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What comes first the chicken or the egg? Technique V Tactic

What comes first the chick or the egg? The connection between tactical and technical development is paramount to the long term progress, enjoyment and development of the game for each individual. Technique is all time favourite topic for most people involved in tennis, be they coaches, parents, TV commentators and more. The majority of private lessons focus on technique alone and add to this the development of iPhone apps, cameras, websites, you tube videos and the rest, & technique seems to become the focus.

Tennis is a complex mutli faceted sport in terms of fitness components required; to name a few coordination, balance, agility, strength, speed, flexibility, & mental aspects. Learning efficient technique is a crucial part of tennis development. This is not only the technique of how the shot is produced with the racquet, but the efficient technique of movement and shot production with the body.

Tennis has changed a lot over the past decade with the game speed increasing and movement becoming more important than ever. When you look at the technique of many of the top players in the world, from the outside they may seem different. But when you take a closer look, the key biomechanical positions in each shot production are more often than not the same. What separates them is matching their tactical decision making and the technique required in the situation.

When looking at the relationship between technique and tactical development, you have to agree, that one cannot survive without the other. The key is finding the relationship between the two and coaching a system to flow back and forth from open skill to closed skill activities to link the two. The area in between the two is “ball control” as ball control requires both to work together.

So what comes first, technique or tactical development?

For the majority of coaches these two areas are two very distinct categories, but this could not be further from the truth. As previously mentioned, the development of technology has enabled high speed biomechanical analysis and instant feedback. This needs to be closely linked to the tactical component as technique is only a means to perform a specific tactic.

How many times do you see a junior player who “looks better” lose the match to someone who is tactically better or competes harder? Don’t get me wrong, the development of efficient technique is very important, but it needs to be combined with a tactical, mental and physical approach to produce a holistic player. In a match, each shot requires a decision making process which highlights if the technique will hold up under pressure.

So the simple questions doesn’t have a simple answer but more so it shows that they need to co-exist. The tactic determines what technique needs to be used. On the other side of the coin, if you are deficient in a technical area, this may limit you tactically.

An example of this would be which movement pattern a player must uses at which time when hitting a backhand;

  • Moving forward – Closed stance
  • End Range wide ball – Open Stance

Or which follow through is required on a forehand changes depending on what type of shot is being hit from different areas in the court. The decision of the tactic and the movement efficiency, effects the technical requirement.

So which is correct technique? The answer is all of them, depending on the tactical situation.

This link may seem a little complex but it doesn’t have to be. Wayne Elderton, a world renowned coach educator, summaries it the following way.

The connection moves from tactical to technical or from technical to tactical through three stages.

1) Tactics
First define the tactic the player needs to perform. The tactic includes the intentions, decisions and problem solving in which a player must engage to win a point.

2) Ball Control
Determine the key ball control characteristics needed for the tactic to be efficient. Ball control is the key link between Tactics and Technique. The key ball control characteristics are; height, direction, distance, speed and spin.

3) Technique
What are the mechanics needed to perform the shot consistently at higher speeds, without wasting energy and minimizing injury (efficiency).

This process can be best illustrated below;

Coaches need to remember that technical instruction should be designed to control the ball in order to perform a tactic (not just to look good).

“Learning strokes in isolated repetition (disconnected from play) doesn’t fully equip players to play successfully.”

Is your coach linking the two?

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