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Holistic Technical Effectiveness in Tennis

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An Introduction to Holistic Technical Effectiveness in Tennis

While many believe that at the pinnacle of rankings, factors like physical fitness, tactical acumen, or mental resilience might overshadow the role of technique in determining the best player, it's essential to view this in the context of the constraint-led approach.

Within this approach, the technique isn't just about having the 'right' or 'best' form. Instead, it's about how players adapt their techniques based on the constraints they face, be it environmental, task-related, or personal. A 'solid' technique, in this context, means having a versatile and adaptable foundation. Without this adaptability ingrained from a young age, players wouldn't embark on their professional journey.

While it might be challenging to outshine a top-tier opponent solely based on 'superior technique', any technical vulnerability, when viewed through the lens of constraints, can become a glaring loophole. Opponents can quickly identify and exploit these gaps, potentially stalling a player's ascent in their career.

Rationale Behind Technique Modification in a Constraint-Led Approach

Deliberating Technical Adjustments

In the realm of the constraint-led approach, coaches must be discerning when contemplating technical modifications with a player. Such interventions demand time might diminish a player's confidence, and can sometimes backfire. Here are the primary motivations behind considering a technical intervention:

1. Addressing Current Tactical Challenges:

  • If a player consistently falters in match scenarios due to a specific shot's unreliability or an inability to execute a desired stroke, it signals a need for technical refinement.

2. Anticipating Future Tactical Demands:

  • Both the coach and player might recognize that while a certain stroke is effective now, it could become a hindrance later on. A classic instance is the transition to a continental grip for serving. While this change might not offer immediate tactical advantages, its long-term benefits can be invaluable.

3. Safeguarding Against Physical Strain and Injuries:

  • Even if a technique proves tactically sound, its repetitive execution might lead to weariness and subsequent injuries. In such cases, a technical intervention becomes imperative to ensure the player's well-being.

In the constraint-led approach, the emphasis is on understanding the player's interaction with their environment and tasks. Thus, any technical change should be in harmony with these constraints, ensuring a holistic development.

Enhancing Technical Effectiveness Without Always Resorting to Technical Intervention

A Misconception in Coaching

It's a common misconception that boosting technical effectiveness invariably demands a direct technical intervention. However, coaches must recognize that this isn't always the truth.

Understanding Technical Effectiveness:

Technical effectiveness revolves around enhancing a player's proficiency in scoring points by refining their capability to execute intended strokes. This enhancement can be realized by focusing on one or a mix of the five ball attributes:






While the route to achieving these improvements is intrinsically tied to technique—since any enhancement often necessitates adjustments to the Path, Angle, or Speed of the racket head upon contact—it doesn't always mean a direct technical intervention is required. Enhancements can stem from physical, mental, or tactical strategies. More importantly, when players grasp the objective and its significance, they can autonomously rectify their techniques.

The Holistic Coaching Perspective:

Truly adept coaches grasp the intricate relationship between technical effectiveness and the four pillars of performance. This course is designed to hone your understanding in this domain, offering analytical tools and methodologies to bolster your coaching prowess. By recognizing that technical effectiveness isn't solely about direct technical changes, coaches can adopt a more holistic and adaptive approach to player development.

Diversity in Technical Approaches

Understanding the Spectrum of Technical Work

While it's essential to analyze any technical intervention, it's beneficial to categorize technical endeavours into two primary segments:

1. Technical Progressions:

  • Tailored for budding and less seasoned players who haven't yet established their techniques. Here, a systematic, step-by-step progression is employed to instil robust foundational skills. This method ensures that young players develop a strong base from which they can further refine and adapt their techniques as they grow.

2. Technical Analysis:

  • Geared towards seasoned players who've already honed their skills over time. In this approach, coaches delve into detailed technical analysis, identifying areas of improvement or modification. Given the player's experience, a more personalized intervention strategy is adopted, ensuring that changes align with the player's unique style and strengths.

Recognizing the distinction between these two approaches allows coaches to apply the most suitable method based on the player's experience and needs, ensuring optimal development and growth.

Understanding Technical Progressions: Mini Tennis Edition

An Introduction to Mini Tennis Progressions:

Mini Tennis Progressions are tailored for young enthusiasts just beginning their tennis journey, though they can be adaptable for adults venturing into the sport.

1. Red Progressions:

The Red Progressions serve as an introductory phase, specially designed for youngsters. They offer a streamlined approach to instilling the foundational techniques. This method is particularly efficient for quickly grounding young players in the basics, even in group settings.

2. Orange and Green Progressions:

These progressions are more flexible in their approach compared to the Red Progressions. While they continue to emphasize the foundational techniques, they also prepare players for the evolving challenges they'll face as they progress. As young players transition to larger courts, adapt to longer rackets, and play with heavier balls, the Orange and Green Progressions guide them. The aim is to ensure that by the culmination of their mini-tennis phase, players possess a 'solid' technique that can serve as a foundation for advanced play.

Additional Resources:

For a comprehensive understanding of the Mini Tennis Progressions, guild members will be provided with a detailed PowerPoint presentation as part of the coaching resources. This presentation will delve deeper into each progression, offering visual aids and further insights to enhance your coaching approach.

