Coaches corner: The loading myth
This season, Texas men's tennis head coach Michael Center and Texas women's tennis head coach Jeff Moore, two of the top coaches in collegiate tennis, will take turns sharing a variety of tennis tips which are based on the training programs of both University of Texas tennis teams. Additionally, the coaches are eager to answer any specific questions you might have about your own game. If you have any questions for Coach Center or Coach Moore, feel free to submit them and check back with TexasSports.com for the coaches' response.
Tennis coaches often exhort their players to "use their legs more." They contend that more LOADING – a deeper bending of the knees – will generate more force resulting in higher racquet speed and more power on their groundstrokes. Unfortunately, excessive knee bend can actually inhibit force generation. To produce more force, a player must UNLOAD quickly, so a deep knee bend can be counterproductive. Also, tennis is a game of transition, so balance and timing are priority components required to execute powerful (and accurate!) strokes. Even if maximal knee bend made sense biomechanically, it can cause a player to become "stuck" when attempting to transition from shot to shot.
Efficiency is crucial to establishing balance and timing on your strokes. Keep your groundstrokes simple by adhering to four basic principles:
1. Maintain excellent posture.
2. Move as slowly to shots as possible. The pros make it look easy because they "measure" how quickly they must move to each shot. They rarely appear "in a hurry."
3. Remain somewhat open as you move toward the ball to allow for smoother coiling/uncoiling.
4. Elevate your body and brush the ball to maximize racquet speed and create arc on your shots. The pros hit shots that are aggressive AND high percentage. Extra effort to transfer weight into the ball actually slows the racquet down and disrupts flow from shot to shot.
Tennis is a sport that requires optimal mechanics. Technique should fit the requirements of the task – no more, no less. A top junior player, astounded when I told her not to bend her knees so much, asked me: "Yeah, but what if the ball is really low?" My reply: "Bend more." Watch Roger Federer and understand that his effortless grace results from exhaustively simple and efficient technique which enables him to use his superior hand-eye coordination to respond to anything that his opponent throws at him. He is never in a rush, unless his opponent forces him to be.
Tennis is not an easy game to play. Work to exhibit stature and grace on your groundstrokes and the game will become easier and more fun.