Saturday, September 29, 2012

Guest Post from Coach David Hodge: Is the “trophy position” really the trophy position?

(This is a guest post from David Hodge, who I know from his years as the assistant men's coach at Stanford University. He moved on to his native Australia where he was a national coach for Tennis Australia. See the bottom of the post for his more complete bio.)

Remember that first tennis trophy you won? 

Think back. It seemed mammoth. You weren't sure how you actually fit it on your shelf next to your other worldly belongings. 

They all had the same construction – base with an engraving like mine “MDJTA Inc. 1993 Pennant Mens Doubls Champions D Hodge & B Hodge”. Yes, they failed to put the “e” in doubles but I only noticed that after the euphoria had died down decades later! On top of that base were tall columns of the cheapest gold embossed plastic made.

It is one trophy I've kept, a memorable title with my father, Bob. But this isn't about the story that has grown to be my epic triumph at a small tennis club in the country as a kid. It is about what stood atop that base and column that is referred to incessantly in clinics and private sessions by coaches all across the world. On the apex of that trophy, sitting gallantly, like a golden god, was the iconic serving man.

He represented success, league standings, past triumphs, and everything that was cool about the skin tight short shorts of tennis' yesteryear. He has been coveted, presented, mimicked, frozen, used and abused throughout tennis history. He's got more gold draped over him than Andy, Serena, and the Bryans put together. But what has stood the test of time more than all that, is that position. The trophy position. Mid swing, mid flow, casually held as if he were waiting for a bus. 

All photos supplied by David Hodge
I sense that recollection on your face now.

This phrase as been uttered so many times to unsuspecting hackers that most people have been numbed by the reference. Technically should we, as tennis professionals, still be using it at all? The serve is basically a throwing motion, fluid and loose. So to freeze a rigid moment in that fluidity can be confusing to even the most coordinated youngster. We will call it mid swing or preparation phase and move on.

Let's take a look.

•    He has little knee flexion. Ideally his back knee flexion would measure 110+/-10 degrees, so he won't be able to use ground force reaction (GRF) to begin the summation of forces required to create power. Remember this mold would have been created a long time ago when serves were predominantly used to start the point, not end it!
•    His toes are facing slightly different directions meaning GRF will be impeded. For efficiency sake keep your toes facing the same direction to keep your muscles working together.
•    He demonstrates a “foot back” technique. Foot back and foot up technique have both been effective on tour.
•    Hip tilt is present based on the waist band of those trendy shorts, but the left hip is unlikely to have crossed the baseline plane as it should (unless he's committing a sneaky foot fault!).
•    Shoulder tilt is present. The first separation angle is present between hip and shoulders on the vertical plane.
•    His shoulders are rotated slightly further than the hips creating a second separation angle around the twist axis or horizontal plane. His little plastic muscles of the trunk are now pre-stretched.
•    His tossing arm is extended (but I can't remember the last pro I saw keep the second ball in the hand!).
•    His hitting arm is elevated slightly above the line from shoulder to shoulder extended, i.e. his right elbow is not in line with his right and left shoulders.
•    His right elbow is at 90 degrees.
•    There isn't any wrist lag evident.
•    Grip would have to be eastern to allow the racquet face to be pointing in that direction considering the wrist position. Ideally you would keep a continental grip although we now see some eastern grips on serve e.g. Tsonga
•    And hair nicely coiffed and slightly breeze blown...ok, I'm getting carried away.

And if you don't want to take my word for it, how about a lesson from these two guys? You may have seen them before. I won't waste space introducing them. Two of the best servers statistically of all time (and they did some other stuff pretty well too).


So overall, the trophy position has a lot of the characteristically good positions for a solid serve but they are under utilised. This again would be consistent with the serve's use when this position was created. Nowadays, the serve is such a dominant weapon, especially in the men's game, that the nonchalant server is virtually extinct. My advice to the trophy man would be:

•    Increase his knee flexion to the required degree
•    Whatever stance you use, once planted, keep your toes facing the same direction.
•    Increase hip extension into the court, which should increase shoulder tilt from the side view
•    Increase shoulder rotation around the twist axis when compared to the hips
•    Get rid of that ball in your left hand!
•    Keep your right elbow at 90 degrees but relax it slightly to bring it in line with your shoulder tilt.
•    Relax the wrist, allowing it to lag through the preparation phase
•    Experiment with a continental grip. With the above changes you just may like it.
•    Get an up-to-date haircut and save on some products ok!



The Topline Trophy shop doesn't exist anymore behind the old car service station that shared an intersection with 2 pubs and a church. It's hard to outlive a pub or church in my hometown! But if the trophy shop was still there and those serving men on those trophies could talk, I'm sure they would want to be melted down and re-shaped to match the modern masters.

David Hodge is a career coach and organisational leader with a wealth of experience. He is a manager for Aussie Athletes Agency, the premier college athlete recruiting agency in Australia. He is also the Founder and Director of Return Serve, which is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organisation committed to creating opportunities to the broader community, assisting elite competitors, and educating coaches. Previously, as the Head National Tennis Coach for Tennis Australia he produced 42 Australian National Champions and 38 Australian representatives. His career has spanned the professional circuit, U.S. College Tennis (Stanford University and the University of Colorado) and numerous academies and clubs. He has coached 19 players inside the top 1000 ATP/WTA rankings, 18 players inside the top 100 in Australia, and 7 players inside the top 100 ITF rankings, including a world number 1, Wimbledon junior finalist and champion. Follow him on twitter @CoachDavidHodge.


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