ball tennis, there is not only a physical process in creating a new stroke/game but a mental/emotional process of coping and accepting the new stroke and playing style. This emotional process is much like the one of grieving a loved one’s death. In this post, we will go through the process of dealing with the death of your flat-ball.
For most kids in the course of switching to a more spin based game, they have previously had success at a young age hitting a flat ball. These kids tend to be good athletes with great focus and have been able to use the flat-ball’s speed and their athleticism to exploit other players weaknesses. This, however, leads to problems as players become bigger while the court remains the same size, getting more balls back and forcing these children to hit more balls. The flat-ball isn’t as consistent or effective as a spin ball would be resulting in the loss of more points, games, sets, and matches as they get to higher levels of play. The junior isn’t able to accept this since they still remember the success they had before. They begin to lose matches but won’t admit that they need to change their game. They still believe their strokes work because they did a year ago or two years ago and win just enough to think they can still replicate their old results. So, they refuse to believe it won’t still work.
Once the junior finally realized something is wrong and faces the fact that they have to change, they move into a depressed state. The Juniors wonder why no one changed them earlier and why they can’t play the way they did with the same results. These kids can’t accept the extra work necessary to get back to where the used to be. While they are changing to and learning their new stroke, they will lose to players they used to beat since they haven’t mastered their new spin shots and will be depressed that the new stroke isn’t working.
The “feel” it takes to gain control over Spin is a very delicate physical skill. It takes a long time and thousands of balls to get the confidence that, when the ball comes off the racket with a certain spin-feel, it will go where you expect it too. Flat-ball tennis allows the ball to go straight from point A to point B, while spin tennis is all done with FEEL. During the physical process of learning the mechanics of spin, the kids will miss hit balls, dump balls into the net, and sail them into the back curtain. They will doubt whether they will ever be able to do it and win. It’s mentally a very tough period because a coach can see what it turns into, but the student can’t see a year down the road, and they aren’t sure they will be able to do it. This is where a support system from the coach and family becomes crucial. If they can get through this phase, everything works out. Hopefully, by this point, they are losing the feel for their flat-ball, so the student has no choice but to stay the course.
At this stage, the student has hit enough balls to gain confidence in the shot and begin to realize that this is the ultimate way to improvement and success. They finally start to put full effort into the new stroke and start to use their body to create more spin. They start to experiment with the different types of spin and angles they can create, and work to maximize the spin-feel and what they can do with a ball. They also begin to notice how the pros and other players use or don’t use spin. The juniors shots become more consistent than their old shots, and they start to hit more and more balls in a row, improving their concentration and physical condition. This is where the biggest gains are made.
Here they are now having success again as they are playing at a high level more consistently. They have good wins they can play different game styles to win matches and start to learn how to beat different types of players by changing their shots. They have now become a real tennis player with a wide skill set, and now their game is only limited by their desire, physical ability, and conditioning. They are pleased with their accomplishment and find that the work was worthwhile. They have learned a valuable lesson about long term improvement over short-term results and are happier for it.
It is important to understand these stages for your child, so you can look for them and help them deal with each one. Tennis is a lonely sport and a difficult one. The student needs a good support system to handle the journey