Chapter 1: Cant' We All Just Get Along?
"A very great deal more truth can become known than can be proven." +Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner in Physics
What does the above quote, by a physicist no less, have anything to do with tennis? A great deal indeed, if you examine the evidence presented in subsequent chapters of this book regarding the sport of tennis, particularly how it is best played, taught and understood by those who have truly become skilled players. This is a book about tennis coaching methods. The purpose of this book is to create understanding and comprehension and ultimately answer questions regarding the teaching and learning of skilled tennis through an accurate examination of tennis history. For the first time, in an easy-to-follow chronological timeline, we will examine the history of tennis instruction within the United States through theories documented in writing and in media since 1874, when the rules of the modern game were essentially conceived and published.
This First Edition 2018 e-book will discuss developments from over a century ago to present, examining evidence and potential reasons why the three major U.S. tennis teaching organizations, (i.e.: the United States Tennis Association--USTA, the United States Professional Tennis Association--USPTA, and the Professional Tennis Registry--PTR), have a history of being distrusted by many coaches involved in the grassroots teaching communities of the U.S. As the reader will discover, change in tennis instruction theory often comes slowly but the USTA, USPTA, and PTR, after much resistance and from what some might consider a “grassroots revolt” have finally started to modernize and update their teaching methods. In 2018, the USTA announced it is about to go in the coaching certification business. The backstory, and I know a good bit of it, would be pretty shocking if everyone knew how it came to this point and yes, we will provide some history below.
It is said those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.* Though this book is mainly about USA tennis instruction, a few perspectives from South America, Europe, and Asia and particularly the country of Russia and the famous Spartak Academy will be discussed. I was able to interview the childhood coaches of Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, and a few other prominent players. Some tennis coaches will be very touchy about this book. Ten years ago I began a search to interview Percy Rosburg of Sweden, who coached Bjorn Borg from age ten to fifteen before being instrumental in developing a few other Swedish champion. I came very close to the interview until an accomplished tennis coach read my rough draft, thought it fascinating, until he got to the part where I quoted a certain legendary coach (his good friend) in his own words and noted how wrong this coaches' prediction turned out to be. Despite the fact I praised this coach overall, I was suddenly attacked by the coach previewing my excerpts after praising them.
It is also important we look at how other countries teach tennis because we need to understand what the non English speaking world was teaching versus what the USA “experts” were teaching. One of the goals of this author is to pay tribute to the many unknown and great grassroots who are often uncredited in a sport with what appears to be a history of rewarding mediocrity in regards to tennis instruction (unfortunately, not the last of many controversial comments by the author). My hope is to one day credit so many more grassroots coaches than the limited few I was able to interview for this book’s first edition or the ones whose stories I was able to tell based on what I know in my limited experience.
When I started this book in 2005, I discovered I might be the first to go back to 1874 and examine how tennis instruction evolved and publish what I learned. For the upcoming second edition, I welcome additions and challenges to this material given the nature of how tennis methods evolved since not all were published in such a way that I could find them all even after twelve years of researching over 1000 books and countless magazine and newspaper archives. I discovered certain popular tennis coaches were literally wiped out of history as far as the USTA and the USPTA were concerned. I hope to draw attention to those innovators who history proved actually got a lot right by daring to risk telling “the emperor has no clothes.” The goal of this book is that the lessons of history awaken all tennis coaches, to include "tennis parents," and those in positions of power, to realize that if we are to grow the game we have to start learning from our past mistakes and an accurate history of how tennis coaches are divided as badly as our politicians in the 21st century still might indicate how we can better unite to grow tennis rather than be divided.
History shows that after the great tennis “boom” of the 1970s, USA tennis per capita participation declined for decades and still is on a decline per capita, or at best, a flatline, whereas tennis participation per capita increases in other countries. The goal of this book is to propose viable and objective solutions as to how best to grow the game of tennis in all parts of the United States. The chasm between the coaches who start players (grassroots coaches as they are known) and the highly certified "expert" master coaches may be as wide as it ever has been, despite the transparency of the internet digital age. I have observed since Martin Blackman took over the USTA a couple years ago there may be more responsiveness in listening to the grassroots coach’s concerns. In the interest of full disclosure, the author is one of those many grassroots coaches who called for radical change in starting beginners and how they start their first strokes. Only time will tell if this current division can be bridged successfully.
