Category Archives: Coaching

2018 Summer Camp

Assuming the end of the school year does not change through the rest of the winter, tennis camp will tentatively run for 8 weeks this summer, Monday-Friday June 18th – August 10th.

Click Here to View the 2018 Camp Flyer

Register Online By Clicking Here

Tennis camp has grown tremendously over the past few years.  I thank you for that because it you who took the time to share your experiences with your friends and family.  Last summer we reached full or near full capacity especially in the intermediate and advanced groups.  If you plan on attending please register your son or child early to avoid any conflicts and allow me to best plan for an excellent experience.


Fall Tennis on Sundays

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If you are interested in playing tennis in the Fall I will continue to teach group and private lesson on Sundays through October.  If you are interested in more information our would like to register please click the link below.

https://goo.gl/forms/sdMcmBpItGjhBWV32


2017 Summer Camp Dates Released

Camp dates for the summer of 2017 are June 19th – August 11th.  CLICK HERE to view the camp flyer for all the details.

2017 Tennis Camp Registration

Tennis camp has grown tremendously over the past 5 years and last year we reached near full capacity especially in the intermediate and advanced groups.  If you plan on attending please register your son or daughter early to avoid any conflicts and allow me to best plan for an excellent experience.

***New Carpool***

Also new his year is a carpool to make it easier to get around.  A few parents wanted to make it easier to coordinate rides with everyone.  If you are interested click the link below and add your information and/or reach out to contact someone near you.

http://tinyurl.com/Carpool10s


Ending The Early Specialization Debate

I was just talking to the parents of a fairly elite 10 year old swimmer in how to deal with the issue of early sport specialization. They were concerned their son is spending too much time in the pool but at the same time worried he will lose his edge if he does not swim enough.  I immediately saw the parallels to what tennis parents and coaches experience and it inspired me to write this post to help those of you out there going through the same issues.

In tennis it is without a doubt true that early sport specialization is linked to overuse injuries, prematurely peaking careers, and plateaus in player development.  It is fairly common to see the best tennis players at the age of 10 go on to later be plagued by injury, hit a roadblock in development, and burn out.  While at the same time it is also true that you must be a fairly decent player at younger ages and regularly play tournaments if you want a shot at doing something special.  If you understand tennis you know how important technique is and that players must hit a countless number of balls to lock in their strokes.  The end result is that we end up at the paradox of “how do I hit a lot of tennis balls and not specialize early on?”

Being both a tennis and physical preparation coach I have a unique perspective because I see both sides of the argument.  I am actually not against deciding on one main sport early on provided a long-term athletic development approach is taken from the beginning.  I believe the odds are good that you can specialize in making tennis your main sport at a young age, remain injury free, and continue to break through to new levels of physical and tournament performance.  The key to doing this is to understand the role strength and conditioning plays in tennis player development.

As I said before tennis is a sport that requires a lot of time spent hitting tennis balls.  If you spend a lot of time on the court you will get very good at tennis specific skills.  The goal of a tennis player is to then accumulate as much tennis-specific volume as possible on an annual and multi-year basis.  To clarify, by tennis-specific volume I mean hitting tennis balls or playing matches because being on the court is as specific as it gets.

This would lead one to conclude that specializing early and spending as much time on the court as possible is the way to go.  However, you must understand that in order to accumulate as much tennis-specific volume as possible a player’s body must have the fitness to support such a high volume of training.  This is where most people miss the boat.  They have juniors accumulating a ton of volume hitting balls and playing matches but their bodies cannot handle it.  The high levels of specific volume lead to better and better tennis but at the same time all the stress slowly but surely accumulates, wears down the body, and injury occurs and/or performance suffers.  This is why strength and conditioning or general physical preparation is so important.

The ultimate goal of strength and conditioning in tennis is to achieve a high enough level of fitness to support all the necessary specific training volume and recovery from it.  Sure strength and conditioning will make a player bigger, faster, stronger, and allow them to express their strokes at a higher level.  However, in a technical sport like tennis the best way to improve your skills is to hit tennis balls and lots of them.  The trap people fall into is that they think if they keep hitting more and more tennis balls they’ll continue to improve and they will but without a strong base of fitness to support that amount of specific volume, and the ability to recover from it, it is only a matter of time before injury or burnout occurs.  Achieving this level of fitness takes a long time and it is only achieved through a variety of movement patterns and training methods.

