2022 SHS JV.jpg

Season Prep 2023

Since we are so far away from 2023, this is more about long-term planning for those interested.  And to be very clear, I'm not writing this while wearing my SHS coach hat.  This is all coming from my role as an off-season coach who just happens to know a lot about the SHS team (and other teams as well).  And what I'm writing is a response to the questions I do get (or should get) - questions like, "What should I be working on?"

But, since you know this page is going to be long, let me start by offering an answer that may seem obvious or may seem useless or any number of things.  And that answer is, make sure you are enjoying it.  And I say that because I know that some of you will accomplish your goals, and some of you may not.  But if you are enjoying the attempt, then you'll still come out on top either way.  Personally, I failed to meet a lot of my goals in tennis (I never made it to state, I didn't make my college team, and when I had a shot at my first deep run in a top-level tournament, I pulled an ab muscle the day before it started.  I even only spent about 4 weeks as the #1 player on my high school ladder, even though my team was never that good.  But I always got better, always had fun, and have never regretted any of it (except losing a challenge match for the #1 spot to Reiner my junior year.  Stupid Reiner and his dark court.  I'm not still bitter.  Not at all.)

Let me re-state one line from above that is hard to write and maybe harder to read: "Some of you will accomplish your goals, and some of you may not".  On about 85% of all the high school tennis teams in Oregon, accomplishing your goals is a lot easier than at others, especially if that goal is to be a varsity player.  We are NOT one of the easy schools to make varsity.  But that doesn't mean shouldn't try for varsity or that you can't have a great tennis career and experience if you don't make varsity.  And that's why the photo at the top of this page is our JV team.  Our awesomely talented and super-fun JV team.  I'm incredibly proud of what our JV team has accomplished in both 2021 and 2022.  And it's not because they have totally dominated their matches on-court.  It's that they are amazing as individuals and as a team off-court.  And I hope that people who have varsity goals and don't reach them will be proud and excited to be part of our JV program.

Okay - back to the question, "What should I be working on?"  Given that there are about 40 of you and just one page, I can't answer that with any specifics.  So, I'll give you a lot of generic answers and insights.  And again, I'm not writing this as a coach for the team - just as someone with a lot of insights into how high school teams work.  And I say that because we never know exactly what next year will bring or what decisions will be made.  So, it's all just educated guesses.

Singles vs Doubles:  A lot of teams play most of their top player in singles.  That typically means that teams compete well with 3 of their 5 top players in singles, and the other two in doubles.  Usually, the 4th singles spot gets played by a variety of people (people better in singles than in doubles, people we think might play singles in future years, people whose partner is sick, even people who ask nicely might get a shot...)  In other words, 4th singles is not locked down to a single player.  It is rotated between 4-6 other people who play doubles most of the time.  That means that making the varsity team as a singles specialist means you need to be one of the top 5 players, maybe even in the top 3.  It is not common for someone to be top 5 in singles and not top 12 in doubles.  So, if varsity is your goal, get good enough at doubles to be one of the top 12.  Worry about getting in the singles line-up after that.  Does that mean you shouldn't play or practice singles?  Absolutely not - you'll hit twice as many serves, returns, forehands and backhands, and your fitness will be better.  So definitely practice singles, but don't neglect doubles and volleying.  With how many talented players Sherwood has, winning doubles matches with strong net play may be what separates #12 from #13.

Skilled vs Effective:  For mid-level tennis, effectiveness usually beats skill.  It's sad to say that, but it's true.  What does that mean?

  • Skilled:  Proper technique and having what are generally viewed as nice-looking/pretty strokes

  • Effective:  Puts balls in play, runs fast to get to shots, stands in the right place, hits to the right place.  And that can be done with pretty or ugly technique.

In other words, effective things win points.  Skilled things look good but don't win unless they are also effective.

Fortunately for the skilled, learning to be effective is easier than learning to be skilled.  But you still have to learn it.  For a lot of you, it will go against your natural instincts.  But you still need to do it - it is very hard to win without being effective.  How do you get to be more effective?  It usually starts with your feet and your ears.  Your ears?  I mean listening to coaches and doing what they say.  And what they say is frequently, "Move here".  If you are not moving to where you need to be, tennis is 10x harder.  And that is even more true in doubles than singles because you have less time to react.  A shoulder-high volley that's an easy put-away when you are 2 feet from the net becomes a very difficult ankle-high volley if you are 12 feet from the net.  Almost any effective player who moves forward can win that 85% of the time.  But a skilled player who stayed back may only win it 30% of the time because their shot is 10x more difficult.  The coaches will tell you how to do it right - but we can't do it for you.

