Tail Wagging The Dog? A New Twist

In the video below Jim McLennan notes that “Swivel Discs will truly unlock your feeling for balance and rhythm – where your strokes flow from the center – and the most useful analogy is whether the tail is wagging the dog (this is bad) or you are wagging (so to speak) your arm and racquet.”

However, there are some data contained therein which could lead even the most dogged tennis enthusiast “a-stray”.

In the above demonstration a few things go against natural movement and the modern tennis techniques of the pros :

  1. Although it may be fun and useful for overall balance and coordination to twist the body on swiveling discs, this motion bears no relationship to actual movement of the feet in tennis. The player will pivot on the balls of his feet when loading for a groundstroke or when turning on the run, but in no case would he be swiveling flat on his feet as illustrated.
  2. In the video there is no independent movement of the hips and shoulders while loading because the trunk is turning as a single unit. In reality, fundamental to the loading and finishing phases of the modern groundstroke is the twisting of the spine that puts the hips and shoulders in opposition.
  3. He demonstrates a stiff forehand swing “initiating the stroke with the arm”, which he says he got from Jack Brody, inventor of the “8-Board”, but suggests instead to “do what the pros do and the racket will lag in both directions”, following with another demonstration. However, there is no “lag” of the racket in the second example, although it is described as such. The wrist stays in the neutral position throughout the stroke, which is the exact opposite of what the pros do.
  4. He goes on to say, “I could change my grip and pretend I know what a semi-western is” while he keeps his wrist and arm in line, which is characteristic of old-school technique.
  5. He concludes that for students, swinging the racket while swiveling on rotating discs “gets them very much more aware of their hips and very much more aware of their balance and very much more aware of whether they’re effortful or effortless.” Unfortunately, his advice as shown actually inhibits effortless motion by failing to separate the upper and lower body, release the wrist permitting the racket to lag, and finish the stroke with a backwards pulling motion.

In contrast, the Modern Tennis Methodology groundstroke utilizes natural movement to facilitate a whip-effect that allows the racket to respond to momentum and gravity and create effortless racket-head acceleration. This combined with a full finish and pulling backward creates the powerful groundstrokes of the pros. In the MTM forehand the player’s wrist extends as he brings the butt of the racket toward the point of contact. This wrist extension is a by-product of a loose grip and attention on finding the ball with the hand. The relationship of body rotation and lag of the racket depends on an effortless release of the wrist, occurring as the player discharges energy along the kinetic chain.

The player needs to feel this load and release from the ground up in order to optimally control his stroke. Use of a tool minimizing that sensation would actually diminish rather than heighten body awareness. The modern forehand groundstroke involves tremendous power combined with the most efficient possible movement, which feels almost effortless on the arm when properly executed. As Oscar Wegner puts it, “Modern tennis is much more physical than the old, conventional style, but much more powerful. At the pro level, forehands have been hit up to 130 mph (Federer’s up to 125), with the biggest effort on the strongest parts of your body, your upper legs and your glutes.

So, don’t let false data about tennis technique be the tail that wags the dog in your game, and save your swivel, balance and rhythm for the dance floor.