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The Congruent Tennis Concept - Seeking a Higher Resolution

by Chuck Tomlin In most sports and organizations we expect a high level of congruence.

Congruence is defined as agreement, harmony, or conformity, so while there is room for making exceptions, we have rules to help ensure congruent practices.

For example, the 'Four Ball' rule counts as a walk for any batter in baseball, not just for one team or certain players. While the rules for tennis reflect a fairly consistent process, there are many aspects of the tennis community that seem to be riddled with conflict instead instead of agreement.

The instructional side of tennis may contain more conflict than harmony and this lack of congruence could be at least partly responsible for the decline in tennis participation we have witnessed over the last couple of decades, because conflicting information slows the learning process.

While the Congruent Tennis concept is a uniquely inclusive approach to the study of tennis instruction and the larger tennis community activity, using Context to sort out differences often encountered.  Instead of looking to point fingers on what is wrong with different types of instruction or labeling them as “Myths”, which is common in our sport, Congruent Tennis operates with the awareness that most instruction has some level of validity. It is based on experience and a truth within a given situation. Hopefully we can minimize the “US vs Them” approach by seeing that others have merit and contributions to make. Congruent Tennis can recognize that a Tour Pro, coach, or instructor has most likely used the advice in question, with some level of success in the instructional process. Congruent Tennis also realizes that not all success is of equal value for a given situation or context, but even so, we can’t rely on the voices of the “so-called” experts of the game exclusively. Quality contributions can come from some of the most unlikely sources. 

A big challenge that most new players face in tennis instruction is conflicting guidance with technique and methods. One coach will teach players to stay down when hitting the ground strokes, while a coach on the very next court over is teaching his players to lift up strongly and even jump into the air on ground strokes. Most new players will struggle to understand this lack of congruence, which is made worse when they surprisingly experience some success with both of these methods. Which one is right and should be drilled into their game as a productive habit?

Some tennis clubs will work hard at keeping the instruction very standard, while other clubs will embrace that their teaching Pros can instruct in different ways. My USPTA certification allowed for some coaching discretion, while my PTR certification pushes more for a “Standard Method” of technique. The USTA appears to be bringing yet a 3rd take on it. Our “Congruent Tennis'' approach is to recognize that rarely are things purely right or wrong in our sport, but instead take into account they are dependent on style and context. Looking back at the example of lifting or staying down during groundstrokes, Congruent Tennis recognizes there is a time for both staying down and lifting up during ground strokes, with the issue being more about knowing when to stay down and when to lift based on the type of ground stroke intent. The more a player intends to lift and spin the shot, the more he can benefit from lifting up during his stroke since lifting augments topspin. On the other hand, if that same player is looking to use a flatter swing and trajectory with a given shot, then there is a benefit to staying down during the stroke. Both of these instructions have a context where their use has a valid, effective purpose. 

Here in the Congruent Tennis Community we intend to foster an environment of Guidance instead of serving as GateKeepers or the Ultimate Authorities that so often we see in tennis Instruction sites. Tennis is a largely an “open skill” sport. Players are constantly pushing the envelope, doing things in new and different ways. The Dual Objectives aim here in the Congruent Tennis Community is to share a diverse array of perspectives so that coaches and players can choose what feels right for them at the time, while keeping the Advanced Tennis Foundation principles in mind. As we all unify around this idea, Coaches can have room to grow with a broader perspective along with a higher resolution on the sport. Please take time to read Dave Smith’s article on the Advanced Tennis Foundation concept. Bests Chuck Tomlin

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