March 31, 2014 - Get the Right Feel

The worst thing a coach can do is try to fill a player's head with all sorts of things he must do to get a shot right, and the worst thing a player can do is try to memorize all these things. A coach might look at a player and see several things that need fixing. But the last thing he wants is for the student to have to be thinking something like, "Let's see, my feet need to be like this, my arm like this, I have to rotate this way, keeping the racket at this height and my elbow bent this much, and then I need to start the swing with this part of my body, followed by that part, then that part, and finally that part, and make sure contact is like this, and then follow through so my racket goes here." That's how you might program a computer, but not a human brain!!!

Instead, the goal of a player (and therefore the goal of the coach) is to find the right "feel" of the shot. If all the aspects of a short are done properly, it should feel right, and once a player does a shot just right (perhaps with a coach pointing out the "right" ones), the player should never memorize all the aspects that went into making the shot right. He just needs to remember the feel of the shot - the feel of the stroke, the contact, and the timing, all of which go together.

Once a player gets the feel right, all he has to do is repeat that feel over and over, with minor changes based on the incoming shot that mostly affect racket angle. At its most basic level, that's all there is to learning a new technique - getting the feel right, and then repeating it. However, it's not always that easy. Two common problems are 1) getting the feel right when there are two things wrong, and 2) getting the right feel for forehand and backhand shots while using mostly the same grip.

Often a player has trouble doing proper technique because he's doing two things wrong, leading to an awkward but at least workable shot. If the player tries to fix one of the problems, the stroke falls apart unless he simultaneously fixes the other problem, which can be difficult to do together. For example, a player may have an improper grip, leading to an awkward stroking technique. But if he fixes the grip, it messes up the timing in the awkward stroking technique, and so the player gets worse, not better. The player has to both change the grip and the stroking technique at the same time. To do this takes practice, often with a coach - but once done properly, the player can remember the "feel" of the proper grip and stroke, and then he can learn to do it over and over.

Often a player learns the right feel for a forehand and backhand shot, but with different grips. This usually won't work - most players use the same grip for forehand and backhand shots, with only minor changes. (You don't have time for major grip changes.) So a player needs to not only get the right feel for each shot, but the right feel using a grip that can be used for other shots.

So focus on getting the right feel for your shots, and it'll feel more and more natural as you develop the timing - and soon you'll be feeling (and playing) like a champion!