There seem to be two divided camps. One telling players to hit harder, be more aggressive, and attack relentlessly. Another telling players to construct the point and play with consistency and margin. Sometimes this debate becomes associated with the American versus the European style of play. Can’t we all just get along...?
As with most conflicting beliefs, the answer is somewhere in the middle. It’s not black or white. And it’s not as if you fall in either the camp of consistency or the camp of aggression. Consistency and aggression are at opposite ends of a spectrum in which players fall in somewhere in between.
Let’s look at both extremes. Playing with increased aggression will at some point have diminishing returns. Aiming at the lines will produce more winners, but it doesn’t make sense if only 40% of the balls go in. Therefore, aiming closer and closer to the lines or hitting harder and harder has diminishing returns. On the flip side, playing with increased margin will also at some point will have diminishing returns because if you chose to increase your margin of error to make 100% of your shots, you’d sacrifice placement and power to the extent your opponent would have a field day.
Long story short, there’s a delicate balance - a "yin and yang" if you will. Each day that balance changes. If your strokes are feeling good, you might lean toward the side of aggression. If your strokes are off but the body is feeling good, then you might increase your margins and slug it out physically. A delicate balance indeed...
Tennis is like body building in the sense that you can only improve so quickly. In body building terms, you can only bulk up so fast. A body builder does thousands of reps for such incremental gains just how a tennis player must hit thousands of balls before any noticeable improvement.
Development is a long, arduous process, so you must 1) adjust your expectations accordingly and 2) take the approach of sculpting a piece of art. You can’t get a six pack overnight - everyone knows that. But if you keep chipping away at that sculpture, you’ll end up with something beautiful over time. However, if you don’t start now and put in the work to chip away at that sculpture, it doesn’t matter how much time passes. You’ll have that same ugly hunk of stone.
I recently saw a coach teaching students to lean forward on the transition volley split step, so if someone touched their back, they'd almost fall flat on their face. The reasoning was to hit out in front and cut off angles.
This is ridiculous.
What about a ball hit to the left, right, or lobbed..? The entire point of the split step is to move in any direction, and that can only happen if you're balanced. With your weight falling forward, you're basically saying, "pass me."
That's the difference between Andy Roddick barreling into net and Roger Federer transitioning gracefully with pristine balance and posture.
No matter how great the coach... all a coach can give you is a blueprint to execute on. The player has still has to put in the hard yards and make it happen.
It's human nature to look for the easy answer. Is it the racquet, the strings, the string tension...?
There are no silver bullets in tennis. It's 98% player, 2% equipment.
There's nothing you can do to change overnight... it's what you are over what you do. Build strong over time!!
As a coach, you should not make the decision for the player.
You should sell the player on why a decision may be good or bad, and allow the player to come to their own realization and make that decision for themselves.
That's how you gain commitment, avoid conflict, and create lasting change.