Tennis Skill Acquisition and Long Term Development

Leading Tennis Sports Scientists recommend tennis process to have “coaches as ‘facilitators rather than ‘dictators’ of the learning process. They encourage individuals to explore solutions to different movement problems which may encourage more implicit-type learning, therein developing a more robust skill set that is less reliant on higher level cognitive function, for both technical and tactical execution” (Reid et al. , 2007, “Skill acquisition in tennis: research and current practice”).

Same research recommends the following : “As compared to overly prescriptive coaching, indications are that tennis players would benefit from earlier introduction to variable and random practice designs and the accompanying increased opportunity to intrinsically evaluate their own performance”

I agree 100%! Variable and random practice! Intrinsically evaluating performance!

We are not teaching tennis players to be automative machines but intelligent athletes that can recognize and adapt to the constantly changing environment. From acquisition to stabilization phase, we can not teach technical skills separately from the tactical skills.

As I mentioned before and again, our thoughts and feelings are definitely influencing our tennis performance. Confidence does not only influence the range of motion and fluidity of joint movement in time and space but players’ body awareness and weight distribution.

Tactical ideas influence the technical execution at the same way.

“The technical skills (ball velocity and accuracy) determine the stroke quality such are efficiency (success) or inefficiency (errors) rates made by the players” (Landlinger, Stöggl, Lindinger, Wagner, & Müller, 2012; Strecker et al., 2011; Vergauwen, Madou, & Behets, 2004). “The tactical skills (decision making, anticipation, visual search strategies) are related to the strategy decided prior to a match or in-game adaptations and decision-making activities on court” (Elferink-Gemser, Kannekens, Lyons, Tromp, & Visscher, 2010). 

Tactical ideas can be constructed through the patterns of play but most importantly through the dynamic training environment with lots of variables and in-game adaptations. In-game adaptations are the most effective way to work on the automatism and consistency of the technical skills (although it sounds very difficult). This type of unpredictable environment helps player to understand the importance of the body awareness and movement/ control of the joints in space in time. The high decisional involvement makes athletes that besides of thinking about their individual performance, to take into consideration their opponents and changing environment, comparing the ideal technical-tactical model as preview value with the possibility of its’ actual execution with or without adaptations. 

As I mentioned before, tennis is highly adaptive sport depending on the reactions and fast decisions. “Perceptual-cognitive application is of necessity for anticipating future events and is widely considered to be one of the core skills associated with efficient motor performance” (Abernethy, Gill, Parks, & Packer, 2001; Williams, Ward, Knowles, & Smeeton, 2002). Therefore, development of these type of abilities from the acquisition phase could be a bit complicated for the players but presents constant challenge and adaptation, which would definitely lead to the long term development of the player.

If we make athletes fully dependable on coaches’ feedback, they will never grow as intelligent athletes prepared to take full responsibility of their own performance at the training and match. By focusing on the perceptual-cognitive abilities from early phases of the tennis development, we can develop holistic players’ with the technical – tactical execution, self evaluation and possibility of adaptations to any playing conditions and type fo the opponent.

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