Sensations... Our simple method for learning any tennis shot!

Sensations... Our simple method for learning any tennis shot!

You can’t hit softly.

The year is 2020. Slap back in the middle of Covid lockdown and, as I’m sure you all recall, the weather was beautiful, so I’m with my daughter in the garden trying to pass the time without going mad.
We’ve got a pop-up tennis net set up, but as you can imagine, we are very limited on space and the grass is far from Wimbledon smooth.

So, every time she swings at the ball it either bounces past her into the flowerbeds or she slams it straight past me, again into the flowerbeds.

‘Can you please stop hitting it so hard’ I say. ‘Just hit it a bit softer’. Something that all coaches, teachers, parents, doubles partners have said a million times.

The instruction has been given, the improvement is coming. Surely.

But, my daughter just stands there with her head cocked to the side, looking like a confused puppy wondering where the treat has gone. ‘Do you mean tap it?’ she asks.

And I did. I really did. That’s exactly what I wanted her to do. ‘Yes, that would be perfect. Can you Tap the ball back to me?’.

And she did, every time, over and over again. Whilst a 4year old consistently tapping a ball isn’t particularly ground breaking. When we scratch the surface of what actually happened and why it becomes pretty revolutionary thinking.

Firstly, we need to consider what changed when the word ‘Tap’ was used. Everything. Her swing shape and length, the racket angle, the speed of the shot, contact point, her intention and expectations. Imagine changing all those elements of one of your shots with just one word.

And lets not forget. Instantly. Coaches will tell you it takes time to learn new movements. Not us. It takes seconds.

Players come to us all the time with ‘broken shots’. ‘My forehand is too flat. I keep hitting it long’. Most coaches will launch into some jargon filled, in-depth technical breakdown of what you are doing wrong. Telling you exactly what ‘you should be doing’. Showing off all their amazing knowledge, dazzling you with their ‘perfect’ examples and analysis of pro forehands. Just check YouTube if you don’t believe me. (They don’t even know who is watching and somehow still know exactly what you should be doing. Hmm??)
As James Brown would say they are ‘Talking Loud, Saying Nothing’.

So, what is the alternative?
‘Have you tried rolling your racket over the ball?’. ‘What about a Guide?’. ‘Why don’t you stroke the ball rather than Hit?’. It may sound too simple. Too easy. But guess what? … It is.

Hitting is fast. Hitting is hard. Hitting is what boxers do to try and knock their opponent unconscious.
Tapping is soft, tapping is gentle. Guiding is smooth. Brushing is a glancing blow. Flicking is fast and ‘wristy’. These are Sensations and this is how you should be learning and playing every shot in tennis.

Rather than change, edit or hack your existing shot. ‘Hit it with more spin’. Just pick a different Sensation, a whole new shot, with a different motion, intention and feel. ‘Don’t use your hit. Try a whip on that one’.
I promise there is nothing wrong or broken in your game. What is missing is the variety of Sensations that you need to handle any given situation. Yes, sometimes you need to ‘Hit’. But what about all the times you don’t.

There are dozens of different ‘Sensations’ that us tennis players use. Likewise, in every other sport. Cricketers ‘Stroke’, ‘Flick’ and ‘Pull’. Footballers, ‘Ping’, ‘Whip’ and ‘Touch’. Golfers ‘Chip’, ‘Drive’ and ‘Guide’. All sports need adaption and variation. Which all Humans are more than capable of doing.

So, next time you step on court, explore your movements, feel the sensation of the ball on the strings and ‘don’t hit softly’.