Day One of the inaugural US Tennis Congress had attendees getting loose with a pro-am game of king of the court, and several pros getting ready to iron out our wayward strokes with a coaching session by Emilio Sanchez. He's a coaches' coach. He captained Spain's Davis Cup team for three years, culminating in its Davis Cup victory in 2008.
He was putting Lucasl, one of the instructors at his Sanchez-Casal Academy in Florida, through a V-patterened footwork drill at the baseline. At the bottom of the V was an orange cone. Sanchez fed to the right and left of the cone, alternating between Lucas' forehand and backhand, and just a little in front of the line of the cone, so that he had to move up and into the ball.
The point wasn't to turn Lucas' legs into butter, though I could see how that could happen. It's a tough, demanding drill. To keep your form throughout all that lateral and diagonal movement? I'd need divine intervention. But Sanchez stressed to the coaches to feed the ball in such a way as to give the student time to get their feet under them and make their shot.
Sanchez told them that, in a junior academy situation, about 20 percent of their training time is spent one on one. "You want that time spent having them hitting successful shots."
He said he stops his players when he sees their form breaking down, and urged pros to do the same. He says he's seen pros on the court turn into human ball machines, mindlessly feeding the next shot and not even looking up to see what their students are doing.
"Thirty thousand times. That's how much a person has to do something in order to write it on the brain," he said. I swallowed hard. Just another reminder to stay patient while changing bad stroke habits. "Tennis is difficult because you need to repeat."
But he said it's much more critical to have players play correctly than to go on winning with poor form.
"Winning is one thing," Sanchez said. "Playing well is another."
Today, we start to learn how to play well. I've got sessions on the forehand and the slice serve. Watch this space.