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Sunday, March 15, 2009

HOW TO...Choose the proper racket for kids

One of the problems that parents deal with is a lack of tennis knowledge or guidance to help them in making a proper purchase. What is the correct racket to buy? In any sporting goods store these days, you will find a section of rackets labeled Junior rackets. These rackets are usually very reasonably priced, and the selection might go from two or three to almost a dozen in differing lengths and grip sizes. There are THREE main concerns with the purchase of any racket:

  • LENGTH - junior rackets come in various lengths from 25" to 17" measured from top of head to butt of racket

As your child stands up straight, place the racket next to their leg, racket head down, and let them reach toward the grip. Their fingers should touch the end of the racket handle called the butt. If their hand reaches down further onto the grip itself, then the racket is too long.

  • GRIP SIZE - junior rackets have limited grip selections somewhere in the 3 to 4 " range

With your hand held flat, palm up and fingers along side one another, measure with a ruler beginning at the lowest crease in your palm. Stretch the ruler towards your ring finger. The measurement you see at the tip of your ring finger will be somewhere in the range that I have already mentioned.

  • COMPOSITION - most kids rackets are made of aluminum providing light weight, stability, and an inexpensive price

Using an improperly sized racket can limit your child's progress, cause injury or make kids develop bad habits in their attempt to overcome bad equipment.

Episode 4: Child-sized Tennis

Learn how to make a better racket choice for kids, and discover what grip sizes really mean.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Episode 3: The Basic Forehand

Probably the first shot you ever hit on a court. Learn the basics of how it works.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Episode 2: A Gripping Tale

Holding a racket seems very basic, but a few variations will help you "get a grip."

HOW TO...Basic Grip for forehand and backhand

Finding the best way to hold a racket can be a difficult task. But here is a way to simplify the selection of gripping techniques that have such names as Eastern, Western, Semi-Western or Continental. 

  • Placing the palm of your hand on the strings, slide it down the handle onto the grip
  • Stop sliding when the heal of your hand hits the wide bottom of the racket called the butt
  • Close your hand around the grip as if you were shaking hands. 
This is the most classic and common forehand grip used on the dominant side of your body (right side for righties and left side for lefties).

Take a good look at the bottom BUTT portion of your grip and you will notice it's the shape of an octagon and displays 8-beveled sides. We can use the bevels as points of reference as I describe their relationship to your hand. Keep in mind that both the size of your hand and the size of your grip affect what you see. When holding the forehand grip as already mentioned, there is a natural shape of the letter "V" created. For what I am terming the classic forehand, the "V" shape should fall somewhere on the right bevel of the grip.

The groundstroke hit on the non-dominant side of your body is called the backhand. To hold the racket for this shot, we can once again use the sliding technique but in a different way. 

  • Take your dominant hand and clamp it over the edge of the racket head with the thumb now facing the fingers
  • Slide your hand down onto the grip until hitting the racket butt
  • Close your hand and you will find that the natural "V" shape falls on the left bevel
This is the classic grip commonly used for the one-handed backhand. For a two-handed backhand, place the non-dominant hand above the dominant one and hold a forehand grip. I would suggest trying both styles since even two-handed players hit a one-handed groundstroke due to the occasional length-of-reach issue.

IMPORTANT BACKHAND TIP: On the one-handed backhand, be sure to support the racket weight by keeping your opposite hand under the throat area of the racket before you begin your swing (more on this later).

Holding the proper grip can make all the difference in your stroke. And don’t forget to change grips between hitting a forehand and backhand groundstroke. Picture this in your mind: when a different side of the racket face (strings) strikes the ball, the grip should change. 

Your wrist and elbow will thank you for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Episode 1: Beginnings

With over 20 years experience as tennis player and instructor, this podcast might be just what's needed to help you better understand tennis and improve your game.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Return to the burn

It occurred to me this past weekend–my first trip to the court since the frigid winter of Southern New Jersey took a rest with some warmer weather–that returning to the forehands, backhands, and volleys of tennis after a layoff are not the scary venture they were in my earlier years. Foundations that are built in the Spring, Summer, and Fall do not disappear. They do hibernate, and my timing was not quite as sharp as it will be in the coming months. But the strokes themselves are still solid. My understanding of the court is still available in my mind like a heads-up display. And my movement around the baseline and the net are still natural and seemingly unrehearsed.

I will say that the big difference lies in the cardio fitness level. When my hitting was poor, it was usually due to lazy legs or feet and fatigue. The mind was on it, but the lower extremities were burning with defiance. So let me give you some advice if you find yourself just returning to the court:
  • Stretch, stretch, and stretch. Do this in front of the TV or computer screen when off the court, and do a little warm-up stretching before playing. Make these slow, static stretches and not bouncing ones which can rip muscles.

  • Upper body weight training and abdominal work, again off the court, will help speed up your transition to better play.

  • Any "wind-building" work you can do before the season would be beneficial. Take more steps during the day and stay longer on your feet, walk further in the parking lot, ride your bike, or get really serious and run slowly with quicker sprints mixed in.

  • Be realistic. Everything will not come back immediately, but it will come back eventually.

With enough tennis foundation built beneath you, there is no reason to lose all you worked for last season. Be safe, be smart, don't overdo it all at the beginning of the season, and choose wisely between those shots worthy to run down and those you should let go until you can reach them more easily.

And for those of you who play all year round, I'm truly jealous! Actually, I use this off season for my body to repair itself. I think this time off each year has helped me to continue my pursuit of this sport for over three decades.