 

Learning where to hit put-away volleys matters a ton too.  Check out this page if you need a reminder.  That page is a great example of being effective versus good.  85% win rate compared to 44% with the main difference being where people chose to hit.  And we've had players who could hit the ball just fine, but they always hit it to the net player and lost to players with less skill.

Topspin:  Topspin is not an absolutely critical skill, but it is VERY helpful.  The quick version is that it gives you a bigger margin of error when hitting with power.  We've had lots of successful players who never developed topspin, but most had to work a lot harder to achieve the same consistency.  If you don't know about topspin, check out this page.  And I will say that if you want to really become a top player, learn topspin early.  At the state tournament, 90% of the players are hitting topspin on most of their shots.


Fitness:  Most of the players on our team achieve an adequate fitness level to play most matches, but adequate is not enough to be successful when it really counts.  Here's the thing: Adequate fitness is good enough for 85% of your matches (one match a day with easy wins, short points, or occasionally quick losses).  But the other 15% are the ones that really count.  Long points against someone who never misses, long three set matches, two matches a day in the district and state tournament.  And for 2023, we are looking at some other options to get 2 matches a day for the varsity team.  If you are playing 4 matches in a 36-hour period, adequate fitness doesn't cut it.  Soccer mid-fielders are some of the fittest athletes in any sport, and it is not uncommon to see them wilting by the end of long days or weekends of tennis.  Especially when it's played with good footwork and weight transfer, tennis is exhausting.  The end-of-season tournaments that really matter are also frequently the first time it is hot during the entire season.  Trust me, fitness matters.

You'll probably doubt me when I say this, good fitness also makes you better on practically every shot you'll hit.  Fit players tend to move better for every shot, and that makes you way, way better.

Finally, practice with purpose:  10 hours a week on court and taking lessons can produce a wide variety of results.

  • 10 hours on court and lessons will not do almost anything to improve your game if you are just hitting balls, walking around, talking with friends, and not doing what coaches recommend....

  • 10 hours on court even without lessons can make you improve rapidly if you are actually working on your game, moving well to get into position to hit each shot, and working on things the coaches have recommended.

 

We run our tennis program in a way that players get what they want out of it.  In other words, we don't force you to attend, we aren't going to yell at you or punish you for missing shots or anything like that.  But we will give you coaching, time on court and practical drills and practice for you to get good if you want.  Getting better is really up to you from there.  Sherwood is creating more and more good players every year, but we have not had many players who even came close to maximizing their potential.  And that's fine - life is full of lots of other things to do.  But I want people to know that they can make very big strides by buckling down if they want to.  And others can make big strides by using their practice time more effectively without being crazy about it.


And one final note if you want to play singles:

Winning in Singles:  2022 was the year that I watched enough singles to really get a sense of how people are winning and losing on the top courts.  Or maybe the same things weren't true in years past.  But 2022 had one very, very clear theme in our league and even at state.  Players either won by being 1) Super, super consistent and defensive; or 2) Being able to attack effectively when their opponent hits a weak shot.  But what happened most often was this:

  • Player A was a defensive player, and effective at it

  • Player B was more skilled and had the ability to attack effectively, but not with ease

  • Player B wins the first set.

  • Then Player B starts to miss, possibly due to getting tired or losing confidence (that was Player A's plan all along, they didn't really care about the first set).

  • Then Player B decides they can't win by hitting big anymore and starts trying to be steady and defensive

  • But Player B is not as good at that style (or as fit) as Player A and Player A wins.


​So, if you want to be a winning singles player, you need to get good at attacking short shots  And get fit enough to do it for 2 hours.  Should you opt to be like Player A instead?  When two of those players faced off in the district semi-finals, their match lasted over 4 hours (usually it's only about 2.5-3 hours).  Then they had to play another match after a 1-hour rest.  If that in any way appeals to you, and you are fast and can learn to put every ball back in play, you will win a lot of matches.  "Player A"s are some of the most successful players around.  But they have to work hard for every point they win.  A blend of Player A and B is also very successful - play great defense, but also learn to hit winners off short balls.