Do What They Say, Say What They Mean
In this video Transform Your Volley 2 basic principles of MTM are violated:
1) match what you say with what you demonstrate to your students
2) offer to your students data that helps rather than hinders their progress
Back in 1968 at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club Oscar Wegner noticed that former tour pro coaches, including his boss Pancho Segura, were not teaching their students they way they themselves played. Since Pancho had no explanation for this he told Oscar to look into it to find the answer. What Oscar discovered led to the development of Modern Tennis Methodology, a simple yet highly effective system of teaching tennis based on the techniques of best players of all time.
Notice how the first part of the instructional video shows the player in the white shirt using his hand to find the ball, with no attention to his feet, and not “stepping in” on his volleys. His racket face naturally moves above and behind his hand as he aligns his hand to the ball. If he focused on his feet he would be taking attention away from this alignment of his hand and the ball. Also notice that he does not need to use forward motion by stepping into the ball to impart force, or use his feet or body position to direct the ball. This section of the video demonstrates how MTM teaches the volley, by developing fast hands that find the ball well and quick feet that get the hand there without conscious thought.
In contrast, the following sections of the video stress stepping in on the ball. It is explained that the contact point on the volley must be in front of the body to hit a clean shot, which is essentially correct. But it is recommended to tie a rope to the tip of the racket on one end and the net on the other end to make it virtually impossible to “take the racket back”. What this actually does is makes it impossible to find the ball with the hand. Instead, with this video’s technique, the player must move his body forward to move his hand close to the ball to find it well.
The instructor talks about a minimal swing on the volley. Depending on the situation, in the MTM volley there is no “swing” per se, but instead a “stop”. The exception would be the “swinging volley”, which is another shot altogether. In MTM it is understood that bringing the racket tip forward decelerates the ball, producing a less powerful, loopier shot. Former USA Davis Cup Team Captain and international champion Tom Gorman, recommended to keep the string bed showing “the ski” to the opponent throughout the shot, IE: keeping the string bed parallel to the net rather than bringing the racket tip forward (“the ski” is a reference to the Head stencil on the string bed.) It should be noted here that moving the racket back into the “ready” position may create the appearance of scooping or bringing the racket tip forward, but it is not, in fact, part of the stroke itself.
This is followed by the advice to lift weights to strengthen the forearm to stabilize and control the volley. In MTM it is not necessary to lift weights but simply to tighten the grip on the racket sufficiently to counteract the incoming force of the ball on the strings. It is actually a rather effortless “feel”. To impart strong force on the volley it is necessary to only pull the elbow inward toward the body on the forehand and move the elbow outward by squeezing together the shoulder blades on the backhand. It is not true that players “struggle when the do come up to net because they’re simply not strong enough to hold a steady position at contact…and this is more or less because of a lack of strength in the forearm muscles and in the arm muscles to just be able to hold it and stop.” Even young children with undeveloped musculature can hit powerful volleys with MTM.
All that is necessary to keep the hand and, therefore, the racket in front of the body on the forehand volley is to keep the elbow close to the body and pull it inward, creating a crisp, powerful contact of the ball and the string bed. In the photos below the player is being instructed with cone markers to step across into the ball. This is not only unnecessary, but it can slow the player down from returning to the ready position quickly, and at the net every millisecond counts!
Finally, the instructional video in question shows the player hitting against a wall making contact under the ball. This produces the bad habit of popping the ball up from below. In MTM it is not advised to practice the volley against a flat wall, but instead to drill against an inclined board set against the wall at an angle to better “educate the arm” to make contact in front and above the plane of the incoming ball.
For advanced play one can take a lesson from what the pros actually do, such as in the videos below of Cara Black hitting volleys against a wall. Notice how she lets the racket go above and behind her hand and comes from above. Cara went on to become #1 in the world in doubles. Note that as a 16 year old she did not have “Popeye” arms but hit volleys with incredible strength, speed and accuracy.
In tennis instruction it takes only one small piece of false data to lead the player astray. From there one thing leads to another, compromising his/her potential. With Oscar Wegner’s Modern Tennis Methodology coaches learn to do what they say and say what they mean, guiding their players to their personal best.