This first edition e-book is meant to be dynamic, meaning it is subject to change and updates regarding what I researched and published in the first electronic edition to be published in early 2018. I apologize in advance for any current errors but I welcome any challenges or omissions to my initial research to set as accurate a historical record as possible in all future editions. I have tried to footnote as much as I could given we live in a world where plagiarism, unlike before the digital age of transparency, is fairly easy to discover. Years ago, you could be a con man named L. Ron Hubbard, simply claim to have invented a new religion, call it “scientology” then plagiarize all kinds of obscure sources, publish everything you “borrowed” from as your creation because no one would likely find sources such as a nearly extinct English translation of an obscure 1934 German book where the philosophy of scientology was introduced by an unknown German philosopher. Scientology is thus the fastest shrinking religion on earth because anyone who does real research and investigation can find the facts versus the fiction fairly easily. The same ability to separate fact from fiction is hopefully what an accurate historical record will result in. When we get to the internet online instruction section, I am sure more than a few will be surprised at what I was able to find out.
Tennis writers are incredibly passionate and pop up on nearly every subject given the internet allows so much information dissemination. I spent many hours in 2007 trying to get emails written to and from Russian academies as I sought to find out what they really taught versus what the USA taught. The problem was finding someone there good enough to read English and then write back in English. In Feb 2008, I published a very controversial article online that caused a lot of consternation and no doubt gnashing of teeth as I previewed excerpts on what I discovered about Russian tennis teaching, complete with pictures of beginning youngsters at the famous Spartak Academy. As I prepare for final editing in 2018, a new book “The Russian System” on how Russians teach tennis just came out and will now steal my thunder but looking at it I now have something to reference as proving many of my own previous claims. In a 2009 update of my controversial Feb 2008 article, I added incontrovertible proof, quoting actual names and what they were teaching, that the USA tennis “experts” in the 1970s likely didn’t have a clue as the future of tennis instruction and didn’t even know how to teach a “modern forehand.” Please note that this is not to say some USA coaches didn’t know how to teach an optimal forehand, but my claim is that the published tennis “experts” have a very dubious history at being correct in their assumptions.
Famous coaches responded to me, the ones who weren't happy usually through assistants trying to defend their views. Many well known coaches supported my revelation because now we could all point to what in this book I call “the day that USA tennis died.” At one point, I became confident enough in my research that I even challenged a Hall of Fame tennis coach that he had likely never coached a single beginner or intermediate to become a good player. Sportswriter Dick Shaap shocked when he took my claim to this coach and the coach admitted my claim was correct and that he would therefore undertake and prove he could do so More on that story later.
erts” can claim to measure how the laws of physics apply to a sport when all great champions claim to play by “feel” is still beyond my comprehension. How does science measure the “feel” of a tennis ball being deformed drastically as it collides and moves across strings and then reforms before it goes over the net? My hope is that these “experts” now choose to fill in the historical record if this one is not complete or does not tell the whole story. Certain tennis pioneers, even ones who I credit in this book as I write this, have refused to speak to me for the record. It is my hope that my requests of such as well as other significant ones who have important contributions be noted in future publications of this tome.
Anyone who reads this is welcome to contribute to any important stories that need to be noted for the historical record so that the most complete story is told. I learned a lot in researching over 1000 books and countless tennis articles in magazines and a hundred years of newspaper archives. I was surprised at how much a tennis fanatic like myself, who read every issue of Tennis Magazine for the last fifty years since it originally was titled “Tennis World,” did not know. How many know that Richard tried coaching Venus and Serena’s three older half sisters in tennis before he decided to try something new with the two daughters he had with his new wife Oracene? Many currently think Venus and Serena learned their “revolutionary” style from their father who many think Venus and Serena to hit (as Rick Macci noted when he first saw them*) off the back foot from an open stance, as advocated by a certain renowned tennis pioneer, However, when I put the timeline together, along with my research speaking extensively with Pete Sampras’s boyhood and first pro coach, evidence led me to an unknown yet important tennis pioneer who first took on the USTA in the 1950s and would subsequently be blacklisted and ignored by the USTA.
