Why Some Drills Degrade Skills
When a coach works his or her players in such a way that it fatigues the players, players begin to make adaptations to their strokes. A tired player begins to hit with his weight back, slaps at balls using the arms or wrist (instead of hitting with the legs), reaches for balls instead of taking that extra step, tosses the ball lower and stays on the ground during a serve, and otherwise takes shortcuts.
Drills that promote mental toughness by forcing an exhausted player to continue running side to side for fed balls in order to force that player to “focus” may promote concentration and willpower, but will require that the player practice under conditions that will not happen during a match, and can lead to a player leaning for balls, slapping at them, hitting late, etc.
If you haven’t timed your players’ points during matches, you’ll see that as players get better, points end quicker. Moderate-intensity exchanges of many groundstrokes might go 30 seconds or longer, but if you’re training your players to play offensively instead of defensively, most points will end in less than 30 seconds, with many consisting of five or six strokes lasting less than 10 seconds.
Finally, young players who come to dread your workouts can come to dread tennis, no longer giving 100 percent effort.
Practice Like You Play — That Means Practicing Recovery
Back in the early 1990’s, when top German coach, Richard Schoenborn, was first widely covered in America, virtually no coaches in the U.S. had heard of the concepts of periodization or “practice like you play.” More than two decades later, many coaches still believe that training players aerobically, and harder than they will have to play in a match, will get them in better physical conditioning at the end of the match and have an advantage over those players who don’t train aerobically on court.
Remember, assuming both players have an appropriate aerobic base, it’s the player who can recover more quickly and be ready for the next point who has the advantage. By working your players hard for 30 seconds, then giving them 90 seconds to recover, you’ll help them train thier bodies to more effectively replenish the chemical primarily responsible for muscle contractions (ATP) and remove the lactic acid and other muscle inhibitors that cause muscle fatigue and cramping. Long, aerobic runs, for example, don’t do this.
Because “long” points often last less than 30 seconds, the time during which activity is primarily anaerobic. Thirty seconds is a long time to practice at maximum intensity and will be enough to prepare your players for the long point.
Training at maximum intensity for minutes at a time, with little rest in between, is not only dangerous in certain conditions (heat), but it doesn’t do what you think it’s doing. Even if your players are mentally tough and try to hit every ball correctly when they are fatigued, their coordination and motor skills will be diminished, causing them to hit many balls late and or with other, improper timing.
Practice like you play or you will play like you practice! Follow the advice of top tennis federations and association and use the recommend 1:3 work/rest ratio for high-intensity training (30 seconds maximum intensity/90 recovery). Your players can do drills for longer than 30 seconds if it’s not at or near maximum intensity.
In summary, if your players are exhausted while they are drilling, they will attempt to hit the ball expending the least amount of energy, which will lead to different mechanics. You also won’t train your players to recover between points, and learn how to replenish the “good” chemicals they’ve just deleted from their muscles and prevent the “bad” chemicals from building in their muscles, causing fatigue and cramping.