I can attempt to “coach up” a young athlete on the correct forehand technique with all kinds of words but I have found it is much easier to get them to feel coordinated movements than to try and explain it to them. I always say “you cannot see yourself hitting, you can only feel yourself hitting.” I recently gave an athlete homework to do rotational medicine ball throws against a cinder block wall and I thought what I explained to him would make a great blog post.
Rotational sports like tennis and baseball are all about creating power. This power ideally is created from the ground up meaning it is generated in the lower half of the body and then transferred through a stable core into the upper body where it is directed out into the arms. This is what happens when you swing a tennis racket or baseball bat.
For youth the very first step is that they must experiment with coordinating this ground up power movement pattern. I could explain it all I want but it is so much more effective just to allow them to feel it. Young athletes often do not know what it feels like to fire their muscles in the sequence needed to efficiently create the movement pattern, it just takes some time and practice. You see the brain does not work in isolated muscles it works in whole movement patterns. An athlete can work on leg, core and upper body strength in isolated exercises but all that new found strength does not transfer over into an explosive rotational movement unless that pattern is already coordinated. Once they can coordinate the pattern it becomes very easy to get real world transfer into a rotational sport like tennis or baseball.
I use all kinds of foam balls and light medicine ball rotational throwing movements to let young athletes feel the movement pattern. I use foam balls with young children and a lighter med ball with others because too much load will stress their systems, creating a compensated dysfunctional movement pattern. Most of all I want a functional pattern because this is the foundation that everything will be built upon. For that reason, I am more concerned with the movement pattern becoming coordinated than how much weight they are throwing. Once they hit the right training age and own the movement pattern I’ll load them up to develop more power.
An added benefit to med ball throws compared to other rotational exercises is that there is a release at the end which leads to a young athlete being able to decelerate after the release. This is incredibly important to injury prevention. There are other exercises that can help in creating rotational power but without the release athletes do not learn how to decelerate their flailing limbs. Just think you can hit a tennis ball really hard and the harder you hit it the better you need to be at decelerating all that momentum or you are bound for an injury.
Finally, this is fun to do and a great stress reliever. Give a young athlete a med ball and tell them to throw it in a rotational pattern as hard as they can off the wall. They get coordinated without even knowing it because the body loves efficiency and with enough practice finds that most efficient ground up coordinated movement pattern. All the athlete needs to know is that slamming a ball as hard as they can off the wall is pretty fun because you cannot do it at home.