The first of three tennis pioneers I choose to focus on in depth in this book was not the first to be treated harshly for daring to challenge the USTA regarding how tennis was being taught. When I inquired of one of the most famous coaching names in tennis, this famous well known legend published a response to the public online admitting that the then two most powerful names in tennis laughed at this coaches’ revolutionary claim that players should be taught from their first strokes to copy pros. Yet this unknown tennis pioneer who wrote his first book in the 1950s, (whose good name this record hopes to restore) may have indirectly had a role in the development of Sampras and possibly the Williams Sisters once you follow the evidence or “six degrees of separation. My encounters with the first African American author to write a tennis instruction book discovered evidence that her virtually unknown 1986 tennis instruction book that was purchased by a father of then 8 year old Venus may have been a stepping stone regarding the Williams Sisters. The reader may draw their own conclusions as the role of this female tennis coach still teaching in Griffith Park in Los Angeles deserves historical note.
In February 2008 I posted a preview of a chapter in this book that not only caused controversy but apparently caused “expert” coaches in the three major USA tennis organizations to cringe and quit making the usual excuses as to why the English speaking world declined in tennis participation. I got emails from some very interesting names who encouraged me to continue to tell the harsh truth that essentially proved other’s claims that “the emperor had no clothes.” The incontrovertible conclusion I reached is covered in Chapter 8 and now aptly provokingly titled “The Day that USA Tennis Died.” My 2008 article essentially argued, using tennis legend Jac Kramer’s and Vic Braden’s own words, that the USA "experts" (Kramer and Braden were unfortunately the main villains in this chapter of tennis history) went the wrong way in tennis instruction while the rest of the non-English speaking world would follow a very different path that would result in Australia, England and USA essentially becoming third world tennis powers given what they spent on tennis per capita.
USA, Australia, and England are just now reversing the damage done by the tennis “experts” who all got together in the 1970s and decided to ignore what the players and grassroots coaches were doing and try to force a new mechanical style forehand onto their tennis galaxies. In November of 2004, the USPTA was the first of the three major USA tennis hierarchies to throw in the towel and admit they were wrong. In August of 2005 at the US Open Tennis Teacher’s Conference I, (as of publication still a current PTR Pro coach) told Dennis Van der Meer, founder of the PTR, that I was researching a tennis instruction history book. Dennis politely showed interest and said I could contact him after the Open for an interview. However, upon finding who I was with at the Open, he asked me to set up a lunch meeting with my guest. The resultant story will likely astonish coaches. Luckily a fellow coach from the PTR who also asked to meet Dennis Van Der Meer at that lunch witnessed what others in the PTR later tried to deny. All this and many more surprising historical evidence is documented in the chronological time frame below.
Many grassroots as well as famous coaches and players cheered the fact that this author, an unknown tennis coach, had finally exposed with factual evidence what had been long suspected: that USA tennis instruction as taught by the recognized “experts” was anything but optimal. History backs this book’s claim that for over one hundred years, the USA tennis hierarchies and “experts” essentially didn’t have a clue as to how to best teach a forehand. In 2015, an "accomplished coach" who studies the physics of tennis, claims (and the author concurs despite disagreements with other claims he has made), "Anyone can learn to swing like the pros with the proper instruction and dedication. You might not be able to generate their racket head speed, but the shape of the swing, which is more vital than the speed of the swing, is not exclusive to the pros.*"
There is a famous saying that a tennis forehand is forever. Not exactly true, especially when you can ask ten tennis coaches how to hit a forehand and they all disagree as they often did when I first learned in 2003, after 23 years of studying tennis instruction, how to finally teach a simplistic yet repeatable forehand to virtually every student who crossed my path. By summer of 2004, I knew I could get anyone to hit a tennis ball quickly and easily and was willing to put up my ability to get beginners to emulate proper technique against anyone in the country, including USPTA “Master Pros” such as Rick Macci. This “ability to get instant results” with beginners resulted in my being hired by the two best tennis facilities in the former USA tennis mecca (yes, history proves this) of St. Louis where I began my twelve year journey as a tennis coach working to grow the game partnering with a famous tennis pioneer. Through this association, I spent over a decade talking to coaches around the world and gained valuable insights which the reader now gets a chance to judge my tennis IQ as to whether what history teaches us has valuable lessons
For the purposes of keeping this very long tome short as possible, we will focus on the forehand though readers will see the differences in theory over the other strokes. For background, the author grew up in the same city as did young Jimmy Connors (East St. Louis) next to the former USA tennis mecca of St. Louis, Mo., a city that used to produce USA great players more than any other city per capita. The author gave his first paid lesson in 1980. Despite the fact I read every USTA, PTR, and USPTA publication, including “Tennis” magazine, and followed the “experts” direction, I was at best a mediocre coach forced to coach part-time despite a dream to coach full time. One day, I had a realization from a historical perspective that allowed me to realize that it’s time to quit pointing fingers without offering practical solutions.
