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Friday, February 15, 2008

Coaches Q and A: The Transformation of a Junior

This edition of the Coaches Q and A is a particularly fascinating look, by Harold Solomon of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the recent success of HSTI student Monica Puig. Solomon pulls no punches in describing what Puig came to them with, what parts of her game needed revamping and how the changes have led to impressive results in the past months. If you are looking for bland generalities, you won't find them below.

Harold Solomon:

We have a student at our Institute, Monica Puig, who has really come in to her own recently, having reached the finals of both the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl 14s. We thought it might be interesting for many of you to see the process that she has been going through since she arrived here 18 months ago.

When Monica first arrived, we did an assessment of her technical, mental and physical skills. It was immediately evident that she possessed an uncanny ability to hit the ball very hard and accurately for a girl that was very average physically. We knew that for Monica to be successful we would have to build upon her ball striking ability and work with her to develop other areas that would compliment her aggressive style.
We determined that she would have to improve her strength, conditioning and speed by at least 70% over where it was when she arrived.

Getting to Work

To help her achieve those improvements, Monica began working privately for an additional hour and a half a day with our conditioning coach Jim Hartt, in addition to the four hours of tennis she was playing 5 and a half days a week. We helped her learn when it was appropriate to use open, semi-open and closed stances on the court. We spent a great deal of time with her developing her recovery skills and her ball recognition skills on the court. We changed the grip on her serve, volley, and overhead to a more conventional continental grip, and we changed her forehand from a western to a semi-western grip.

The Game Style
We determined that Monica's style of play would be an aggressive baseliner who had the ability to dominate the mid-court area and felt comfortable finishing off points at the net. To that end we have spent hour after hour working on Monica's volley, shortening the swing off the forehand, getting the wrist in the right position on the backhand and teaching her how to move and position herself at the net. Her overhead was a mess, mostly because she wouldn't move her feet to get in position for the ball, she wouldn't use her legs, and her preparation was extremely late.

Developing the Serve
We also saw a huge need for improvement in Monica's serve, both first and second, but we felt that her serve could end up being a big weapon for her in the future. Andy shortened her swing, worked with her to improve the accuracy of her toss and got her to use her legs in order to jump into the court. We have been working with her to understand the importance of moving her serve around and changing the spin and pace of her delivery. Andy also helped her develop a very impressive kick second serve after hitting thousands and thousands of serves. We saw a need for vast improvements in Monica's defensive skills, most notably the development of a slice backhand and the ability to neutralize points when pushed off the court by using high heavy balls. Recently we have been working on Monica's ability to add drop shots to her game in order to keep her opponents off balance.

The Mental Side
We knew Monica had a lot of work to do mentally. When she first arrived, she couldn't take a "push," meaning that we couldn't push her past her comfort zone to get the job done. We have spent countless hours with Monica talking to her about developing the attitude and character of a "champion" and being clear with her about what we thought it was going to take for her to develop the discipline necessary to achieve her goals. Every morning before the other students arrived, we would talk to Monica about starting to take responsibility for herself, which she has now started to do. When she first arrived I don't think Monica recognized that she was a thinker, that she was responsible for her thoughts and her attitude both on and off the court. Monica now knows that she needs to be the problem solver on the court, not the problem; she recognizes that there is no room for "drama queens" at the highest levels of tennis. In the past, Monica had a tendency to play very up and down tennis; although she still has lapses, we have constantly been working with her mentally to stay focused and on task throughout the entire match.

The Future
Monica realizes that she is just starting up the ladder to becoming a successful tennis professional. It hasn't been easy and there have been quite a few ups and downs along the way. She is an extremely hard worker, she has become more self-confident due to all of her hard work and her successes. So far her achievements have made her mentally stronger and more determined to achieve her goals. Who knows what the future holds for Monica; we think she can be a top player one day if she stays on the path she has chosen, but there are no guarantees. We hope this helps some of you see part of the process of developing a successful tennis career. I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches' Q and A in the subject line.