Tennis Coaching Myths

by John Debnam Thinking Tennis

There are two traditional tennis instructions that many players believe are absolute truth. The first of these myths is the idea of moving your weight into every ball. You must have heard this before, “You missed that shot because your weight was not moving forward!” The second myth is that you should hit the ball waist high. Sounds good! But can you get your opponent to keep the ball waist high for you?

While these two actions are certainly not incorrect, they are not the fix-everything panaceas that you have been led to believe! So, let’s untangle the two myths below.

MYTH # 1 - You should move your body weight into the ball on all of your shots.

TRUTH - I have seen players struggle with this one for many years. They hit the ball as they are moving backward, miss the shot and exclaim, “I should have been moving into the ball!” Of course it would have taken superhuman effort to move their weight forward as their opponent’s return was driving them backward. Nevertheless, their failure to follow that so-called rule takes the blame for the miss. And no wonder! It says right here in “How to Play Tennis in One Minute,” chapter 5, page 234, that your body weight must move into your shots. (By the way, I can hear the wheels turning in your mind as you wonder, “How to Play Tennis in One Minute! Where can I buy that book?” Sorry, that was a fictitious title I made up.)

Instead of searching how-to books, look at what the pros do. It is simple. If the shot requires their body to move backward, that is exactly what they do: they move backward! If the shot requires their body to move sideways, they hit while moving sideways. And yes, if the shot requires their body to move forward, they move forward into the ball. The pros move their body weight according to what the situation dictates, not according to some absolute standard or rule that must be followed. You may even remember seeing matches in which Nadal fell down and while lying on the ground took a swipe at the ball, got the ball back and won the point. No weight was ever shifted forward!

Stop stressing yourself out every time you do not move your body weight into the ball. Allow yourself to move backward, sideways, or forward depending on the shot at hand. Relax and flow naturally rather than trying to force something in a rigid and mechanical way. Every shot does not require your body weight to be moving into the ball.

Now, doesn’t that feel better already!

MYTH # 2 - You should contact the ball waist high on all of your shots.

TRUTH - What about high balls? Now, if you can get your opponent to agree to stop running you all over the court and to hit the ball with the same trajectory every time with no high balls whatsoever, contacting the ball waist high could be a winner!

Unfortunately, this does not happen in a real match. You must learn to hit balls ankle high, knee high, waist high, shoulder high, and even head high! Yes, hitting somewhere between the knees and the waist is perhaps the most comfortable for most players. If you can do this, fine! But do not fit yourself into a rigid mold that says you must hit the ball waist high or else you are not playing good tennis. Just because you are comfortable hitting the ball waist high does not make that shot right for all situations. You must play tennis according to the reality with which you are confronted. In most cases, that reality is an opponent who could care less if your best shot is hit waist high!

Your goal is to play the ball at whatever height is necessary in any given situation. Stop chastising yourself every time you do not hit a ball at your waist and you will come closer to thinking and playing like a pro than ever before. Just play!!! Time and practice (repetition) will eventually teach you to hit balls at different levels and hit them well.

Conventional methods have been so indoctrinated into the tennis psyche that these two myths are discussed and taken as truth by players throughout the world. Even today, as I was watching a junior play a match, I could not avoid them. The two club players sitting next to me were preparing to play, and their conversation went like this: “You must get your weight into the ball. This is the way to get power, step into the ball every time like a pro.” One guy went on and on about the virtues of stepping into the ball, standing up almost in front of me to demonstrate how to do it. I thought for sure that the next thing to come out of his mouth would be, “And if you really want extra power, hit that ball waist high!” But they walked off to the court before I heard what came next. No doubt as they began to play they tried to force themselves to hit every ball with their weight forward and waist high. And any failure to perform these techniques correctly would, inevitably, be deemed the reason why they missed.

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