When I announced to the tennis world I would write this book back in 2005 and started interviewing coaches to try to put together an accurate picture, the author became a controversial figure in coaching. Many think I am a fraud, though many many famous names support my daring to speak out in favor of new ways of thinking. This first edition e-book will step on some toes regardless of how accurate it is. Until I announced my intention in 2005, no one to my knowledge as of 2017 had ever dared go back and look at tennis instruction history to try to figure out how tennis instruction evolved. The book was conceived after a great coach named Andy Davis and I browsed 30 years of USPTA, PTR and Tennis magazines trying to figure out who were the first coaches teaching the “modern forehand. ” We were hearing claims from “expert” and “famous” coaches that did not stand the "research” test. For example, one famous coach claimed he was responsible for a certain champion. Yet nowhere could I find in articles long after this certain player became famous anything that indicated the former coach was teaching the forehand style used by that player. I will name names once we get to the timeline later in the book so the reader will see specific examples.
During the last 12 years I shared many of my observations in articles I wrote or they were revealed by others through tennis newsletters and internet tennis blogs or through the famous Tennis Warehouse Talk Tennis bulletin board where many coaches and players meet to discuss the latest theories and happenings in tennis. The author is not so fondly spoken of in certain coaching circles but now you get to be the judge of my tennis IQ. After my 2008 excerpts that shocked the tennis world, within a few years, maybe coincidentally, a “race” began to explain what a forehand really looked like. The tennis world was literally experiencing a sea change in looking at new ways of thinking.
This is not to say that there weren’t coaches who did know how to build a good forehand. This book will present such evidence from some of the game's great players as well as admissions by coaches, including former top 100 ATP tennis player and author Alan Fox, who recognized and stated in his first book in the 1970s that as a former top player, he could tell that many tennis coaches somehow didn’t know what they were doing. Even legendary tennis Hall of Fame coach Nick Bollettieri would admit such in more ways than one as you will read below.
The Author is asking all readers, especially skeptics and critics, to contribute to this e-book anything significant historically. This first edition is an e-book so that before the final print version comes out, the rest of the world may contribute anything the author may have missed. If I have anything wrong or have not portrayed history accurately; I will be the first to admit my mistake. This is not “my” book. It’s a result of the passion of so many coaches and players who want coaches to quit fighting and finally grow the game like it once did. The author encourages anyone to contribute anything that might be historically significant or provide substantiation or dispute of previous claims made. A great example is when I met a female coach who years later I discovered might indirectly have had a significant influence on Venus and Serena. Another example is when I started looking to name “tennis pioneers.” If I have left anyone out from the great Tom Stow to Machar Reid’s groundbreaking research, I hope readers feel free to speak up so that I may correct the subsequent edition.