Diving into Technical Analysis:

The Technical Effectiveness Checklist:

The Technical Effectiveness Checklist serves as a diagnostic tool, designed to pinpoint and rank the most pertinent areas of instruction for players grappling with a specific stroke intention. This systematic approach is invaluable for coaches as it promotes a methodical evaluation, starting with the simplest corrections that can yield the most significant improvements.

When aiming to bolster a player's technical proficiency for a distinct stroke intention, the checklist recommends the following analytical sequence:

The PAS Framework in Holistic Technical Effectiveness

The PAS (Path, Angle, Speed) framework is a cornerstone in achieving Holistic Technical Effectiveness in Tennis. It emphasizes the intricate relationship between a player's racket movement and the resulting ball trajectory, speed, and spin.

  1. Initial Assessment:

  • Recognize the current outcome.

  • Define the goal in terms of ball characteristics.

  • Determine the necessary changes at the contact point in terms of PAS to attain the desired improvement.

Sometimes, merely enlightening the player about the correlation between their racket's impact and the intended ball characteristics can trigger the needed improvement. Begin by enhancing their awareness of the objective and the racket's required action upon contact to meet that goal.

If this awareness doesn't yield results, delve deeper into the foundational factors influencing PAS:

2. Set-Up:

  • Position: Is the player aptly positioned to meet the PAS objectives and, consequently, the intended outcome?

  • Time Management: Did the players position themselves promptly?

  • Reaction: Was the player's response to the incoming ball timely?

  • Judgment: Did the player accurately gauge the incoming ball's trajectory and speed?

  • Footwork: Was the player's footwork both efficient and effective in approaching the ball?

3. Timing:

  • Contact Point: Is the ball's contact point optimal concerning the player's body?

  • Consistency: Is the contact point maintained consistently?

  • Trajectory: Is the player aiming to make contact at the ideal point in the ball's trajectory?

4. Feeling:

  • Racket Action: Is the player's racket swing and motion congruent with their intended stroke?

  • For aggressive groundstrokes, a swing with acceleration both before and through contact is essential.

  • For neutralizing first-serve returns, a concise jabbing action is more suitable.

5. Mechanics:

  • Contact Adjustments: What modifications are needed at the contact point to fulfill the player's intention?

  • PAS Changes: Does the player need to alter the Path, Angle, or Speed of the racket upon contact?

  • Comparison: Evaluate the player's racket and body postures against acceptable standards.

  • Biomechanical Evaluation: Analyze the biomechanical efficiency of the stroke and contemplate developments in line with the intended outcome.

By systematically working through this framework, coaches can provide targeted feedback and interventions, ensuring players develop a comprehensive understanding of their technique and its impact on their game.

Cultivating the 'Technical Performer'

Holistic Approach to Performance:

While the checklist primarily focuses on technical effectiveness, it's imperative to understand that it can be extrapolated to encompass all four performance factors. The essence lies in the subsequent probing once a developmental area is pinpointed through the checklist:

  • Key Questions:

  • How is the player executing that?

  • Why is the player adopting that approach?

Case in Point: Suppose a player grapples with effectively building from the baseline using their forehand. One potential reason could be an inadequate setup, possibly stemming from a lack of strength in the back leg, hindering an open stance forehand. Here, the focus would shift to enhancing physical strength.

Conversely, the issue might be psychological. The player might possess a technically sound forehand but lacks the confidence to employ it effectively.

Another angle could be tactical. The player might be unclear about the desired shot, leading to inappropriate setups. In such cases, honing their tactical comprehension becomes paramount.

The Role of a Performance Coach: A proficient Performance Coach adopts a comprehensive approach, addressing all four Performance Factors when fostering technical effectiveness. In contrast, a less adept coach might narrowly focus on the technical aspect, neglecting the interconnectedness of all performance facets.

Holistic Development: To truly nurture technical effectiveness, it's not just about teaching the tactical decision and the technical action. It's equally crucial to ensure the player's physical prowess, movement dynamics, and mental mindset align with the targeted proficiency levels. This holistic approach ensures a well-rounded development, preparing the player for diverse challenges on and off the court.


It is when a coach starts to think, understand and analyse using these multiple layers of analysis that they start to become highly effective at identifying the most useful teaching area for the player.

Accurate analysis starts with an understanding of the current outcome and the intended outcome (the goal–ball characteristics).

The coach then needs to think through:

  • What needs to change at impact to achieve that change (PAS)?

  • Are there underpinning factors that will help them achieve that (Setup, timing, feeling, mechanics)?

  • Why are they not sorting this out for themselves? Is there another underpinning problem – such as confidence, strength, fatigue, understanding etc?

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About the Author

Coach Educator Steve Whelan leads a LTA Coach Education Forum

Steve Whelan is a highly experienced tennis coach and educator with over two decades of experience in the industry. He has worked with thousands of players and coaches, helping them to reach their full potential on the court. In 2022, Steve's social media content reached over 20 million views, solidifying his position as a leading voice in the tennis world.

Learn more about Steve's impressive career by visiting his website at

For inquiries or to schedule a coaching session, you can contact Steve directly at

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