Efficiency of on-court tennis tests

Tennis is a sport like any other where coaches strive to develop players. They spend many hours analyzing players strengths and weaknesses. They customize day-to-day practice to meet individual demands. They use and create new drills to help players improve their game. Coaches also travel with players to tournaments to see results of everyday hard work. They observe players, talk to them and plan next steps in process. All these activities are necessary to build strong athlete and decent tennis player. Tennis is a complex sport and helping people develop as a player is not different. In coaching approach, we have to think about all factors which can have influence on players game. According to the title of this article, we cant forget about on-court tests.

On-court tests are well-known for ages as a useful tool to develop players. Tests are not new and coaches from different sports use it periodically every year. I think we can all agree that on-court testing is a great move but we have to understand efficiency of these activities. Tennis tests are tools to help players develop so if they dont meet specific criteria, they are just useless. At the beginning, we have to understand that tests are not simple, especially in sports with open situations like tennis, basketball or soccer. These sports consist of variable factors that have influence on players’ response. In sports like gymnastics, pole vault or weight lifting, technique is measured so thats why it is much easier to conduct tests. Lets come back to tennis and it specificity. As we all know, only one stroke is totally independent of the opponent. It is serve. The rest of strokes are dependent on who we play. There are famous phrases there are not 2 identically the same hits in tennis” or there are not 2 identically the same balls in tennis’’. We can agree with this sentences or not but it clearly shows how difficult tennis tests are.

               Tests should be conducted in the most similar conditions every time. As we know, we play tennis indoor or outdoor and weather is unpredictable so it is really difficult to keep conditions similar. Another factor is opponent. He/she decides what ball we will get so it is really hard to assess proper conditions to perform test. Next obstacle is stress which is inseparable factor of playing tennis. Stress is different because of score, opponent or our performance so it is another unknown thing. To perform proper on-court tests, we have to consider efficiency of this test. What do I mean by word ‘’efficiency”? In my opinion, it means meeting specific criteria like different feeding, stressful situation and similar conditions to tennis match. During the test, players should feel like in a match to make a test effective.

In tennis, we can conduct specific tests in all 4 areas: physical, mental, technical and tactical. Physical tests can be focused on running time, reaction time, strength etc. Mental tests are a little bit less known because we mostly need specific equipment to make this happen. However, these tests can help with concentration, stress management, tennis rituals etc. Tactical test can be made with focus on players responses in specific situations like defense, offense, net-game etc. Last tests are technical which I would like to describe in details. There are two different technical tests: technique-oriented and ball-oriented. Technique-oriented tests check players technique like forehand or backhand. Coach records players stroke and analyzes improvement in particular parts. Observing body parts and racquet are crucial things in these tests. On the other side are ball-oriented tests. Coach feeds balls to player and check technique and strokes result. What does it mean? It means that the strokes outcome (hitting deep, short, high, low, topspin, backspin etc) is analyzed in regards to technique. In ball-oriented approach, technique and result are of the same importance. Lets see what tests are worthy for coach and player to make a progress.

 

Serves

As we know, serve is the only one stroke which is totally dependent on performing player. We can decide about toss, point of contact and time when we want to hit. To make it easier, we can also think about it few seconds before it happens. It is really comfortable situation. However, there are also variable factors like score-stress, level of fatigue or weather conditions. These parts are really hard to put into tests but we have to do everything to make all conditions as much similar to the match as we can. How can we do that with serving tests? Firstly, we need an opponent on the other side. It doesnt matter that he/she wont play this ball but this situation changes perception of the server and add some stress. Secondly, target like selected area is necessary to see efficiency and put some stress on server. Another important factor is level of fatigue. We cant perform tests only when players are fresh because it doesnt show us how he/she responds at the end of final set. The last thing we should consider testing our players is divided period of test. Why should we do that? Lets see how many serves do we perform during one gem? 6? 8? Sometimes 10? So, our serving tests should be consisted of 10 balls or should be divided in 2 parts (10 testing serves, other test e.g. return, 10 testing serves). If we can care about all these factors, our serving tests will be more similar to match conditions and players will take more from these activities.

 

Returns

Return is a next stroke which we can check in tests. However, checking returns efficiency is quite difficult because of opponents decision making. Most of the coaches perform returning tests with players conscience of feeding balls. In reality, player doesnt know where server goes for. We can know some patterns and anticipate incoming ball but server can change his/her mind because of score, stress etc. In my opinion, coaches shouldnt tell players where they serve. It will put more pressure on returner and will bring more similarities to the real game. Area to aim is of utmost importance to see players control over the ball.

              

Groundstrokes

Forehands and backhands are really difficult to measure efficiency. Opponents give us different balls every time, we dont know where they want to play and we have to be ready to respond correctly. More of the groundstrokes’ tests are based on particular stroke performed from easy ball. However, in a match condition, we have to run, hit in balance and control ball to make it good. It is completely different environment which is not similar to this on-court testing. Thats why, groundstrokes’ testing should be based on running and hitting to designated area. It will show real value of players stroke who will have to perform in the same environment which he/she has to face on tournament.

 

Net-game

Net-game skills are also quite difficult to assess. Opponents decisions, different balls and variable court positions make these skills so difficult to test. Technique is easily visible but efficiency of these strokes is dependent on so many factors. Thats why if coaches want to make a net-game skills’ test, they should approach it in the same way like with groundstrokes. Player has to be aware of random feeding and be ready to play to designated area. I know that generally tests should be performed with the same conditions but it is not applicable to tennis specifications.

 

To sum it up, coaches can successfully measure players’ progress by testing. However, examples show that we have to take care of details to make these tests helpful. Serve is the easiest of tennis strokes to check but the rest of them are really difficult to test. Specifications of this game must be crucial point in preparing and conducting any test. Testing can give us a lot of valuable information but we have to ask ourselves: Is it helpful for real tennis?