One such coach I feel deserves the title of tennis pioneer (and there are at least a dozen named in this first edition) made what many coaches consider the most fascinating free YouTube tennis instruction video ever made. This video, known for it’s originality and it’s groundbreaking insights, as seen by the subsequent race to break down it’s discoveries even further by people such as Brian Gordon and others, will be expounded on by two tennis pioneers in this book. This video was so popular that evidence indicates the ATP, more than likely on behalf of another “competitive coach,” stepped in and got a court order to shut down this coach from using further professional match video footage to teach students on his website and through Youtube, where his videos often set records for views. It doesn’t seen like a smart idea to this author for the tennis hiearchies to shut down a coach with a very popular website and who is known for making tennis fun and popular. If anyone has more accurate knowledge of this situation, please feel free to correct my version of what the evidence indicates.
I wish I could say this very popular coach was the first, or even the second or third coach who tried to make tennis popular yet were subsequently treated dismissively and even shunned by the tennis hiearchies. As history shows, tennis hierarchies do not favor anyone not in their “club” becoming too popular. Tennis in the author’s eyes, like a certain criminal syndicate masquerading as a religion, has a history of shooting itself in the foot and thus hurting it’s own popularity. If you think the USA government system is broken, tennis history has it’s own record of incredulous behavior by it’s leadership. If the author has not given a full picture, anyone is invited to set this first attempt at an accurate historical record of tennis instruction straight.
When it became known I was crediting this pioneer coach with this groundbreaking discovery a second coach (also named a pioneer in this book) tried to dispute the claim. The author asked for substantiation as to when the discovery was made by each and until someone provides evidence otherwise, the discovery is now given credit to the correct coach who provided evidence of dates and research. Until someone else provides proof of such claims, I have to go with where the evidence leads regarding the historical record.
If you read the internet today, online coaches are now competing to find and often claiming they have the latest secret of the “modern forehand.” One coach in an email I received as I finish this book actually claims his new video on the forehand is actually a “godsend.” If you are a parent, a player, or simply a grassroots coach wanting to know how to sort through the myriad theories of how best to learn tennis, this book might be a “godsend” or simply a map to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
USA tennis instruction is currently undergoing a teaching tennis evolution which many in tennis refer refer to as a teaching revolution. The USTA, the governing body of tennis in the USA, felt compelled in 2012 to hire a Spanish coach to revamp its admittedly outdated coaching techniques. “We have fallen behind coaching-wise quite a bit with part of the rest of the world,” said Jose Higueras, the U.S.T.A.’s director of coaching.+ This “revolution” began long before the internet made it possible for any tennis pro to make a video claiming they have discovered the latest tennis “secret.”
The debate in the U.S. centers over “conventional” versus “modern” instruction and specifically the best way to start beginners. In tennis history, “modern” means the latest. Book titles with the words “modern tennis” appeared over a century ago when players and champions such as the great Bill Johnston showed up using western grips hitting huge topspin. We will look at who exactly went on record teaching what, when, and where. History shows that the legendary coach Tom Stow got some very important concepts right while other “coaching legends” and their legacy as instructors don’t fare so well in historical perspective. We will also look at the effect of video online instruction which has its own relatively recent history as coaches seek to differentiate themselves from the competition and build digital followers who will pay for online tennis instruction versus having a personal lesson on court.
Serena Williams referred indirectly to the “fight” between conventional and modern when in 2016 she stated, “Our father taught us a revolutionary way of playing tennis.”+ This implies she and Venus were taught some type of new and different method prior to November 1994 when 14 year old Venus, who hadn’t played a competitive set in three and a half years since her “ten and under” days in Los Angeles, in her first pro match, beats the 57th world ranked player in straight sets and is up 6-3, 3-1 before losing to the #1 ranked player in the world. As Tennis Magazine noted looking back at Venus’ debut in 2015: “The open-stance strokes Venus used from both wings that day were startling to traditionalists, but they’re the norm on both tours today.”+
Chapter 4 starts the chronological timeline of who was teaching what, when, and where at the end of the 19th century. We will end the timeline looking at two live events, one you could attend in person and one that was conducted online via streaming video. The 2016 Tennis Congress was the creation of P.J. Simmons, a tennisholic amateur who puts together an annual “world class” coaching convention for amateur tennis players and coaches to learn from famous name coaches the latest and greatest theories on how to play and teach better tennis. The Spring 2017 online Tennis Technique Summit was a weeklong event hosted by Mehrban Iranshad, a Maryland player who decided to ask many of the famous coaching names in tennis to give online video presentations. I was pleasantly surprised that many, though not all whom Merhban asked, chose to participate, including Mark Kovacs, Jeff Salzenstein, Tomaz Mencinger, Johan Kriek, Brian Smith, Ian Westerman, Peter Freeman, Sven Groeneveld, Kostyantyn Khodirev, Adam Blicher, Kevin Garlington, and Edgar Giffenig among others.
