Type 1 and Type 2 – Overhand Throwing – the Tennis Serve – and the Primacy of Habit

Todd Ellenbecker, Vice President, Medical Services ATP World Tour, “Tennis teaching professionals can identify players of all ability levels, even high level players, who have less than optimal biomechanics on their serve. Often ……. their throwing mechanics also are less than optimal and have many similar characteristic patterns. Some of the same inherent deficiencies occur in their throwing technique that are present in their serving technique.”

As regards throwing, some tend to push the ball with quite a bit of effort, the release occurs with the hand in front of the elbow – Type 1. Others throw with less effort, sometimes called a live arm, and employ an easy whip like action – Type 2.

Similarly in tennis some servers use significant hand speed during and through impact (Type 1) and others employ a whip like action where the hand slows down at the top of the swing as the racquet snaps thru the ball (Type 2).

Both throwing methods are used in professional baseball, often with the thought that Type 1 may create more accuracy, while Type 2 creates more ball speed with less effort.

Mike Krukow, a former Major League pitcher, discusing a time when he lost his speed on the mound, ” The pitching coach told him it is not about pushing the ball harder towards home plate, it is about a whip action – this resonated with Krukow and he changed his motion, regained his mph, and went back to the bigs for good 2 weeks later.”

Interestingly, there are examples of ATP and WTA champions and even Wimbledon titlists who use either method. Murray and Navratilova (Type 1), Sampras and Graf (Type 2).

Bruce Elliott, world reknown Australian biomechanist, “Wayne Arthur’s had what you could describe as a ‘live arm’. To teach a live arm you need to emphasize: Relaxed action, no muscle tension, full use of the upper kinetic chain, whip like action, and good use of internal rotation”

During the recent US Open, Lindsay Davenport said, “It is appalling to me, so often, to go watch these ladies serve. They spend very little time on it. They don’t take pride in it, and it’s the one shot you have complete control of.”

Chris Evert,“When Mad(ison Keys) was with us from age 10 to 17, we saw the live arm, and it’s a God-given talent — you can’t teach it,”

Yet if you reread Bruce Elliott’s comments a live fluid throwing motion can be trained. The main question is when.

I believe that whenever we see professionals with the Type 1 method, they were trained on the serve at a very young age before (if ever) they had developed a fluid overhand throw. And once inefficient throwing/serving habits become ingrained they prove very difficult to extinguish.

As regards the primacy of habit, Javier Maquirriain, outgoing president of the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science, wrote in 2015 that in spite of the scientific evidence that relates technical mistakes with injuries, and the skill of tennis medicine specialists to diagnose and provide feedback, players resist change. “How much can we change a champion? He concluded aptly, “Nowadays, change is the challenge.”

And finally, Roger Federer on the first touch, “ You learn a certain way as a kid. To change it is always kind of tricky after that. The first coach that teaches you the serve is super important.”

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