Monthly Archives: May 2013

Don’t Forget Tennis Should Be Fun

Fun, enjoyment and love of the game should always be at the core of a tennis player’s development regardless of age or competitive level.  I think unfortunately sometimes players, parents and coaches get too caught up in last tournament loss, the team record or training simply to win.  Don’t get me wrong I think competing and setting performance goals are incredibly important but at the root of it all players need to be having fun, loving the game, and doing it for the “right” internally motivated reasons.

Truth be told the best players have a common trait and that is their love of the game.  Listen to the next interview from Roger Federer, Nadal, Novak or Serena Williams during the French Open and you will see what I mean, they love the game.  Just last night a reporter asked Roger Federer about retiring and he gracefully answered by saying something to the effect that he still has so much love, passion and respect for the game which motivates him to still give so much in both his training and competition he is not ready to walk away.  Now there is a man who has won more big tournaments than anyone in history and made hundreds of millions of dollars and even after all of that Roger is playing the game for the “right” reasons and still having fun doing so.

Fox Chapel Tennis ComplexTennis at high school, college and higher levels takes hours upon hours of technical work, practice matches, strategic training, and even tough off court physical training and the only reason I can think that someone would be motivated to put in that much hard work is because they love what they are doing.  That doesn’t mean that they necessarily love running hill sprints or playing practice sets in the middle of a hot summer day.  In fact, they probably do not love that but they do love playing tennis so they are internally motivated to do whatever it takes to be the best they can be at what they love.

Players, parents, and coaches please try not to lose sight of the fact that tennis is a game and it should be fun.  You will be surprised how quickly you will improve when you start focusing on the internal reasons why you play the game versus the external reasons like winning and rankings.  As my friend Chuck Kriese says,The moment junior players start worrying about their ranking is the moment they stop getting better at tennis.”

Coach Kyle Bailey on College Recruiting

Coach Kyle Bailey was on my friend Chuck Kriese’s American Tennis Radio Show today talking about the recruiting in college tennis.  He was also kind enough to share his College Recruiting Timeline with all the critical steps.  This information is pure gold if you or your son/daughter will attempt to secure a scholarship.  As you’ll find out and as Coach Bailey says, “You have to look for the fit that fits you.”

Listen to internet radio with UR10s on BlogTalkRadio

What Makes Tennis So Unique?

IMG_1905Someone recently asked me what makes tennis different than other individual lifetime sports like swimming, running, biking, or even bowling.  I’ll share my answer to that question right here.  I have a passionate and maybe biased answer but tennis does have two very unique properties over most sports.

First, I want you to think about tennis compared to those other sports I listed above.  In most of those individual sports you are really competing against yourself or the clock.  Runners, swimmers and bikers are in a race against others but really they are competing against the clock.  In bowling there is not clock but really you are competing against yourself.  In tennis when you walk out on the court against an opponent you are about to compete in combat.  There is no clock and you are not competing against yourself.  In fact, I like to think of it as civilized combat because your goal is to defeat your opponent without touching them.

Second, tennis has the most unique scoring system in the world.  I say that not because of the 15, 30, 40, Deuce system, which by the way that comes from a clock dial.  Originally they used an old broken clock to keep track of the score for spectators.  One player had the hour hand and the other the minute hand.  They would move the hands around the clock as points were won.  Deuce was when it was tied at 40-40 and they would move the clock hands to the 50 mark for Ad-In and Ad-Out.  Now moving past that little history lesson the scoring system is unique because in order to win you have to learn how to group points together.  More specifically you have to learn how to win points in groups of 2’s and 3’s.  It is incredibly unique and really makes a player utilize their mind along with their athletic ability.  This is the exact reason why tennis is such a mental game.  You are trying to win points in groups and your opponent is trying to do everything they can to stop that from happening and vice-versa.

There you have it tennis is a highly combative, mentally engaging, and athletically demanding sport.  This is why it takes 10 plus years to really get good at the game because there are so many areas to develop.  My good friend Coach Chuck Kriese has a saying, “Easy to pick up is easy to put down, hard to pick up is hard to put down.”  I think that sums up best why you see people playing tennis and even attempting to master tennis for an entire lifetime.

