A lot of coaches tell me that beginners need to be more consistent, but what does that mean? Are we focussing on the right forms of consistency?
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY CONSISTENCY?
Occasionally, I hear coaches celebrating the fact that one of their players managed a 50 shot rally. That’s great, but have you ever stopped to think what it actually means, and if it is good or bad?
Let me be controversial for a moment. A player who hits a 50 shot rally is a player who doesn’t open up the court. A player who hits a 50 shot rally is perhaps a player who is trying not to lose, rather than daring to try to win. A player who hits a 50 shot rally is a player who hasn’t discovered the real enjoyment of what playing tennis is about. A player who hits a 50 shot rally is cooperating rather than competing.
Think about it. Tennis is a game of attack and defence, of changes of direction, of mastering the effectiveness of the strokes, of getting the ball to do what you want it to do. Tennis is not about hitting endless groundstrokes waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.
So let’s ditch the idea of consistency being about hitting over the net and in to court in long rallies, and instead let’s look at what consistency could mean! Next time you’re tempted to work on ‘consistency’ I want to inspire you to think about what you’re actually looking to achieve.
FORMS OF CONSISTENCY
CONSISTENT ACCURACY – the first challenge is for your players to hit the ball into the large parts of the court more often. Imagine splitting the opponent’s half of the court into 4 quarters. Can your player direct the ball off both sides to each of the 4 quarters at will? If they can, they are more likely to make the opponent move and therefore more likely to open up the court. Hitting the lines isn’t important; hitting the big parts of the court more often is.
RED COURT CONSISTENT ACCURACY DRILL – divide both sides of the court into quarters. Starting the rally either with an overarm serve or underarm feed, let both players direct the ball to a different quarter of the opponent’s court each time, so that they do not hit the quarter twice in succession. Can they consistently direct the ball to different quarters of the court?
CONSISTENT EFFECTIVENESS – technique in isolation means nothing. The purpose of ‘good’ technique is to make the shot more effective and more efficient. Are your players capable of hitting the same ball with equal effectiveness more often? Using the same 4 quarters, can your player hit cross court to the opponent’s backhand with sufficient and equal depth, direction, height, speed and spin? If your player hits the ball effectively, the ball is less likely to come back.
RED COURT CONSISTENT EFFECTIVENESS DRILL – a good measure of effectiveness is to look at where the ball sends the opponent. There are many different ways you can evaluate effectiveness, even on a red court:
- Get the returner to stand on a throw-down spot on the court. Can the server serve to move the returner off the spot?
- Can the player serve wide enough to get one foot of the opponent outside the sideline? Can the player do it equally effectively from the left and the right?
- Can the player hit the groundstroke with enough height and depth to push the opponent back behind the baseline? Can the player do it equally effectively with the forehand and the backhand?
CONSISTENT EXECUTION – good players play in patterns. In other words, they execute specific combinations of strokes. A pattern may consist of just 3 shots, for example a serve out wide, a forehand into the open court and then a forehand to the opposite open court. Can your players execute short, simple and specific patterns consistently?
RED COURT CONSISTENT EXECUTION DRILL – Simply ask the server to tell you or the opponent where they are going to hit their first 3 shots including the serve. Stop after 3 shots from the server, and win the point if they manage to execute.
CONSISTENT APPLICATION – do your players approach every session, every match and every point the same? Look to establish a consistency of quality of application in everything your players do, from the warm up to the training court to the match court, and you’ll see your players improve significantly.
RED COURT CONSISTENT APPLICATION ACTIVITIES – activities like this are less about the task and more about way in which the task is done. Standards, either high or low, are habits. Get your players to self-assess the quality (not the success) of a particular warm up or activity. Get them to think about what they could do to raise the score next time they do it, and make them accountable to that process. Even young children start to understand that doing something well is something they can influence.