I am a Director of a junior academy, played at Florida State University and then played ITF’s for a few years before getting into coaching. One of the initial assessments that I like to do is from the Institute of Human Performance and consist of 8 basic test which themselves become a key element of the developmental approach for the younger players that we work with as we introduce speed work with the combination designed to enhance the movement profiles of the younger players. There is also a developmental framework that Paul Chek and Leigh Brandon developed a few years ago that focuses on approaching the development of the young athlete and I recommend Chek’s work. Also Fredrik Johannson of the Swedish Federation has a nice presentation on their approach to development on the ITF website Tennisicoach.com. Also Beni Linder of the Swiss Federation has a really interesting ways of building development and enhancing movement competencies and has numerous videos available on the site as well.
I will share a general framework with you from my approach and am glad to answer any questions you may have. The better the movement profile of a player the more confidence they gain. Of course there is a difference between a player that is fit to play and one that is conditioned to perform.. Building conditioning in the right way is a rather complex undertaking but our approach has yielded 65 kids scholarships. 3 National #1 recruits, two that have played for NCAA Titles with one winning an NCAA Team Title at The University of Virginia, 1 winning The Orange Bowl and a player ranked #1 Nationally in the 14’s that received a wildcard entry into the Easter Bowl in the 16’s in Indian Wells California. I have also had 6 players that went on to play on the tour at varying levels.
Here I will share with you principles 4 & 5 of my framework and again am happy to answer any other questions that you may have..
4) Principle #4 is systems. I Have found that if you have a common language and well thought out player goals but not meaningful systems, you cannot create autonomy in players. The goal is to have talented capable players able to execute the system but who are autonomous and have the capacity to move into a necessary go to loop when plays/ matches break down. The response is instantaneous, and everyone is on the same page under pressure. I want players to be good compensators and at ease if they must move into an alternative game style in order to have success. I do not want players responses to be fear based. We work on helping our athletes move, in the midst of competition, from Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance (Fight or Flight Responses) to Parasympathetic Nervous System Dominance (where the mind controls the body….we are also assessing and teaching elements such as breathing strategies e.g. it is important for the axial skeleton to achieve full excursion of inhalation and exhalation. If you do not get these, you will have a limitation in the athlete’s ability to position the hip and shoulder socket which will limit extremity motion.
Joel Jamieson who was George St Pierre’s and Anderson Silva’s conditioning coach addresses these type elements in his HRV (Herat Rate Variability) Conditioning Certification which I have obtained (I was one of the first two tennis coaches in North America to obtain the certification). Joel breaks conditioning into 3 essential types of days based on the loading level of the conditioning method employed on a given day. They are as follows A) – Development, B) – Stimulation and C) – Regeneration and I have adopted his framework with my programming. Additionally, if you are interested in how to sequence conditioning work and strength work there is a great article on Peak Performance (PPonline), that addresses the role of AMPK and MTORC1 in this determination. In my programming we categorize skills into 5 basic areas that can be broken down into 2 essential key subsets. Area 1 = strength and conditioning skills, in this area as players become more advanced I utilize not only HRV (Heart Rate Variability) training but also utilize max aerobic Speed and anerobic speed reserve calculations to structure HIIT running programs for athletes and we combine these with a variety of metabolic protocols and linear and lateral training methods to address conditioning and endurance and Area 2 which is what we call exploitation skills (I was fortunate to come across a German sport scientist work several years ago who provided this breakdown). In area 2 we have 3 essential skills which can be further broken down as we begin to do more specialized work with a given athlete beyond the general preparation/ foundational period of their development. In category 2 we are initially dealing with speed, coordination, and flexibility. I have come to believe over the last 15-20 years that the key skill in area two that others are dependent on is coordination. Skill acquisition, I have found, is dependent on movement quality and coordination is what supports all skill development in area 2. This is where the Institute of Human Performance assessment and Paul Cheks work are of value because they begin the process of building Dynamic Stabilization with in the athlete and this is of critical importance for the player if they are to have success at the National and International Levels..
5) Principle #5 Is Foundations – As I indicated above the first thing that I begin to address with our youngest players is broadening their movement profiles and to do this again I often turn to a group called Movement Dynamics in combination with a methodology formulated by Paul Check and Leigh Brandon which has 7 foundational tiers. These stages are very important as I see players continually at the Southern’s and National level that are balanced but who lack the postural stability and stiffness required to be explosive. Those 7 tiers are as follows:
A. Neuromuscular Isolation
B. Neuromuscular Integration
C. Dynamic Stabilization
D. Tennis Strength phase 1
E. Tennis Strength Phase 2
F. Tennis Power Phase 1
G. Tennis Power Phase 2
Both groups are very good at what they do. So, Category 1 skills are energy system based and Category 2 skills are Information Processing Based Skills and movement though most people fail to understand is in essence an information processing based skill. Again Category 2 skills can be further broken down e.g. coordination can be broken down into 4 subsets and you must be aware that the brain processes offensive and defensive agility differently (this is of critical importance). I learned these things over time so there are several important considerations like these that must be considered as you design developmental frameworks for players. These 2 elements are housed within what I refer to as an R7 framework. I learned this framework from Mike Robertson when I was in Louisville Ky a very gifted strength and conditioning coach based in Indianapolis Indiana. A simple breakdown of Robertson’s R7 model is as follows. 1) Release – Tissue Work. 2) Reset – creating mental and physical flexibility 3) Readiness – The warmup/ prehab which includes both mental and flexible elements. 4) Reactive Work – jump training, plyos, agility, power work. When you assess the top players at each level of competition one key element that will consistently be present is that the highest-level athletes at a given level of competition are typically able to reach peak power more quickly than their peers, they are more explosive. 5) Resistance = build/ assess/ improve.
Related to this I want to work with movement in relation to tactical patterns. The data of Craig O’Shannenssy (Brain Game Tennis.. He does the analytics for the tour) is an important part of this but in and of itself for juniors is inadequate to achieve the full results that I seek. Let me explain. Lets say I have Andre, the kid that was #1 in the Nation in the 14’s but in this example he is playing up in the 18’s. Lets use one of Craig’s tactical patterns say serve + 1. Against most 14 year olds Andre can be offensive 76% of the time if the pattern is executed correctly but against a top 18 year old he is more often than not neutral rather than offensive. So I have to create the ability to battle in order to get back to place where he can be offensive. To do this I rely on System 5. I was a Harry Hopman kid and learned this while training at Harrys as a junior (look Harry Hopman up he was a great coach and coached all the Australian Greats before setting up shop in the United States). System 5 teaches a player to battle beyond the point play strategies that O’Shannessy’s data advise.
How does this link to movement? Through Mladen I learned of the concept of tactical periodization where a physical skill is paired with a tactical element, we had always done this but merging System 5 with Craig’s Tour Data gave me the bridge I had been looking for and this can be done to improve movement, spatial reasoning and tactical awareness as well as conditioning being conscious of the adaptation that I want and where a kid is in their training program and what the level of loading is that that particularly kid has been exposed to heading into that workout.. Again we have loading parameters for each tier player and work with those 3 afore mentioned levels of loading that I provided to you above.
I hope this helps you and again feel free to shoot me any questions and if I can will gladly help you..