Planning Your Season – Part II

The following article was adapted from Scholastic & Academy Tennis: Planning the Season, available in the USHSTA Bookstore.

While more and more coaches are hearing about and may even understand the concept of periodization as it applies to physical conditioning, it is important to understand that your on-court work must also be pre-planned to cover specific periods of time in order to effectively progress from one level to the next and to prevent mental and physical fatigue.

A periodization plan for conditioning includes a preparation phase (building an athlete’s physical base); a pre-competitive phase (making the training closer to the actual event in which the athlete is competing); the competitive season (the actual week or two weeks of the competition); and an active rest period (the off-season, recovery period).

A periodization principle for tennis work which most good tennis coaches have innately followed for years is the Theory of Specificity, which states that as we get closer to our tournaments (or time of desired peak performance), our practices should more closely resemble a tennis match (i.e. short in duration, high in intensity).

All over the world, you’ll see coaches and academies using hoppers early in the season, then using sets and tie-breaks as training tools as the competitive season nears.

This common-sense approach to training, however, is far too limited considering the knowledge we now have at our disposal, and it may also degrade players’ skills.

With even a basic knowledge of the sport sciences, coaches and academies can take this traditional way of planning the season much farther, make their workouts and drills much more specific to their players’ needs and make practices more exciting and enjoyable year-round.

Please note that the periodization model used in this book for planning a season is not the same periodization plan that is used for conditioning. The concept of developing a seasonal plan for on-court work, using a preparation phase or “season”, pre-competitive “season” and competitive “season” are highly beneficial and the analogy is appropriate.

Planning Your Program’s On-Court Calendar

When planning a season, whether it’s for a summer program, a high school or collegiate season, preparation for a particular surface (clay court season), getting ready for a Grand Slam, or simply trying to optimize the time a recently-injured player has available to prepare for an upcoming tournament, the season should actually be divided into four mini-seasons:

1) Preparation season (emphasis on physiology/biomechanics)
2) Pre-Competitive season (emphasis on strategy/tactics)
3) Competitive season (emphasis on match play and psychology)
4) Active rest season (emphasis on cross training, recovery and biomechanics)

Start Working Backwards

Many teachers begin working with a player by looking at the player’s strokes, trying to fix or improve the player’s stroke deficiencies first, only then moving on to the player’s playing problems.

On the surface, this makes sense; how can you improve a player’s games by adding new strategies and shot combinations if the player doesn’t have the proper stroke mechanics to execute the required playing skills?

There are two reasons why this otherwise sound argument actually hurts your player:

#1 You must determine your player’s playing weakness first in order to determine which technical changes to make to his or her strokes;

#2 Motor learning research shows that technical changes are made more quickly and more permanently if they are made in order to solve tactical problems.

Determine Your Players’ Playing Styles first
Some of your players will be baseliners, some will serve and volley and some will play all-court tennis.

Is your player a baseliner who wants to keep opponents pinned back and on their heels? Is your player an attacker who needs depth on approaches? Will your player be an all-court player who will need to able to move opponents around, short and deep in order to force short balls he can attack?

As we’ve previously stated, the key to making stroke changes to any of your players is to first determine what their playing styles are, or what you want them to evolve into. This will allow you to determine what shots and shot combinations a player will need, then let you drill him to see if he can execute these shots.

If you don’t know what type of game your player has, you may look at your player, see that his groundstroke lacks depth, and begin working on that stroke deficiency. But why and when does your player need to hit the ball deep (based on his style of play)?

Determine Your Player’s Playing Weakness Next
A national coach for Sweden was visiting a regional training center in the early 1970’s, and asked the local director how things were going. The local director responded that all of the kids were doing well, except one, who refused to come to the net, who used two hands to hit his backhand and hit with excessive topspin.

The national coach asked why they didn’t drop the player from the program if he couldn’t hit properly, and the regional director replied, “Because nobody can beat him.”

The player was Bjorn Borg.

Think about it. Why do you change a player’s stroke? To make her look better? To give her better “form”? Because her technique is “wrong”?

How do you know if your player’s stroke is “wrong” if you don’t know whether or not it can be used to accomplish your player’s playing goals?

If your player’s backhand looks bad, but the player can make all of the shots necessary with that backhand, would you change it?

Determine Necessary Technique Changes Last
Coaches know that there is often more than one problem with a player’s stroke and must decide which error they will correct first. An analysis of the player’s shot-making ability with that stroke will help determine which stroke mechanic you should work on first.

This not only helps you determine which area of a player’s stroke needs immediate attention, but earns your player’s confidence in your recommendations because she has seen the goal she can’t reach, and understands how your correction will help her reach that goal.

Knowing the exact benefit a technical change provides for a player’s strokes allows your player to better understand why you are making the change, and make the change more quickly and more permanently.

This and only this should determine what technical changes need to be made to your player’s strokes. If your player can make the shots necessary with the stroke you think is incorrect, and the stroke will not cause an injury, maybe the stroke is not “wrong” after all.

Additionally, you and your player may find that she has a technical problem neither one of you noticed until she started to attempt a particular tactic and could not get the ball deep, crosscourt, etc.

1) Determine, with your player, what his or her playing style is going to be.
2) Develop the strategies and tactics he or she will use in order to play that style of tennis, and to play it against a variety of opponents.
3) Determine the shots and shot combinations necessary to execute these strategies and tactics.
4) Determine, under match-play conditions (using target areas, points and other types of pressure) whether or not your player can execute these shots and shot combinations.
5) Using the results of your player’s attempts to consistently execute certain shots and shot

    combinations under match-play conditions, determine the players stroke weaknesses.
6) Make technical corrections to your player’s strokes in order to help them to make the shots and shot combinations necessary to execute the strategies and tactics which will allow them to play the style of tennis you and the player have decided that player will use.

Make technical changes in order to solve tactical problems!

Planning is the Key to Success
Because skills are learned, retained and recalled in different ways, the key to your success will be breaking your season into three different phases which promote each of these three goals.

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