Updated: Jul 25, 2020
As we move out of the mess of the pandemic of 2020, we need to look forward to how tennis can—and should—look in the coming generation. One thing my 45 years serving in virtually every capacity of teaching and coaching tennis, including training world-class players to the beginning junior and adult, I’ve discovered so many facets to training and developing all players that contradict what many in our industry do or pontificate on. About twelve years ago, I coined the phrase, “Advanced Foundation,” a simple phrase that so many books and instructors, for some reason, failed to understand. Let me explain.
Of the 122 books I have on tennis, almost without exception, most of them establish a beginning protocol of training players using arguably ‘simple’ methods that each author describes as a ‘way to get players playing tennis.’ They almost all go on to say that these same students will, at some point, need to change from this rudimentary grip, stroke, swing path, and footwork pattern to a more advanced grip, stroke, swing path, and footwork pattern.
Having worked with over 3000 players, I can tell you without a doubt, this is the most problematic, detrimental, and prohibitive means to teach players to play tennis for a variety of reasons:
The introduction of a technical pattern that MUST change at some point is unique to tennis. No other sport trains beginners to use inferior methods just to ‘play the game.’
The most difficult aspect of improving for all these taught players is to change the initial pattern they first learned. With a grip change, everything changes, the swing path, the contact point, the body position, etc. If the student does not adjust all of these, the shot will likely, fail.
As a player begins to compete quickly within these inferior methods, the difficulty to change becomes exponentially more difficult. This is because the uncomfortable nature of a new technique is far more challenging to overcome than the feeling of losing a match. Duh. If something is new, it will feel foreign. If it feels foreign, it will not create confidence. That will lead to the player almost always reverting back to the comfort of their inferior method…EVEN when they know that method will prohibit them from reaching higher skill levels and ultimately prohibit them from reaching their potential.
Why would ANYONE spend a waking moment of time practicing something they will have to abandon and change? It makes no sense.
I’ve seen countless thousands, (and probably there exists countless millions) of players who never even come close to reaching their potential because of this flawed teaching philosophy.
All three of my tennis instructional books, (Tennis Mastery, Coaching Mastery, and my newest book, High School Coaching Mastery), all focus on the technical means of training players to reach their true potential by training within this Advanced Foundation principle.
I would challenge anyone that argues Advanced grips, strokes, and movement are just too hard to teach or for students to get right away. There are afraid of losing students because tennis might seem too difficult. This is not only very far from the truth, but I’ve developed so many ways to train Advanced Foundation elements that my students, almost without exception, are playing tennis as soon—if not earlier—than students taught the arguably more rudimentary technical elements.
And, that is one of the reasons I indeed wrote the three books, (and over 300 tennis articles!).
Strength is seldom an issue when players are taught Advanced Foundation elements. In fact, the only time players truly feel weak or not having enough strength is when they are taught most of these inferior, rudimentary techniques. I often demonstrate using two fingers in hitting serves, volleys and groundstrokes in clinics and camps. I show that while I have minimal strength available using only my thumb and index fingers, I can indeed hit bombed shots coming at me at the net, hit effective serves, and hit a lot of topspin and speed on groundstrokes. I even did a series of articles featuring a raw beginning 8-year old girl, training her in the Advanced Foundation for a few months, (and not really many lessons), who within three months was volleying with a full-sized racquet using a continental grip, serving with slice and hybrid spin with a continental grip, and hitting huge topspin groundstrokes. And she was not really that great of an “athlete.” Yet she was hitting with college players by age nine.
The point here is coaches have a chance to really establish a new dichotomy in terms of developing players. Using the right teaching progression, tools, drills and a little imagination, a coach can develop all their students to become highly skilled, top ranked, and competitive players. Ironically, the number of players you keep in your program will GROW! Because, when students actually see themselves becoming skilled players, they enjoy the sport exponentially more. The “FUN” of tennis becomes the sport itself. (Instead of those coaches who feel that ‘hit-and-giggle’ is fun…it is, but it is fleeting.) And, quite frankly, if a coach cannot make learning Advanced Foundation elements fun, they probably shouldn’t be teaching or coaching tennis.
To learn more about the Advanced Foundation as it applies to teaching and learning, what it consists of, the patterns I recommend and the programming involved, please read my books! I guarantee you will have a new perspective, a new outlook, and a new way to teach tennis that will increase the passion in you and in your players.
David W. Smith is an inductee into the National High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame. He is a Dunlop Master Professional, as USPTA Elite Professional, and has been a “Speaker of the Year” twice for the USPTA.
He has a 6-hour workshop that he presents to coaches around the country called “Highly Successful Tennis Programming.” He has been an academy owner, tennis director, head pro and club manager as well as having coached over 35 seasons of High School tennis.
His coaching record is one of the best in the country, having won over 1100 team matches against less than 25 losses. Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for book orders or to discuss his tennis workshops.