| By Ricky Becker
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

Below are three items that I have heard coaches differ on. While I will give my personal opinion and communicate how strongly I feel about it, I realize there are other good coaches out there who believe differently, and sometimes the same, as I do. Additionally, many, if not all, of the answers to the below topics depend on the student. In future articles I will address more of these “debatable topics.”

As hard as it is to admit…they are debatable.


Whether to look back at your partner hitting while you are at the net in doubles

I feel passionately that it’s ok and often preferable for the net player in doubles to turn his or her head quickly to see where their partner is hitting. I know coaches who I respect say never to look over your shoulder. I humbly disagree. While some players do look back and some don’t on the pro tour, it’s rare that a person can anticipate where they need to be solely on the actions of their opponent without seeing the ball. I don’t believe many professional players, college players, high-performance juniors and certainly recreational/club players have this level of anticipation. I think the added benefit of being able to move to the correct position earlier, even if it means you have to turn your head, outweighs the shorter reaction time without turning your head.  Once again, this is an opinion and not a fact, and specific to the student.


When to start working on a continental serve

The “cool” thing to do as a high-performance coach is to tell parents of kids who are looking to get far in tennis that you have to start with a continental serve. Coaches who often just want to keep a lesson don’t switch their student to a continental serve because quite frankly, it rocks the boat and a continental serve is going to make your serve worse before it makes it better. I’ve had debates on both sides of this coin with parents of young kids who became top-national players. There was one player that I wanted to start too early in continental and she wasn’t ready, and another that I wanted to at least find the box before making it even harder by going to the continental grip. My take is that the child should be able to get the ball in the box on 75 percent of serves with any grip before going continental. This way the student can at least start playing matches and can work on continental in practice and still gain the confidence by playing matches.  


Whether to play orange ball tournaments, or wait until you are old enough to not have to

This is something that has come up in the last few years. Often, kids are emotionally ready to play tournaments at a young age after they are finished playing on miniature courts with extremely low-compression orange balls. Unfortunately, the pathway for very young kids includes playing orange ball tournaments in the beginning. Is it a waste of time to play these tournaments, since it sometimes feels like a different game? Or is the experience of competition good for them? I have personally seen some kids wait until they qualify for the bigger court, lose interest in tennis because they aren’t competing and never end up playing tournaments. I have seen others wait until they were 11-years old and then go on to play Division 1 tennis. I have seen others play the orange ball tournaments, do well and go onto good junior careers. I have also seen others play orange ball tournaments and get frustrated and stop playing tournaments. I personally think it is good to battle through the orange and green ball tournaments, but there is evidence both ways and as hard as it is to admit on all these topics, there is probably no definitive right or wrong answer.


There’s a saying in coaching that even the best coaches don’t come up with their own opinions. Coaches take the experience of what they have heard, seen and played against, and formed their own coaching preferences from this. There are quite a few topics, and each one could be worthy an article in and of itself, where I have heard good coaches give different opinions. And quite frankly, you do want your coach to think he or she is the smartest in the room, but things are not always black and white, no matter how confident your coach sounds.

 

Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at Glen Oaks Club.  Ricky also coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs.  As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior.  He can be reached at rbecker06@yahoo.com, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.