So to answer the paradoxical question of “how do I hit a ton of tennis balls without specializing in tennis” is to take a long-term athletic development approach from the very beginning.  Begin with the idea that tennis is going to be the main sport and hit a lot of tennis balls while at the same time working on all aspects of fitness (coordination, balance, strength, conditioning, etc.).  Over time you will gradually build up the fitness to support hitting more and more tennis balls and the ability to recover properly from doing so in order to stay injury and burnout free.

If you really want to do this right you have to educate yourselves or get with a coach who truly knows what they are doing because strength and conditioning looks very different at different ages and the process is unique to each child.  For example, strength and conditioning in general for an 8-year-old involves playing tag, crab walking, climbing, and free play to improve conditioning, agility, coordination and strength.  While strength and conditioning for a high school junior will involve running to develop the aerobic energy system, lifting weights to develop strength, or doing more of what comes to mind when you think of traditional fitness.  But making an 8 year old run hill sprints or hit the weight room isn’t going to get the job done.  In fact, inappropriate training will only increase the odds something bad will happen.

Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below and if you have any questions add them as well, I’ll be happy to answer them.

For those coaches and parents out there who are looking for more information the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA) is launching a product this week called Long-Term Athletic Development.  It is a darn good resource to have if you are working with kids and thinking long-term in developing them.  It also happens to be on sale this week for $99.


15:1 Rule

The job of a coach is to get people to do the things they don’t want to do, in order to achieve the things they want to achieve” – Tom Laundry

I remember Coach Kriese saying something along the lines of, “when a kid tells themselves to do something it is as powerful as a coach telling them 15 times over.”  I never forgot that and it relates back to the power of self-motivation and deep practice.  The best coaching occurs when the student becomes inspired to take control and start teaching themselves.

I have often told players about this concept in what I refer to as the “15:1” rule.  The rule simply means what you tell yourself one time is as powerful as a coach telling you 15 times.  There is no scientific data to base it on it simply is a metaphor for how powerful engaging one’s mind really is.

I have had the ability to film players technique in slow motion for a few years now and it has been an invaluable tool.  Recently, I have found a way to combine it with the 15:1 rule, making it even more powerful.  By taking a few minutes to analyze the video and share it with the players online it has allowed them to take a more active role in their development.  It has allowed them to recall what was talked about in their lessons and then take charge to start coaching themselves to improvement.

Here is an example of video analysis:

 

 


How Repetition Develops Skill

Flamingo Park, Miam Beach

Flamingo Park, Miam Beach

It is said that repetition is “the mother of skill.”  What that means in the real world is that if you practice something a lot then you get good at it. Today in the blog I want to talk about how repetition impacts skill development in tennis. I guarantee it is not what you think…

The brain learns skills in astounding ways. I am constantly learning and seeking new information to be a better coach and recently I have been reading about the brain. There is a term often used to describe skill acquisition called “muscle memory.” The truth is your muscles are dumb and they have no memory. Skills like hitting a forehand or serving are motor programs stored in the brain. If they are practiced enough the brain and nervous system prioritizes them as being important and strives to become as efficient and effective at performing them for future tasks. It relates back to evolution where our brains allow us to adapt to our specific environment in order to survive.

If we have to repeat a motor program over and over again our brain recognizes that this skill must be important for survival and it aims to be able to execute the skill as efficient and effectively as possible. We have countless motor programs that have developed in our lives like walking, squatting or even keyboarding. These skills have all developed because the brain has tagged them as important because we are performing them so often.

In tennis skill development occurs the same way, through practice and the brain then prioritizing the skill. That is why it is critical to hit lots and lots of tennis balls. In fact, there is a direct correlation early on between how many tennis balls a player hits and their skill level.  It has nothing to do with an innate talent and more to do with the fact that some players may have just hit more tennis balls than their peers.

However, doing something like hitting a forehand is different than playing a piano because there is an element of randomness to tennis.  Learning to play a song on the piano is different than learning to hit a forehand. You see the keys on a piano are always in the exact same place when you play a song so you can truly make each and every repetition identical. This is not the case in tennis because there is an element of randomness where every ball has a different level of spin, pace, height, bounce, etc. There are so many variables it is impossible to truly have identical repetitions hitting a forehand. The truth is even if you could create identical ball bounces, spins, etc. you would not want to because playing a match is a random open skill.

The thought that enters my mind is, “How then do players learn to acquire a skill like hitting a forehand if there is no such thing as identical repetitions?” Well the answer is actually very interesting. Hitting something like 500 forehands is more like data collection for the brain than repetitions. It is more accurately viewed as hitting 500 forehand samples. What happens in the brain with those samples is very amazing. When you are sleeping your brain compiles all the information from those samples and begins building and refining a motor program. The next day if you hit 500 more forehands it does the same thing. And this process continues with the brain continuing to refine the forehand motor program from all the random samples striving for efficiency and effectiveness.


