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Technique: Evaluating Technique

(The information in this article was taken or adapted from the High Performance Coaching Program Study Guide.)

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.

All tennis players receive information (intrinsic feedback) about their strokes and ability simply from playing the game. This natural learning process should not be underestimated.  However, in order for players to reach their full potential, they need your prescription of the most effective course of action for improvement.  For our purposes, the two main tasks for stroke analysis are the evaluation of strengths and weaknesses and some form of intervention to improve technique.  For a more complete discussion of all the important aspects of the qualitative analysis of human movement, see the book by Knudson and Morrison (1997).   Issues related to the qualitative analysis of tennis strokes have also been published (Knudson, 1999).

In the past, many have limited tennis stroke analysis to visually detecting stroke errors and providing corrections.  However, you would do better to use all the senses to gather information about players’ strokes and evaluate all aspects of their technique, both strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to make better judgments about the changes that are most appropriate. 

Do not burden the player with too many corrections, but instead focus the player’s attention on the most important technique adjustment.  For example, many stroke errors in beginners begin with poor footwork and racket preparation.  It would be a mistake to focus the player’s attention on the forward swing weaknesses if the causes of these problems are not addressed first.  A common mistake at this stage is watching too few performances of the stroke and then rushing to correct an error that may be only symptomatic of other problems or that occurs rarely. 

Once you have selected a technique point to work on with a player, you must carefully decide how to intervene to make this adjustment.  Your approach can be as simple as giving feedback on a minor change in body configuration, or it can be an elaborate strategy to work toward a major technique change.  You can help the player improve using many activities such as video feedback, conditioning exercises, and adjustments in practice drills, and you should know a variety of teaching cues for each tennis fundamental.  However, the best intervention often is silence or a positive word of encouragement for good effort.

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