What In the World Is Foam Rolling?

IMG_1899Foam rollers have swept the nation and are all over gyms and fitness centers.  In what I have seen the majority of the population has no idea how to effectively use them and that is a shame because the benefits are emourmous.  Foam rolling, self-massage or scientifically appropriate Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) have become a go to for elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are serious about taking care of their bodies.  In this post I want to explain what response using SMR elicits and then I’ll provide a video of my own daily routine because a picture is worth 1,000 words.

To be pretty blunt, the first couple of times you use a foam roller correctly it can be downright uncomfortable, but do not let that be a deterrent to all its benefits.  All the discomfort just shows you how tense and tight your soft tissues really are.  When looking at the big picture your muscles need to be both strong and pliable at the same time.  Strong muscles without pliability leads to limited mobility.  On the other side of the coin pliable muscles with no strength leads to a whole host of other joint integrity problems.  Lets assume you are like the majority of the population and have strong muscles but are lacking pliability.  Training or sitting in the same postures all day cause your muscles to always be turned on and hold tension which leads to stiff tissues.  Now traditionally people have gone out and stretched to improve tissue quality and this can certainly help but stretching is mainly focused on the length of the tissue.  SMR methods are after something very different, they are after improved muscle tone.

How Does SMR Improve Muscle Tone?

IMG_1897Foam rollers, tennis balls, and lacrosse balls all allow you to turn down muscle tone by a nerdy term called, autogenic inhibition.  Even more nerdy is that inside your muscle you have receptors called Golgi Tendon Organs.  To over simplify, the Golgi Tendon Organ tells the body how much tension is in a given muscle at any given time.  When the tension inside a muscle becomes too great, to the point of possible injury like rupturing a tendon, the Golgi send a message to the Muscle Spindles to relax the muscle to prevent injury.  The process that protects the muscles and tendons from injury is autogenic inhibition.

So when you put a muscle with high tone on something with a focal point of pressure like a foam roller or lacrosse ball you create autogenic inhibition and the Golgi Tendon Organ sends a message to the muscle spindles to relax the muscle.  If you perform these techniques regularly over time the overall tone of the muscle is lowered and you end up with more pliable tissue.  In addition, if you do SMR regularly you also get the benefits of breaking down accumulated soft-tissue adhesions, scar tissue, and increasing blood flow to muscles but those topics could be a whole other blog post!

Now you can get the similar results with treatments such as deep tissue message or active release treatments but honestly who gets these done on a regular basis besides professional athletes?  So doing some SMR work regularly gives you an effective, convenient and inexpensive method to improve the quality of your soft tissues.  I like to think of it as a poor man’s massage.

This literally is just the tip of the iceberg on this topic and the interrelationship with mobility and posture.  However, for your viewing pleasure below is a video of my SMR routine.  The routine is pretty comprehensive but you may want to spend more time on certain areas where you have greater tension than me.  Also realize that I have been doing this for a long time and my tissue quality is pretty good so this is mainly a maintenance program for me.  If you are new stick with it and over time you will see amazing differences in your tissue quality.

To wrap this post up here are some instances when you would NOT want to do SMR techniques.  Those would include performing it on recently injured areas, over boney areas/joints, over areas with circulatory problems or areas of chronic pain caused by something like fibromyalgia.  For the youth reading this blog, I typically begin using these methods around the age of 14-15.  This is not the magic age where tissue quality starts to decline but instead I like to introduce the methods so they get to practice them and make them a part of their training routine as it becomes more and more important with age.

If you are interested in buying one I have been impressed with the quality of this Foam Roller by OPTP.


Fair Play Line Call System

“We have used the Fair Play Line Calling system for over 2000 matches this summer.  The most obvious improvement on the surface has been the elimination of conflict that arises from small disagreements. Third party intervention has been replaced by player-to-player communication.  In its depth, this system is teaching young players to honor the game and to respect others at a level that is worthy of what the true substance of tennis really is.”