Academic geeks such as this author like to read books like Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” which posited that nearly all revolutionary innovations in science and other fields would not likely come from step by step linear progressions discovered by “experts” but instead involve revolutionary paradigm shifts, usually from outsiders. History has proved Thomas Kuhn a very wise man. Example is the first planes were developed by bicycle makers, the Wright brothers, who looked at flying machines with fresh eyes. Who is the man known for making NFL quarterbacks better including Tom Brady, Ben Rothlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan? His name is Tom House, a former major league baseball pitcher best known for catching Hank Aaron’s historic 715th home run in the Braves bullpen. This historical record also explains why yours truly, studying precisely from the USA tennis hierarchies, was at best a mediocre tennis coach for 23 years until I quit listening to the “experts.”
This theory of innovation coming from outside industry experts is backed by a very well respected 2004 book on coaching skills which states “the more you now about the content, the more likely you will be seduced into the role of the expert.” + The author does not does use the word “expert” as a complement. This means new ways of thinking about tennis instruction would likely involve an entirely new paradigm shift. In looking at the historical record, we can potentially identify who or what events, if any, started a spark in tennis instruction that may have caused a worldwide paradigm shift, if any such event did occur.
We will examine in depth the genius of Richard Williams who never played a USTA match in his life and knew nothing about tennis when he made a snap decision to teach Venus and Serena how to play tennis How does he turn out to be one of the greatest coaches in history? This author rated him such subjectively in the chapter titled “Top Ten Lists of Everything.”
The Williams sisters get a lot of ink in this book, especially when it enters the debate “is talent made or born.” Two sisters, with no athletic prowess in the family lineage, with entirely different body types, violate almost every known convention, from technique to learning how to compete and win without being toughened up by tournament play. Both become #1 by staying outside of the traditional USTA system while usually ignoring sage advice to play tournaments from “expert” coaches such as USPTA Master Pro Rick Macci, at whose Florida academy the girls trained a few years with Rick while also being coached on court by their father. It’s also worth noting for the record that greatest of all time (GOAT) candidate Rafael Nadal was coached by his uncle Toni Nadal without using the acclaimed Spanish Tennis Federation, generally considered the gold standard of tennis hierarchies.
We are going to look at the debate status in 2017 between the “old” or “conventional” ways of teaching versus the “latest” or “modern” methods. Since the need for this book was first conceived in 2004, nearly all coaches and the three major US tennis hierarchies, the USTA, USPTA, and PTR (referred often in tennis media as the three major “tennis alphabets”), have conceded that top players should be taught “modern” tenets. What are those modern tenets and are they only accomplished by the “elite” or are they accessible to all who play tennis, regardless of skill level? Who or what developments provided impetus to force tennis instruction to evolve? History might provide some surprising answers.
This book will take on the debate how best to start beginners and how the majority of amateurs should learn to play. History shows this debate is more akin to a war where coaches throughout tennis history, including this author, have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to teaching beginners. As of 2017, there is a growing legion of coaches who believe that all beginners must start with technical emulation of certain biomechanics that will align with the desired end result. The question is what are the biomechanics that allow fastest progression to that desired end result.
A human body can only move so many ways regarding a moving tennis ball. Historical evidence and the experience of some pioneering tennis minds, might provide a clue as to what are those optimal biomechanics. I provide a lot of video evidence on my website as to why I feel so strongly that the USTA current Ten and Under tennis program needs to be examined in light of Wayne Bryans’s infamous Open Letter to the USTA which attacked the USTA for not using research and real science as to how best to start beginners. + If you don’t know already, Wayne has a set of twin sons Mike and Bob who are widely acknowledged as the best doubles team of all time.
