Technique and Injury Prevention White Paper
In addition to this article, you can download a White Paper produced by the USTA Sport Science Committee on the relation between Technique, Technology and Injuries in Tennis. This paper is meant to highlight the essential pieces of information coaches and players should know about how technique and technology in tennis equipment can either help to prevent injuries (ideally) or contribute to injuries. Each "chapter" of this white paper ends with a "Coaching Application" segment that boils the information down into the most useful "nuggets."
Biomechanics is the study of the causes of human motion, so tennis biomechanics is essentially the science/ mechanics tennis technique. When tennis coaches combine their practical tennis teaching experience with knowledge of tennis biomechanics, they can accurately analyze strokes, prescribe training and exercises, and maximize skill development while minimizing the risk of injury to their players.
Development of Racket Speed
As every rally in tennis starts with a serve, it is logical to assume that this stroke could be described as the "ultimate weapon" of the game. The powerful serves of players such as Ivanisevic, Sampras and Becker have had such an effect on the game that many people have suggested that the rules be changed to limit play to a single serve. Notwithstanding such reactions, it is apparent that in general all players would modify their service technique if a higher speed serve could be achieved.
One of the hallmarks of a good coach is the ability to evaluate tennis technique and prescribe actions that ultimately help a player improve. The technical term is qualitative analysis, but we will simply call it stroke analysis. Any stroke analysis in tennis should be done in the context of an understanding of the overall player strategy and style of play.
Footwork Drills for Tennis Players
Quick feet are an asset to tennis players at all levels. Foot speed and coordination can be improved by performing drills that require strength, balance, and explosiveness. There are many ways to improve footwork, including on court drills, ladder drills, and jumping rope. It is often difficult to maintain a footwork-conditioning program for tennis players, especially when they are traveling. In this article, footwork drills will be presented that can be performed in a very small amount of space indoors. The carpeted floor of a hotel room can be turned into the perfect place to practice lower body quickness, balance, and foot speed!
The rackets players select will strongly affect their tennis play. Biomechanics research is uniquely qualified to provide information for racket selection, as the mechanical behavior of both the racket and the player's body must be understood to make good choices. Unfortunately, the aggressive marketing of tennis equipment focuses players' attention on "innovative" and "high-technology" design features that may not improve play or lower the risk of injury. You can help reduce some of this misinformation, but much is still not known about how racket design elements interact with the player in affecting performance or risk of injury.
Skill Learning - Motor Control
Another major area of expertise of a good coach is an understanding of the usual sequence for learning tennis skills. This knowledge allows coaches to put together a thoughtful sequence of experiences commonly called a learning progression. Instruction and practice then become most effective because players develop skills when they are most ready to accomplish them and benefit from them. Much of the art of teaching and coaching is the use of communication and motivation to get players to focus on these intermediate steps to success and not pursue inappropriate skills or short-term results. Listen to your players and know exactly what their playing goals are so you can determine the right mix of practice and conditioning for them.
Presented next are several examples of fundamentals of tennis techniques: grips, footwork, preparation, stroke patterns, and follow-through. Stroke fundamentals will be extensively covered during the training week. Good books that show how biomechanics can be used to understand tennis fundamentals are by Elliott and Kilderry (1983), Groppel (1992), Plagenhoef (1970) and Schonborn (1998). The books World-Class Tennis Technique (2001) and The IOC Book on Tennis Medicine (2002) are very good texts where coaching and science have been combined. Information on the application of biomechanics to tennis also can be found in USTA's quarterly High-Performance Coaching newsletter.
The Ball Toss
There has been a long-standing argument about where the ball should be hit on the serve. Should the ball be hit exactly at the top of the toss, or should it be hit on the way down? (HINT: There is NO reason to hit the ball on its way up, except for the element of surprise.)
The Five Controls of the Ball
The five primary controls of the ball are depth, height, direction, speed, and spin. Mastery of these controls is essential to mastery of tennis stroke production.
The Kinetic Chain
The parts of the body act as a system of chain links, whereby the energy or force generated by one link (or part of the body) can be transferred successively to the next link. The link system in the service action, which starts from the ground, can be explained in the following way (Elliott and Saviano, 2001; Elliott & Kilderry, 1983):
You have seen and probably tried those little gummy, rubber like things that are placed in the strings of your racket in order to damp out vibrations. They cost a few dollars and weigh a fraction of an ounce. They come in all sorts of shapes and some people even make their own out of rubber bands or surgical tubing.
Video Analysis for Tennis
How many times have you wished you could compare a player's technique today to what they were doing two months ago or even two years ago? It would be great to have a tool that would allow you to save video clips of your players and use them to assess technique changes or changes in game strategy.