In 2014 I self-funded a trip to visit Beni Linder, the head physical trainer at the Swiss Tennis National centre. In part 1 I gave an overview of the systems and method used by Beni to develop tennis-athletes. In this instalment I include discussions on LTAD and the principles of intensity
Within the Swiss system players receive financial and/or staff support and are graded A, B, C level from around the age of 14. The tennis centre itself caters for a wide variety of ages. During my visit there was a 33 year old Davis cup player, down to 12 year old players who access the programme 1-2 days/week. All the full-time players were 14+ with a combination of Swiss national and international access players. The centre also hosts an independent tennis academy, which at times, according to ability, allows cross-collaborations within physical and tennis sessions. This academy also bring in considerable financial revenue which assists with the running of the national academy. This is a system that could be looked at within the UK.
With the variety in age groups, this allowed us to discuss a few topics within LTAD. When questioned about the application of the training matrix, Beni explained that it is applied according to training age. This aligned to my own coaching philosophy that players need to 'earn the right' for training to be more specific. The lower their training age the longer they will spend in each phase. I class this as their 'periodisation age'.
Maybe initially players will stay in the general method for the first few years of training, building up resilience, to be able to apply more intensity year on year. I feel that some coaches rush this process and try to get to 'pre-competition/Specific training' type intensity, without the player having the ability to endure this high level of training. A coaching friend of mine Brendan Chaplin wrote - 'don't give them the good stuff too early'.
I have had instances of parents questioning why their 9 year old child isn't doing tennis-specific movement, because 'X's' Mum is "doing an hour a week with them". Where do we go for further development at ages 14, 16, 18? Were movement is their area for development, they already know all the answers. When chatting with Christoph, he mentioned quote from his brother who is a teacher - "Every-time you show a child how to do something, you take away their ability to learn it". Our coaching practice should be based on guided discovery, loose description, set movement puzzles (Kelvin Giles) make the players work it out!
Tennis is sport where players are getting involved younger and younger, we have players as young 4 playing, regardless of your personal opinion on the average age stat of the top 100 players, we have players in the building who still have to love the sport and want to train hard for the next 20 years! Is this realistic?
When I asked Beni's opinion on the matter of 'early-specialisation' and involvement in multiple sports, he mentioned that it is important that at the age of around 14, it is important that the players start to take the sport seriously. However he did also say that by this age they need to be of a decent level - around top 20 ITF, if they are going to kick on and succeed.
This links closely to discussion I had with lead coaches for the LTA at a Grade 1 ITF event held at our centre - Teen Tennis. This is a high level U14 tournament, which is used by international players as a warm-up tournament prior to Tarbes in France. The consensus was that you don't need to winning Teen Tennis and/or Tarbes but you need to be in the building. When examining attendees of Teen Tennis who where neither winner or runner-up this above statement is supported:
An interesting point they made, was that are encouraging the national centres to employ PE teachers to be the physical trainers. This way they understand the cognitive development and the pedagogy aspect of working with a young athlete. On a recent visit to the Premier League team -West Ham United, the academy manger delivered a presentation on developing their philosophy. Also, he explained that they were trying to see the players as individuals rather than just a team member, giving individual goals and review meetings.
I often find that in tennis, players are often expected to attain the skills of evaluation and analysis, long before they have repeatedly applied a new technical, tactical or mental skill. This I feel can lead to frustration for both player and coach – therefore, I believe a deeper understanding of your players actual cognitive ability to learn what you are coaching/teaching is imperative. This is an area that I will be keen to explore deeper.
The principle of intensity
Beni does a lot of on-court physical training with a high emphasis on agility training. We discussed that within tennis we need to see a combination of both aggression (speed & agility) and precision (shot execution). Benni described that they are looking for the player who can fluctuation their effort. flowing from a aggressive 100% effort, down to a relaxed 60%, They are not looking for a player whose movements and stroke are all at 80% - therefore having no fluidity. We require aggression into relaxation - this is their principle of effort.
Within a combination agility and med ball drill we can cue - "show me an athlete, show me a tennis player". This links with thoughts and discussions I have had before, take the example of chasing down a drop shot or wide - for two steps you need to turn into a sprinter (driving through the balls of the feet), then back into a tennis player (decelerating through the heels) in order to 'be on balance' to execute the shot.
If we are to apply this rule of intensity, to two of the world’s best executing two ends of the spectrum – the running forehand that needs high amounts of movement and some precision vs the drop shot volley with fluid approach movement and deftly touch.
Therefore when we are coaching movement we need to see energy changes, fluctuations in intensity - movement - precision - movement. For this to you may apply my A-READER-R model of movement:
Anticipate; React; Explode; Accelerate; Execute; Recover; Repeat. More on this in future blogs.
Overall the trip was a great experience, a combination of seeing new things and ideas, reaffirming the work that we already do and motivating me to further my journey on becoming the best tennis-specific and conditioning coach I can be.
Beni and I chatted about self development as a coach as came to the agreement that to continually improve one must be very hungry, be a life-long learner, never stop searching and questioning. Beni told a story about a chat he had with Paganini a couple of years ago;
This is someone who has help developed one of the greatest tennis players of all-time, an example that we must always be looking to improve our understanding to help develop our player and athletes.