The main focus of today’s teaching methodology is technical work. Technology has given coaches the opportunity to dissect and analyze professional technique like never before, and many coaches and players spend countless hours chasing the elusive perfect swing.
Coaches will feed the same ball over and over and correct the differences between the form of the student and the picture of the perfect stroke that they have in their minds. Similarly, if two players are practicing, they will use drills in which they hit balls over and over working on achieving their mental image of the perfect stroke.
Unfortunately this approach to the game will seldom accomplish the desired results.
Although, certain common elements have to be present in every effective stroke, the focus should never be solely on the form of the stroke but rather on the resulting ball trajectory since that is what really matters during match play. As a matter of fact, very rarely will a player use the same swing path during a rally. Each incoming shot presents a unique mix of spin, speed, height and direction and every shot a player hits has different goals as well in terms of direction, spin, speed and height, forcing a player to constantly adjust.
Therefore, it is important to understand that the secret to great technique is not the development of a perfect swing path but the development of Stroke Flexibility - strokes that will allow a player to hit any type of shot (any mixture of spin, speed, height and direction) he/she might need as well as provide him/her with the ability to handle any type of shot hit to him/her by the opponent. In other words, total ball control.
So, instead of working on perfecting the forehand or backhand swinging pattern, a player should work on learning to addapt a basic swing pattern to handle any type of shot coming to the forehand side or to the backhand side of his body, as well as being able to respond to each of these shots with the desired combination of speed, spin, and placement.
In order to do so players should practice with a high degree of variability, constantly working on hitting and receiving shots at different speeds, with different spins, at different heights, at different lengths and in different directions. Only then will players be in a position to truly develop the required ball control to succeed in competitive tennis.
The key to worldclass technique is not perfect swinging patterns but the ability to adjust those patterns!