Planning Your Season – Part I

Are you running the same drills at the end of your season that you were using during the first few weeks of the season? If so, you may not be helping your players progress and improve throughout the season.

Adapting the principles of periodization and specificity (not as hard as it sounds!) will help you plan a tennis season that helps your players improve each week.

The concept of periodization, as it applies to conditioning, aims to ensure that an athlete is at his or her peak physical condition during a particular event, such as the Olympics, or a Grand Slam tennis tournament.

The theory of specificity, a key principle of periodization, states that an athlete’s workouts should more closely resemble their competitive activity as they get closer to their desired time of performance. For example, football players may work on building muscle mass and aerobic conditioning during summer training camps, but during the season, their workouts are more explosive and aimed at speed, agility and quickness.

Just as a periodization schedule can be followed for conditioning, so can the theory of specificity be applied to the on-court work you do for tennis.

Dividing your season into three, distinct “mini-seasons” or phases will help your players improve their strokes, use these strokes to improve their shot-making ability, and use new shot-making strengths to improve their tactical prowess.

Pre-Season Phase
If you are working with players two-to-three hours per day, five days per week, you will have time to make stroke changes at the beginning of your season, despite the popular belief by many coaches that stroke changes take months to make and should only be made in the off season.

Your emphasis at the beginning of this three-to-four week phase of your season should be on new skill acquisition. Consistent, dead-ball feeding will help players learn new skills more quickly, but soon thereafter, your work should turn to retention of the new skill. Within a day or two of learning a new skill, a player should begin working on retention of a new skill, and this means cooperative, live-ball drilling. Using problem solving and live-ball drilling helps players learn and retain new skills in a fraction of the time traditional, dead-ball feeding and “muscle-memory” type drilling (hitting thousands of dead balls) traditionally takes.

Line drills, where students hit one ball and run to the end of the line, not only provide no useful tennis practice, but also ingrain improper body balance (when do tennis players ever hit a ball and run off the side of the court and backwards?).

Pre-Competitive Phase
As players begin to become comfortable with new strokes, it’s time to turn them into shots. During the next two-to-three weeks of your season, players should begin matchplay drilling, using shot combinations, target areas and points.

At the end of the pre-season phase of your work, players were involved in live-ball, cooperative drills. During the pre-competitive phase of your season, drilling should move to tactical situations that proximate what happens in a match, and drills should become increasingly more competitive. At the beginning of the pre-competitive phase of your season, players are working on skill retention using more match-specific drilling, with drills emphasizing shot production, tactical analysis under pressure and decision-making becoming more prevalent.

In-Season Phase
Practices during your conference season can include more than just matches and tiebreakers. Matchplay drills which emphasize autonomatizing shot combinations your players are likely to face during a match help your players continue to work on stroke and matchplay skills without requiring any technique changes.

Planning a season using these three phases of development helps your players goals, allows them to understand and buy into what you are working on during a particular practice, and lets them see how the work they are doing in practice today helps them get closer to the skills they will be working on during the next phase of their training.

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