Mike Bryan, like John McEnroe before him at Stanford, was also the NCAA singles champion but the twins decided to focus on doubles upon turning pro. Wayne Bryan and his wife Kathy (the former #11 USA ranked Kathy Blake) were not only high level players but ran a 17 court tennis facility in Camarillo, CA so they have some first hand experience how to coach grassroots beginners. Wayne, as did Richard Williams, coached two children to superstar status The two fathers took entirely different routes, yet both Richard and Wayne wound up being very critical of the USTA system. We will examine if the USTA is responding to the growing avalanche of charges the first part of the 21st century that they need to reform their ways.
When did this debate begin about the best way to start beginners? Did a coach fire a significant first “shot heard round the world” in the war between conventional versus modern strokes? Did it start when the best selling tennis instruction book of all time “The Inner Game of Tennis” appeared in 1974? Or was it the superb play of Bjorn Borg, world #1 at age 21, who noted looking back: "The difference with my backhand was that I was playing it with top spin, which was something of a revolution. People kept telling me I couldn't play them with topspin and had to play the shots flat. I remember a guy once gave me a book on tennis and said 'read this, it shows you how you are supposed to play' -- but you know I am a bit stubborn and did not listen, so I carried on playing my backhand with top spin and that is how the whole thing started."+
History shows this battle has been going on a lot longer than most students of tennis thought when I first went on internet tennis forums over a decade ago to tell the “experts” what I had discovered from examining tennis books written the last 100 years. I was anything but popular and certainly not making a good name for myself in established tennis coaching circles when I pointed out USA grassroots coaching was so bad that research by well respected coaches discovered that skiing coaches who didn’t know anything about tennis could get students to play tennis better than certified tennis coaches. “Upon reflection, the reason became clear. The tennis coaches were seeing the tennis students in terms of their technical faults; the ski coaches who could not recognize such faults, saw the participants in terms of the efficiency with which they used their bodies. Body inefficiency stems from self-doubt and inadequate body awareness. The ski coaches, having to rely on the participants own self diagnosis, were therefore tackling problems at cause, whereas the tennis coaches were only tackling the symptom, the technical fault. This obliged us to do more training with the tennis coaches to enable them to detach themselves more effectively from their expertise. “ +
In Spring of 2015 I traveled to Calabasas, CA to interview the boyhood coach of Michael Chang for this book while a female coach and I watched a futures tournament with world ranked top juniors playing. On the way back to the car, this unknown female coach, deserving of her little niche in tennis history, and I stopped to watch a well known tennis coach teach with orange balls meaning the student was ten or younger. The student was likely ten years old, tall, left handed, and she moved with grace as she took off her racket cover and warmed up to take the court. I stopped and commented to the other coach we could maybe learn something since this coach was fairly well known and I needed to learn more about teaching with orange balls. I took out my phone camera to secretly film so I could steal some tips given this was such a respected coach who I had actually worked with eight years earlier on court for a day.
It was a disaster. The girl, using the recommended Ten and Under forehand technique, could not even hit five balls smoothly into the ten and under court out of the first basket. She swung and missed half the balls. It was not until the coach started picking up balls and looked up, recognized both of us (we are both known for getting anyone of that age group to rally back and forth on first lesson) that the lesson suddenly reversed direction. The coach, aware how we teach since I gave that same coach a demo with a total beginner eight years earlier, was obviously embarrassed, and immediately tossed aside the Ten and Under method. Suddenly the girl looked graceful and could hit with consistency and control. If we had not stopped to observe, would that obviously athletic girl likely have given up tennis? But that was one coach in California in 2015 having a bad day, wasn’t it?
