In 2014 I self-funded a trip to visit Beni Linder, the head physical trainer at the Swiss Tennis National Centre. I had seen his presentations on Tennis iCoach and could see similarities with myself in the way he coaches and the methods he uses with tennis players.
I don't come from either a tennis, nor a traditional strength and conditioning background. I am passionate however in becoming the best tennis-specific S&C coach/physical trainer I can be. I believe there are two routes that tennis players are trained, either barbells or on-court drills.
For me, when I first started, I went along the path of on-court drills. A tennis coach would come to me a say player 'A' is struggling with this specific situation. I would get them to show me the movements and I would go away a design elaborate on-court 'movement-specific' drills. After a while you come to realise that actually, it is not their ability to execute the 'actual' pattern, but they lack the underlying strength, stability and coordination to complete the task.
Therefore in this sport it important to find the middle ground, as combination of athletic and tennis-specific physical development.
After watching Beni present and learning more about the training philosophy of the Swiss (written by Pierre Paganini, Roger Federer's physical coach for around 20years) I felt I had found someone and something that was on my way of thinking, this central path of athletic/tennis development.
During my two and a half day visit, I observed several sessions both on the court and in the gym. I had the opportunity to ask questions of both Beni and his 2nd in command Christoph Biaggi. I asked about their training philosophies and methods. Below I have decided to focus in on a few topics that rose, as well as giving you a bit of an insight into both their overall philosophy and individual session structure.
The Philosophy itself is based on a matrix in which each of the physical qualities and is trained using different methods either: general; orientated; integrated; or specific.
Aims of the methods:
- General - the aim is to turn the tennis player into an athlete
- Orientated - the aim is to turn the athlete into a tennis athlete
- Integrated - almost complex training e.g. med ball throw into ground strokes
- Specific - Technical session with a physical focused e.g. specific intervals prescribed by S&C to tennis coach
Example of above with endurance:
4x4:3min, to increase V02 working at 90-95%, also 30-40min steady at ~145bpm used as recovery sessions. Also some 30:30
Interval based - 5:20 10:20, 20:30, 30:30 (both used for clay court prep) 20:40. As soon as you add a med ball into drill, minimum work time is 10sec
2min of 5-5-10-10, 2min tennis - tennis must maintain high quality
On-court tennis drills, with sets and reps prescribed by the S&C coach
Even the equipment used, may vary according to the method used, for example if training strength using the general method, sessions are more gym based, resistance training. However, in an oriented strength session, you would use med balls and resistance bands/belts.
For someone like, me with a military background, I like the structured way of working and compartmentalising of training methods and strategies. Although some may say it is slightly formulaic, I like the way that it can bring order to training and planning.
Also there is a clearer way to define your training when you are quoting the traditional phases of training:
- General Prep
- Specific Prep
Philosophy - Session structure
In addition to their overall philosophy, Paganini has also constructed a specific structure for each session. Each session will have a defined method of training, physical quality, prescribed intensity and specific areas of development. An example would be:
Topic: Speed and agility
Intensity: Low, Mod or High
Specifics: Exactly what are you going to focus on?
Even in a group session, working on Speed & Agility, each player will have their own key area to develop, so within session, the player will complete different drills or the same drill. If the same drill, the element that is cued is specific, or the drill is adapted slightly e.g. how the ball is fed, direction, speed of movement, number if COD.
Throughout the session each drill will grow in complexity, adding one layer at a time - but throughout the specifics are worked upon. This challenges the player to complete increasingly more complex actions under fatigue - similar to what players will need to overcome in tough rally.
Within these drills it is a perfect opportunity to expand the skills into mini-game or competitions, within which tactical outcome and puzzles can be added. The more we can get players thinking and solving, the better match players they will become.
Below is a video incorporating different coordination qualities, in both closed and integrated situation:
In part two I will discuss further insights, including their opinions long-term athlete development.