The Importance of Every Ball


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As the leaves turn colors and the temperatures get colder players begin scrambling to indoor courts in the Pittsburgh area.  When I train players outside everyone get spoiled because there is ample time, courts, balls, and opportunities.  That all changes when you go indoors during the school year when both time and space become limited.  Most people look at this as a negative but I choose to look at it a different way.  I believe training indoors when resources are limited teaches players the importance of hitting every ball with a purpose.

When a player truly knows the value of each and every ball they hit their mind becomes locked in.  And when they become that engaged a coach has both their mind and body.  As I always tell the players, “the real practice doesn’t happen out here, it actually happens inside your head.”

Thank you cold months for teaching us the value of hitting every single ball with a purpose…


Stop Chasing Points & Start Chasing Ratings

“The moment a player starts worrying about their ranking the is moment they stop improving” is a wise old tennis saying because it is true.  As soon as a young athlete begins focusing on what they are ranked instead of improving 1% each time they train or compete they lose focus of the long-term process.  They end up with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset and development comes to a grinding halt.

Allow me to paint a picture about our current junior tennis landscape.  The points per round and ranking system in USTA junior tennis looks really good on paper, after all it is exactly what the ATP and WTA tours are doing.  The problem is children are smart and they know the most important thing is the points they earn and the ensuing ranking they get because it is ultimately what qualifies them for bigger tournaments.  And like I said before this all looks good in theory but the problem is the players are not chasing improvement instead they are chasing points because that is what they are rewarded for.  They start looking for ways to manipulate the system and a big disparity comes into play because some players simply have the means to travel and play lots of tournaments thus have more opportunity to earn points.  I hope the bigger picture is starting to become clear.  And I want to go on record as saying that I am not against rankings because they have their place and purpose but there is a much better way to measure just how good you are…

The best way to measure how good you are is with a rating.  To be specific a Universal Tennis Rating (UTR).  I have blogged in depth about the Universal Tennis Rating System before and its benefits.  The biggest benefit is that the only way to improve your UTR is to chase improvement and prove those gains in competitive match play.  If every player was focused on improving their own unique UTR they would have a growth mindset and look at every single time they take the court as a way to improve just 1%.  And as Coach John Wooden says, “a bunch of small improvements eventually add up to be a big improvement.”

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So players, parents and coaches out their stop chasing points and start focusing on improving your rating.  And If you do that you will certainly be on the right track to truly becoming the best you can be.


What You Can Learn From Charley Lau

Often times coaches promote their playing background as credentials to prove their worthiness.  It is as if being the #1 player in the world instantly qualifies them to be the #1 coach in the world.

"Charlie Lau" by From collection of User:JGHowes for Wikipedia - Detroit Tigers Official Profile, Photo and Data Book. Published by the Detroit Tigers without any copyright notice in 1957.. Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlie_Lau.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Charlie_Lau.jpg

“Charlie Lau” by From collection of User:JGHowes for Wikipedia – Detroit Tigers Official Profile, Photo and Data Book. Published by the Detroit Tigers without any copyright notice in 1957.. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charlie_Lau.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Charlie_Lau.jpg

I think playing a sport is a critical part of becoming a great coach.  However, in my sporting experiences the most naturally gifted athletes tend not make the best coaches.  Instead, it is those coaches that had to struggle, fail, learn and work extremely hard just to succeed in their sport who make the best coaches.  It is almost as if since they have made so many mistakes and failed so many times along the way those failures actually become assets.  You see when you have failed so many times and in so many different ways it makes it easy to spot the exact mistake an athlete is making.  It is the accumulation of failures that serves as education for a future hall of fame coach.

For example, take perhaps the greatest baseball hitting coach you never heard of, Charley Lau.  Charley had an average career in the major leagues and certainly did not set any records for hitting.  After his playing career was over he went on to become one of the greatest and most sought after hitting coaches of all time.  I guarantee Coach Lau would not have been so great had he not learned so much from so many of his failures.  In fact, it was all his failures and struggles that allowed him to see things about hitting in a way no one else could.


Coach Slezak On American Tennis Radio

I had the honor to be the featured guest on American Tennis Radio today.  My coaching friend and mentor Chuck Kriese hosts this weekly podcast on the UR10s Radio Network.

We spent the hour talking about coaching, high school tennis, and principles of good coaching. You can listen to the recording below.

 

New Sports Internet Radio with UR10s on BlogTalkRadio