Develop All-Court Confidence
By Ed Krass, Managing Member, One-on-One Doubles, LLC.
. . . . We have all experienced the roller coaster of confidence in competitive matchplay. If we can push ourselves, and our students, to develop better all-court skills, the game becomes less emotional and more athletic. With this crucial development comes more enthusiasm, self-motivation and the ability to compete against all game styles. Remember, a happy and confident competitor will "stay in the game" longer. In my opinion, most competitive tennis players would like to learn how to "play to win." I'm referring to the competitive spectrum of players ranging from competitive club players, junior players, college players, to USTA circuit and touring professionals.
. . We have seen a heavy trend toward baseline play in singles competition amongst the majority (90-95%) of American players. There is also a growing acceptance of baseline play in doubles. Many players have given up on developing the all-court game. Can we, as coaches and players, do something to reverse this negative trend? Can we bring some excitement back into junior player development? Are we scared that the risk is greater than the reward? These are questions that we are faced with. As coaches, we are products of our teaching background, experience and knowledge. It seems like our country's teaching and coaching profession is at an important crossroads in regards to player development.
. . Watching doubles matches, from the high school level to professional level, is often boring and slow in action. One player wants to serve and volley (play to win) and another player wants to play the baseline game (playing not to lose). Our nation's juniors are for the most part getting mixed messages and confused about how to play doubles. Developing the proper serve and volley skills supplement the level of confidence needed to do it consistently in matchplay competition.
. .The key to developing our players' confidence to its fullest is to have them regularly play a game I call "One-on-One Doubles." This game is nothing new to many of our nation's top coaches and players. It is the half-court, serve-and-volley game played crosscourt with the alleys included amongst two players. A straight line should be marked from the center of the service line to the center of the baseline. I was amazed at the subtle power this game displayed when I was first introduced to it as an assistant coach at Clemson University in 1984. Head Men's Coach Chuck Kriese, the ACC's winningest coach, had his top 8 varsity players play a full 2/3 sets of one-on-one doubles against each other to improve the quality of their doubles skills. The action is more intense than doubles because "One-on-One Doubles" means that a player has to hit all the balls. The serve, the movement to the net, the split-step, the step-out with good low balance, the correct racquet motion on low volleys and half volleys, the closing quick volleys, returns, lobs, overheads -- it's a complete game ! After 10 days of this "One-on-One Doubles Competition", our Clemson players learned how to play to win and at the same time eliminated their fear of failure. Six months later, we had four doubles teams ranked in the top 30 of Division I teams that year!
. . Ken Flach, former #1 ATP Doubles Player and Head Men's Coach at Vanderbilt, said "I played one-on-one doubles with Rob Seguso during the course of my collegiate and professional career. Hopefully, teaching professionals can begin working with their junior players, starting at the age of 13 and 14, so that the players are fully prepared to compete at the college level. Learning how to control the first volley with placement is the key. Getting back to using the continental grip on the returning side will help players chip and charge to engage the quick volley exchanges. One-on-one doubles is a fun, fast-action game that is totally different than playing singles. Playing the half-court, serve and volley game makes you a better well-rounded player."
. . The difficulty in developing the all-court game for both singles and doubles is overcoming the fear of failure. Players must become proficient serve and volleyers in doubles play to develop confidence in the all-court game. From the high school to the professional ranks, women are rarely serving-and-volleying in doubles. A steady dose of "One-on-One Doubles" practice would certainly infuse the athleticism, technique and strategy of the serve-and-volley game into Women's Doubles.
. . Dave Borelli, Men's Coach at Texas Christian University and winner of 7 National Collegiate Women's Team Championships at University of Southern California says, "Back in the 1970s and 1980s college doubles was emphasized more in regards to overall team match results. The female college players would serve-and-volley a whole lot more back then due to the importance of the three doubles points that were there to be captured. Today, with the time limitation to develop players coupled with the de-emphasis of doubles -- 3 eight-game pro sets counting for only one point in Division I college matches -- players are getting shortchanged in their development. With the modern groundstroke (semi-western and western forehand) grips we have seen the advent of the swinging volley at midcourt. I would love to see doubles tournaments being more emphasized at the junior level. I would also love to see girls serving-and-volleying again in their doubles play. Playing more one-on-one doubles is a surefire way to get the girls' serve-and-volley skills better for college tennis."
. . As the Director of the College Tennis Exposure Camp, a camp taught exclusively by head college coaches for serious junior players, I make both the girls and boys serve-and-volley in their doubles play or they automatically lose the point. Many college coaches, when recruiting players, look for strong half-court, serve-and-volley skills. After all, serving-and-volleying in doubles means you only have to cover your half of the court (including the alley). As teachers and players, our conviction and passion to teach and hit the proper first volley technique at midcourt is the giant step forward our players need in learning how to play to win. The proper grips, balance, leg and racquet movement must be taught and enthusiastically reinforced! When a junior player executes only two-out-of-ten correctly, they often harp negatively on the eight midcourt volleys they missed. This high level of discomfort means that they could very well be on the play to win path very soon. Our goal, as teachers and coaches, is to encourage our players to make three-out-of-ten correctly, then four-out-of-ten correctly. Through gradual improvement our students will overcome their fear of not making that first volley at midcourt.
. . John Whitlinger, Associate Head Coach at Stanford University and Former Top 25 ATP Doubles Player, said, "Fifteen minutes of one-on-one doubles play a day will give players the realistic first volley work they need for doubles play. One-on-one doubles helped the Bryan Brothers with the timing and technique of their split step and first volley. The variety of shots they learned how to use, with the half-court, serve-and-volley game, got them to depart from the 'blast away' style of play that many doubles teams use."
. . Playing "One-on-One Doubles" produces a more successful, all-court player for singles and doubles who is better prepared for the variety of gamestyles he or she may encounter.
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Coach Ed Krass is the founder and director of the College Tennis Exposure Camps and innovator of the "One-on-One Doubles" Championships to be held in Tampa this spring. He can be reached at 1-800-446-2238 or (813) 684-9031 or edkrass@collegetennis.com.
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