Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wall Practice

I've written about this before, but I thought I'd mention my wall practice yesterday and compare it to how most kids practice.

I grabbed a 75% compression ball and stood roughly 20 - 25 ft from a backboard that had a line at net height and a 9 sq ft square, the bottom of which is 3 ft above the net line.  I hit soft topspin forehands and backhands up into the square for 3 minutes.  I counted 96 hits.  I got a quick drink and repeated this exercise with a high-altitude ball.  Same number of hits.  All but a couple of my hits were in the square.  None were below the net line or over the fence.

I got another drink and did a 10 minute round with the 75% compression ball again.  That ball moved more in the wind, bounced a bit more erratically, so I thought it would be more challenging.  I didn't count the hits this time, but my distance from the wall and hitting pace were the same as the first two rounds, so I must have hit roughly 320 shots in the ten minutes.  Again, no shot "missed" or bounced twice and all but a handful of shots went into the square.  I probably failed to put topspin on three or four balls during that time.  I just brushed up on the ball, lifting it with topspin into the 3' x 3' square.

So in 16 minutes of hitting, I hit roughly 500 shots.  Tack on a couple of minutes between rounds and we'll call it 20 minutes total, that's as many shots as I would hit rallying non-stop with a partner who never misses in about 35 minutes.  Basically I was able to cut my practice time in half.

Of course, hitting gently against a wall isn't the same as hitting gently on a court.  But it does help me do what all great players do, that is make solid, consistent contact between the racquet and the ball.

Could a coach feeding balls to a student get the results that my wall practice got?  Would a coach tossing or hitting balls to the student be as good for consistent ball contact as my wall practice?  Would the coach's admonitions to "move your feet", "load on the outside leg", "make a unit turn" etc enhance or degrade the feedback I got by hitting balls into that wall?

When I watch players hit fed balls, I see a radically variable error rate.  Some kids don't miss much.  Most kids miss a ton, especially relative novices.  This high error rate trains failure.  The wall rally trains success.

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