Wish it was. To preserve the coach’s anonymity who will likely read this, I prefer to be vague and not embarrass that person by giving player ages or sex. In 2017 this author witnessed a coach in Peachtree City, GA begin a tennis lesson with a large basket of balls teaching exactly per the USTA authorized Ten and Under program. I called a fellow coach via cell and watched discreetly in my car at a distance to report how the current authorized Ten and Under Tennis technique works since both students were at least seven and under 11. The two students were at least average or better in their coordination for their age group. Between the two students, with the coach hand feeding balls a few feet away, following the recommended certification all of us were required to get before we could coach at most facilities, exactly THREE balls out of a full basket of at least fifty landed in the full tennis court on the other side. Not to mention they were supposed to be hitting into the smaller Ten and Under Tennis court which I could not see the lines for clearly while I tried to watch from a distance.
All I could think of is where are the ski instructors when you need them. Those two children had talent, and any coach who teaches a simple tennis method would easily have had the children hitting nearly every ball into the court and likely rallied back and forth with them. The parents have no idea that there are coaches who can get any child to emulate the pros in style and form, even if in slow motion, from their first strokes. The great coach Susan Nardi would have had those same children rallying back and forth emulating pro style strokes before the basket was empty. Why Coach Nardi, one of the featured coaches in this book, is not running the USTA 10 and under tennis program for the USTA is beyond my comprehension.
Why would any coach stay with a tennis method that does not get instant good results? This book’s research concludes that the grassroots coaching methods currently taught by the U.S. tennis hierarchies to start beginners with in the U.S. are still not optimal and thus most beginners are eventually driven away from tennis preferring to play sports where they can have some level of emulation of playing like pros, even if in slow motion.. The children with higher levels of athleticism often can play well enough even with poor technique to allow them to stay in tennis but unless your overall technique and movement is in alignment with the pros, you are doomed to never enjoy tennis to the fullest extent possible.
If you think these two horrible grass roots coaching stories on opposite coasts, one by a USPTA national presenter and one by a new tennis coach, are anomalies, think again. The video evidence presented on my website where I take my first five year old in Georgia and get him to hit real balls over the net in less than a minute may shock you. I wish I could say all my students play better because of me, but it’s about setting an advanced tennis foundation with a simplistic technical emulation method that is in alignment with the desired end result If children were having a certain amount of instant success on court, tennis would be growing all over the USA, would it not?.
It’s easy to ascertain that those two athletic Georgia kids that their parents had such high hopes for will soon likely get tired of being taught techniques that do not get good results and a return in advancement for lessons spent. They will eventually find a sport that is viewed as much simpler to play. The coaches will lose students and wonder why they aren’t successful, as did this author for 23 years until I discovered a paradigm shift in how to teach tennis. History will explain why parents and now a growing legion of top coaches are increasing distrustful of the U.S. tennis hierarchies, the USTA, PTR, and USPTA. This explains the blistering attacks on the USTA by coaches and distrustful parents, often led by Wayne Bryan, who at one point stated the USTA ought to be dismantled and dissolved.+
Regarding the fierce debate this book covers between USA coaches on whether to start beginners with their feet sideways or open to the net first, who knew there was a coach credited with developing many college scholarship players in addition to Grand Slam players who only taught open stance forehands from the player’s first strokes in the first half of the 20th century? Regarding another coach, here is a quote from the then USA’s top selling sports magazine describing the author of a “revolutionary” tennis book: “What the man says is that the experts teach one way and play the opposite way.”+ The book reviewer, an avid fan of tennis, notes that after reading the book, he can’t help but agree with the author’s claim that tennis is being taught incorrectly.
History has proven the aforementioned tennis writer correct. Why could a non tennis coach see it and the “experts” could not? Why did one of the most famous names in tennis instruction discover that ski instructors could coach tennis better than tennis coaches? We now know that the “revolutionary” book, written in the 1950s, was correct in its claim that the USTA was not teaching tennis properly. This book looks at why did it take until the 21st century for the first of the three USA tennis hierarchies to admit that conventional tennis needs to be phased out and why so many coaches still use it to teach with. This author will provide evidence that as of 2017, parents of potential players are increasing upset that the level of grassroots tennis coaching in the US is at best still mediocre. This book will offer real solutions. This is the story of how when it comes to tennis instruction, the eyes could not see what the mind didn’t know.
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Helping those who need the help the most,