February 1, 2018

Focus on Consistency in Drills
Normally I have four hours of coaching on Wednesday nights, from 5:30-9:30PM. But my 6:30PM student's dad came down sick and couldn't bring her over, and my 7:30 student is out for a month, so I only had two hours. (I brought a book.) The first one was with Todd, age 12.

Todd's improved rapidly this past year, and now has a league rating of just under 1600, though his USATT rating hasn't yet caught up. He loops from both wings, but can be erratic in rallies, especially on the forehand, which sometimes is on, others time not. We did the 2-1 drill, a three-shot sequence where he hits a backhand from the backhand corner; a forehand from the backhand corner; a forehand from the forehand corner; and then repeat. All his shots were supposed to go to my backhand. But he wasn't consistent, and the rallies were sloppy. I was struggling too, as his balls were spraying all over the table. The problem was he was looping his shots too aggressively, faster than he could control. I finally got him to slow it down, focusing on spin, consistency, and above all good technique, and a miracle occurred - suddenly he was super consistent, and the shots were all right where they were supposed to go (meaning I was consistent as well)! So we had lots of great rallies after that. Then I told him pick out some shots and rip his forehand, and he found that very easy - all that good, consistent stroking really warmed up his shots.

Here is the important concept here: Power is easy if you have good technique, but good technique is difficult. (That should go on a banner at every club.) So the focus in practice needs to be on good technique, where you don't rally faster than you can do it consistently. If you go faster than that, you may think you are practicing playing powerful shots, but you are really just practicing erratic shots with erratic technique. (If you want to go faster, try multiball, where every ball is right where it's supposed to be, and you can generally rally at a faster pace and still be consistent with good technique.)

I remember learning this way back in 1976 when I was 16 and about 1100 after a few months of play. (I was a late starter, and still reached top 20 in the U.S. But I was practicing 6-7 days a week almost from the time I started that year.) At some big tournament (I think the Eastern Open) I saw U.S. Men #1 Danny Seemiller (soon to be 5-time U.S. Men's Singles Champion) warming up by doing simple side-to-side forehand footwork at a nice, consistent pace with his practice partner and brother, Ricky Seemiller. I remember thinking to myself, "I can do that faster than he's doing it, and he's the best in the country?"

Then I practiced it with someone, and of course I did do it faster than Danny - except I would hit maybe three raggedly rushed shots and miss, my shots were spraying all over the table to my partner's chagrin, and we couldn't have a good rally. Then I slowed down to a pace about the same as Danny and Ricky were doing, and suddenly I was consistent - everything came together, and my shots were fluid and consistent! I was hitting like Danny Seemiller!

From there on I always did footwork and other drills only at a pace I could do consistently and comfortably, with good technique. This doesn't mean you don't push yourself, it means you push yourself at a pace you can do consistently. Eighteen months later I broke 1950, and then after spending several years working on my looping game (I was primarily a hitter at first), I broke 2100 after five years of play, 2200 two years later, and continued to improve until I was pushing 2300, which back then meant top 20 in the U.S. - there's been rating inflation since. (An version of this will likely be Monday's Tip of the Week.)

USATT Club Listing - Number of Clubs Still Affiliated?
Yesterday I blogged about how many of our clubs will lose their USATT affiliation today because they haven't fulfilled SafeSport. As of yesterday, there were 262 clubs on the USATT club listing. As of this morning, it's 263, so apparently SafeSport increased the number by 0.38%! Actually, I think it just means they haven't updated it yet by taking off those who aren't SafeSport certified. I believe that'll happen sometime today.

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Here's the video (8:34).

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