Chuck Kriese, Senior Director of Competition and Coaching, Junior Tennis Champions Center, a USTA Regional Training Center

JTCC's Outdoor Courts

JTCC’s Outdoor Courts

The “Fair Play” Line Calling System

Junior and collegiate tennis events alike are being stressed by the ever-increasing costs of referees. At the same time, the decline in sportsmanship that has infected other sports is affecting tennis in general as well. As the stakes go up, so does intensity increase, especially at the Division I and national junior level. The solution has been to increase the number of officials—the approach that “if some is good, more is better”.

The rising cost of officials is forcing some junior and collegiate tournaments to cancel events, cut back on amenities, or increase entry fees. Increasing costs, like health care costs, put under-funded college programs at even greater risk. At the National Junior Boys Championships in Kalamazoo, the costs are estimated to be around $40,000 per year.

To add to the problem, it has also become difficult to find enough qualified umpires to meet this rising demand. Of the available officials, fewer and fewer have the flexibility to work part-time junior and collegiate schedules.

Perhaps even more sadly for tennis as a whole, in many refereed matches, the closer the competition, the more likely a player is to appeal on virtually every ball close to the line—in or just out—in hopes of getting a point. This is especially true in Division I college matches.  Referees, particularly roving ones, rarely get a good enough look to be certain enough to overrule. Sometimes after repeated protestations, however, referees will admit that they sometimes over-react. Collegiate players, juniors, and coaches recognize that the appeal process is neither consistent nor accurate, and that most matches would get on fine without referees.

Ironically, the more referees we have, the less responsibility each player—and each coach—must take in a match, with lower trust between players the result.

This trend is unfortunately in imitation of the more televised sports like hockey or basketball, where fouls are considered part of the game. If you’re not caught, it was a good play!

Tennis once had prestige as “The Game of Kings.” It was considered a sport of honor and integrity. Professional golfers—unlike their professional counterparts in tennis—still feel a responsibility to put the integrity of the game itself ahead of their own interests. This standard in tennis is unfortunately now more the exception than the rule.

Is it possible that we have been looking for the solution in the wrong place? More is not necessarily better. 

Is it time to examine ways to contain these costs, and simultaneously put the responsibility for a fair match back where it belongs—with the players?


Begin to experiment with the line-calling approach that is now used in the ITA/USTA Campus Showdowns. The procedure is simple: you have the right to overrule your opponent’s call, but only “if you are willing to bet your life on it!” 

The implications of this approach are subtle yet powerful. In this system, overruling your opponent doesn’t imply he intended to cheat you. It means simply that you’re willing to bet your life that you had a better line on it than he did. Despite the fact that you both want to win, you’re in this…together.

The obvious objection is that a cheater will find a way to take advantage of whatever situation he is in. We can’t legislate morality. But 95+% of the players want to play a fair match and intend to call the ball fairly, but now spend their formative years in a system that teaches them instead how to lower their own standards – day after day, match after match.

Until we can afford to have every match governed by ShotSpot or Hawkeye, shouldn’t we at least be try to keep the cure from being worse than the disease we are trying (unsuccessfully) to prevent, and lower crippling costs at the same time? The Fair Play Line Calling System would encourage the honorable 95+% to live up to the greatest traditions of tennis, while still protecting them—perhaps even more effectively—from the occasional cheater.

Before you rush to judgment, let’s examine how this change places players in a more cooperative, rather than adversarial, relationship with each other, one in which they literally “share” the responsibility for calling the lines fairly.

Under normal playing conditions, even with a referee, when one player has the absolute power to “steal” a point, his opponent is in a “one down” position. Everyone has experienced the timely “hook.” We instinctively fear being taken advantage of and know we have limited choices, which makes many players wary from the first point. In the event of a bad call, we can ask for a referee (too late to help), OR we can resort to vigilante justice, as some junior and collegiate coaches have been known to advise, by “hooking him back and then calling for a referee.” It’s easy to lose perspective when an emotionally involved player is given permission by his coach to “even the score.”

