Learning by Playing the Game

Thinking our loud here ………

Likely we have lost tennis games to players who appeared to have inferior technical skills

And most have seen a video where an unorthodox left handed player skillfully competes against a well trained player – maybe even the leftie won

There may be only two cardinal rules in the game – at the root

  • Put the ball over the net

  • Always be positioned and ready for the opponent’s reply

Those two elements describe the game – can you control the ball and are you able and ready to react to your opponent’s reply (are you even on the midline of your opponents angle of play) ?

In some instances many players develop these two skills by trial and error (otherwise known as exploration and guided discovery), and with time they may become more consistent but also more aware of “the other side of the net” – and in this scenario these players may become more versed in the “open skills” aspect of the game

That said we have a many new players who have had initial instruction, and certainly there are many well meaning certified coaches – but in quite a few cases the initial instruction was to learn a modern heavy topspin forehand as an introduction to the game

But for a smile, we have a new player who struggles to control his “new forehand” while at the same time his simple two handed less spiny backhand works fine.  I asked about the differences and he said he had only had “instruction” on the forehand, for the backhand he just hits the ball.

A confession, I do not have or use the modern forehand, but more and more I see these type players prefer hitting the ball on the descent, and often backing up far behind the baseline to time their modern forehand.

And certainly in those instances they are not at all well positioned to react to the opponent’s shot

One of the best players at our club, national ranking and all, said she learned the game by playing it, and the instruction may have been secondary

“I learned the game from playing it and WATCHING it… I watched “the game” not really paying attention to technique… so maybe I learned nuances of point construction there.” (translate to the second cardinal rule) 

I am now believing for better or worse, that if your introduction to the game begins with the modern forehand there becomes far less a sense of the game, of court positioning, or even the fun of the exchanges in a rally

Perhaps the game does not have to be so darn “taught”

Implicit Teaching


1 Comment

  • Eugenio Ovalle

    Reply Reply September 11, 2022

    I learned my tennis in the 60’s and taught then that serve and volley were where the game was
    Laver,Pancho Gonzales ,Lew Hoad, Neale Fraser etc. were the top pros.

    Back then the the eastern and continental grip where use.

    Now a days the use of the Western grip in my opinion limits the dexterity of the player.

    Yes, you can stay back in the baseline and hit all day with mostly topspin and through the ball if necessary
    but the moment you transition your game to the net is here you have issues.

    First the half volley is more difficult and second with a western grip you can not volley.

    Coaches now a days do not teach the volley as an essential stroke like it was taught in the 60’s

    Yes ,the teaching of forehand and backhand stroke has improved tremendously ,but not the volley.

    Why, they were not alive during the 60’s. so consequently do not encourage the teaching of the stroke

    Best Regards

    Eugene Ovalle
    Tennis instructor

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