I had the opportunity to present this seminar in September at the 2012 USPTA World Conference in Monterey California.
Forgive the following “tooting of my own horn” but the response was incredible, including standing room only in the double seminar room.
That said, the nut of the presentation concerned the mechanics of an overhand throwing motion, and how in many instances junior tournament players serve better and with far less effort when using the sidespin serve. For the kick serve, truly, has far less in common with an overhand throwing motion, and often results in a serve that appears awkward and effortful.
I presented a video, courtesy Kim Shanley of TennisOne.com, that compared the service motions of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. And this was indeed a sharp contrast where Serena tosses just high enough, Maria tosses way way too high. Serena hits in a sidespin contact orientation, Maria in an exaggerated kick contact. Serena is balanced and goes up to the ball, Maria leans way to the left and appears to be falling down. And finally, Serena has a subtle back leg kick, Maria’s is massive – and to my mind that singularly represents the amount of effort used within the serve.
And for better or worse, in my (humble) opinion – most of the juniors are hitting kick serves and emulating Maria – and darn few appreciate just how simple, fluid and effortless Serena serves by comparison.
Using side by side videos that could be synchronized to the release of the toss, to the point of contact, or to elements on the follow through – the following screen capture stills (of the video) show significant differences.
Both have their weight relatively “back”
But of the two Maria already betrays “effort”
After all, this is just a toss!
Serena is balanced and going up – note the line from her left foot to the racquet
Maria is leaning way left and moving down – again note the line
Though many coaches train and emphasize this leg kick, I believe it indicates effort (or over-effort)
Do the comparison yourself.
As an active junior tournament coach, I see many players with powerful forehands, outstanding movement, but often with remarkably inefficient serves.
These same players spend most of their time honing yet more power and spin on the forehand, while their serve, generally a kick, is rarely practiced and remains a liability.
To my eye the issue is two fold – first these same players must develop a strong and flowing overhand throwing motion, and second they must develop the sidespin serve before ever beginning work on the kicker.
Do any of these problems sound familiar? (This goes for boys as well as girls)
- The toss is too high, often way too high, and generally drifts to the left
- The service motion stops with a hitch or pause in the middle of the motion
- The serve appears effortful and muscular – rather than rhythmic and flowing
- The player is unable to create much spin on the second serve
- The shoulder hurts – often connected to an awkward looking kick serve
Build a sidespin serve (NOT KICK) using the balance, rhythm and mechanics of a simple and strong overhand throwing motion.
The basic elements of a loose and rhythmic serve or throwing motion include:
- Keeping the weight back and on the back foot as the motion begins – balance
- Unwinding the hips and shoulders to pull the arm forward – rhythm
- Leading with a bent elbow – this creates sidespin in the service delivery
- Releasing the ball with the arm in a straight line with the shoulders – this position cannot be found at contact in the junior version of the kick serve!!!
- Throwing/serving with a continuous motion – pitchers DO NOT HITCH – means servers must lower the toss
The Stanford Biomechanical Engineering department studied the services of WTA pro’s at the Bank of the West tournament. The research examined possible causes of shoulder injuries that occur across the women’s (and by extension the junior) circuit.
The graphs below show considerably more force (stress) to the shoulder from kick serves. Which, for better or worse, appears to be the predominant junior serve model.
Dr. Geoff Abrams and Dr. Mark Safran, Stanford University, 2011
Want to improve the flow and mechanics of your overhand throwing motion – and then overlay that on your own serve – then check out Streamling from my online coursework