Be warned—this “overrule” provision initially scares people. In my experience, however, due to the altered dynamic, most matches proceed without incident. When I make a call—no matter how much I want that call, or how much I might be tempted to make a call from my heart instead of my head, I know that my opponent can alter my call instantly. It forces me to consider my call in a different—and perhaps more equitable—light. On the flip side, if my opponent makes a close call and I’m not certain—as in no doubt, willing to bet my life, etc.—that he missed the call, by using my overrule unfairly, I will damage the relationship between us and must bear the consequences.

Coaches understand immediately that this approach has one appealing by-product. We have all known players who continue to let everyone know, sometimes long after a disputed call, that they are “victims.” The aggrieved player is, of course, blaming his losing on his opponent’s bad calls, not his own missed shots. In the Fair Play Line Calling System, the player must either choose to overrule—and risk opening Pandora’s box—or “shut up.” They usually just shut up. It’s very refreshing for spectators and coaches, and good for the player.

What Happens if the Match Gets Out of Hand? 

Players must know also that a similar safeguard is in place should one player try to take advantage of the other.

The solution is simple, and costs nothing. Return to the system that college coaches used for many years ago before we had referees, and also used by the U.S. Squash Racquets Association in all of its junior tournaments. If trust is lost, the head referee selects two players to serve as the appeal judges. If it is a team match, one player from each team is selected. In a tournament, bring out two players from the stands. Either make it a condition for playing in the tournament that players must be willing to serve in this capacity when asked, or pay them a nominal fee (as they do in Denmark). Players often trust this appeal process more than they do the calls of one roving linesperson. The fact that one of the two players selected may be a teammate of the aggrieved player alters the dynamic even more positively, as the player is less likely to treat his teammate as disrespectfully as some players now treat referees. The first “player-linesperson” either agrees or disagrees with the call in question. The second breaks the tie if necessary. These player-linespersons, when they are not themselves playing, are more objective—and likely more repulsed by a teammate’s shady call—than the player himself. And, of course, as players, they have pretty darn good eyesight! The morphine drip used in hospitals is an example of a similar built-in safeguard, because it has an automatic cut-off to prevent a patient from over-medicating.

Does This Work in Practice?

In a recent third place match between Harvard and Princeton in an important regional team tournament, the Princeton coach and I agreed to use this approach. My players were used to it already. Although the Princeton players initially looked to their coach (so used to appealing to referees were they), the players (and of course, their coach) soon recognized that the new dynamic was no longer as adversarial as they were used to. At match’s end, there had not been a single overrule in a hotly contested match.

An hour later, with three roving referees, the tournament final was also fiercely contested, but characterized by frequent appeals around close calls, disputes, and accusations. At the end of the match the award ceremony was delayed as each coach tried to calm their players, who were still upset at the other team’s sportsmanship and line calls. Having played against both teams, I didn’t think either team’s line calls were any worse or better than most other teams. I think one approach brought out their worst, while the Fair Play Line Calling System brought out Princeton and Harvard’s best.

The Fair Play Line Calling System could be tried in back draws first, with no titles at stake.  It would be compelling to try it in team events, also in back draws.  After a few years, a whole generation of players would have grown up using it, at which time it would be obvious whether it could be used more extensively.

Tennis has lost much of its shine with regard to sportsmanship. What do we have to lose by trying something else?


Start slowly.  Start with matches where there is no championship at stake.  This would involve a culture change that can only occur over time.  Use it first in matches at USTA Regional Training Centers, and in back draw matches at team and individual tournaments.  Develop a short hand-out for players, parents and coaches.

Try it in the 16-and-under level and up.  Eventually kids in the 14s might be able to use it, and when they see the older kids using it, because they are not being trusted to use it, it might actually become a “grown up” right they demand.  Time will tell.

This article was authored by Dave Fish, Men’s Tennis Coach at Harvard.