When The Solution Is Worse Than The Problem
fix: noun 1. A difficult or awkward situation from which it is hard to extricate oneself; a predicament. 2. A measure taken to resolve a problem or correct a mistake; a solution or remedy.
I recently received an e-mail with video attached that “shows you a case-study of a player who attended our 5-day VIP experience”. According to the email “George struggled with late contact on his forehand”, so the video provides a “Forehand Tip: Late Contact Fix”. Unfortunately the “fix” is worse than the problem.
Poor George, he went all the way to Costa Rica to learn something new to improve his game, but all he got was more of the same, i.e. conventional technique. A senior does not have to stay stuck in old-school mechanics to keep playing. In fact, to avoid injury and increase longevity in tennis the transition from conventional to modern technique is a must!
Some may claim that “old dogs cannot learn new tricks”, but this is simply not true. I have successfully coached players of every age from 3 to 83. Those who struggle with the shift from conventional to modern style do so not because of age but because of attitude.
I coached a 3 year old who could hit from baseline to baseline, having been previously taught to turn sideways, take the racket way back and lunge into the ball with great force and momentum. But he would not touch the ball gently and finish his stroke to keep the ball in bounds from other areas the court. He simply preferred hitting the ball out of the park. And I have seen seniors resist making any modifications to the way they have been playing tennis for 30, 40 or 50+ years because of their insistence on “muscle memory” as a reason to refuse to adapt.
The vast majority of players who come to me with prior conventional training are willing and, therefore, able to make major improvements to their playing style and enjoyment of tennis. Some take longer than others, but all benefit from the lasting results from the ease and simplicity that MTM offers.
Back to good old George: the following photos show his “progression” over a 5 day period. From the MTM perspective this is actually a regression because he has picked up a flaw that will further complicate his game and potentially cause him injury.
The instructor notes that George wears a brace on his right elbow. This is attributable to one or more simple elements that are easily identified and remedied with MTM (but are not the topic of this article). However, George will also most likely be wearing a brace on his left knee as a consequence of what is shown in the video – now that IS a fix!
BY GEORGE, I THINK HE’S (not) GOT IT
On day 1 George is seen turning sideways, lunging toward the ball and making contact near the heel of his front foot, unweighting off both feet as he points the tip of the racket forward and lifts it to his shoulder. There is little upper body rotation as his hips and shoulders stay more or less on the same plane. This is his usual swing. His attempt to bring the racket to his shoulder makes the stroke a bit of a “hybrid” mix of conventional and modern techniques, since a truly old school finish would be upwards and in front of his body. The good thing is that he takes the weight off his left foot as he lifts his body up, relieving stress on his ankle, knee, hip and lower back joints. In MTM one session would show him quickly and easily how to adjust to find, feel and finish to improve his balance, control and power. (click on photos to enlarge)
But instead photos from day 3 show George continuing to turn sideways, lunge forward and lean even further toward the ball, making contact near the toes of his front foot, forcing him to keep his weight on that foot as he complies with the instruction to lift the racket high over his head and to the left, creating torque that will strain his joints. This is especially dangerous for seniors whose joints are not as supple as they used to be.
In the day 5 photos George demonstrates his “fixed” forehand, in which he plants his front foot and rotates his body around his left leg, ending with his left foot pointing to the right as the rest of his body twists to the left. The player’s instinctive fix of unweighting to protect himself from injury had been replaced with a mechanical fix that may cause him injury. Otherwise there is no significant difference between his forehand from Day 1 to Day 5.
The fundamental difference between this hybrid/conventional forehand and the modern (MTM) forehand is that:
1.In the former the player steps into the ball with his contact point over his left leg, placing his weight forward then twisting his body at the waist to bring the racket up and to the left, producing strain
2.In the latter the player would step onto his right foot with his contact point out in front of his body at a 45º angle, placing his weight to the side, then pulling the racket up and across to the shoulder, eliminating strain
Both George’s “before” and “after” strokes fall into the 1. description above. With MTM he would be guided toward discovering how much more relaxed, efficient and powerful his forehand would feel using the 2. description above.
In a 2017 NY Times article entitled “What I Wish I’d Known About My Knees” Jane E. Brody describes how after decades of playing singles tennis and other sports she resorted to several therapies for knee injury repair. In the article a medical expert suggests to “Pay attention to the activities that aggravate knee pain”. But it fails to address, as do most of the articles I have researched, exactly what technical aspects of tennis technique aggravate knee pain in the first place. Only generalizations about stop-and-go or change-of-direction movements are mentioned as suspected causes. Worse yet, many sources of tennis instruction actually promulgate false data that causes rather than protects against injury. This is an area of research and discovery that has been sadly neglected in tennis coaching as well as medicine and physical therapy. The good news is that there are some progressive coaches and medical professionals such as Oscar Wegner and Dr. Karl Barniak who have examined and found solutions to tennis injuries which have been caused by faulty technique.
Let’s just hope that George had an otherwise pleasant stay in Costa Rica and that his next tennis investment is not a knee brace and a vacation to stay off his feet to “fix” a torn meniscus.