A month or so ago I asked one of my coaches Ayo Shodimu to lead an in-service session on boxing, to see what we could learn about it. Unfortunately the video quality isn’t great as we were in a very noisy tennis Academy but I’ve included a few videos from the session.
Some of the key messages I took away:
Technique cues for the Jab (right hander)
- The first thing that moves in any punch is the hips- it all comes from the hips
- Punching comes from the ground up
- Left hip rotate towards the target when throwing the jab (left hand)
- Front foot will lift off heel and shift onto ball of foot to extend reach
Technique cues for the Cross (right hander)
- Drive your foot into the ground as you throw your punch
- Right hip rotate towards the target when throwing the jab
- Foot flat to foot up
Technique cues for the Hook (right hander)
- Left hip rotate towards the target when throwing the hook (with left hand)
- When you throw the left hook you actually load right leg on follow through ready for a right cross immediately after
Fast forward to 4:00 minutes for the video below as we talk for several minutes and go through footwork prior to that which is not audible.
Can this Help Tennis?
I asked some of the more experienced coaches what they thought about Boxing as a useful skill to transfer to Tennis groundstrokes. Maybe it could help with ball speed? I wanted to share one particular discussion, which I thought was fascinating…
The coach started by making a reference to golf- remarking that the true determinant of distance off the tee is the degree to which the golfer can hit the sweet spot of the club head on the ball, just a millimetre off will cause a major difference in the outcome.
In some ways this is the same with Tennis, the ability of performance players to hit the ball harder will mostly come down to how consistently they can hit the sweet spot during contact.
Out of 10 shots in an open game environment the full-time junior players (11-16 years old) can perhaps align optimally [currently] with 3/10 so they are in the ideal position to hit their groundstroke without needing to adapt, and find their sweet spot on contact. Let’s say a pro is at 7/10. So for the tennis coach you are going to have to sell them really hard that development of force through the hip drive is the most important thing right now, to help them hit the ball harder.
Yes, if they are stationary or moving just a little bit then I guess hitting the pads would be like basket feeding a player. You can give the player a ‘feeling’ of hitting the ball harder, or hitting the pads harder because the skill is relatively easy. But how often have you come across the recreational player who has a private lesson with their coach and after 20 minutes of baskets on their forehand they feel amazing- they are hitting it so clean, and hard.
Then when they go and play a match against their friends they can hardly hit the ball! So why does this happen? Because they haven’t learnt the skill [the definition meaning it can be done in match conditions]. They have only learnt how to do it under very closed and controlled conditions.
Perhaps you could use a radar gun and show that after some boxing (equivalent of basket feeding) you can hit the ball 3-4 mph harder during a controlled trial, but can they still maintain this increase in speed if you measure it during points?
They have to learn how to hit it deep, then rising, then when changing direction and changing rhythm, then receiving a change of direction and rhythm. Then after a serve or after a return of serve. Then in points and finally in matches!!!!
Probably vision and tracking skills would make a bigger difference than physical hip drive.
Some further considerations from the coach:
- Is boxing a model based approach or a game based approach? How much variety is there in the final skill of the big four punches (jab, cross, hook, uppercut) vs. in Tennis (serves, return of serves, groundstrokes and volleys)? Can the same punch be thrown against most fighters? In tennis the striking skill will need to align with the game style. So for example, Player A has very good shoulder around shoulder on his groundstrokes but very poor shoulder under shoulder. So if s/he was doing boxing perhaps a focus on upper cuts where s/he needs to feel what it is like to drop their right shoulder and hit up might be a good idea. But for Player B who hits the ball more flat s/he might benefit from more emphasis on shoulder around shoulder.
- How much tension is required when throwing a punch in boxing? In Tennis you need the arm to be very loose like a whip as you bring the racket through to contact. How does this compare to boxing?
One other thing to consider is the cueing of the Hip rotation. With Ayo the cue was to ‘ground down’ to ‘ground up’ and then rotate towards your target with your hips. Foot turns in the same direction you are punching. Louis Cayer I know would cue ‘tip toe finish’ which is an explicit cue to promote hip rotation (like ‘ground up’ foot comes off the floor as you throw the punch. Some coaches might says this shouldn’t be cued explicitly; it will happen as a consequence.
My take is this: think of what Louie said as an ”impact” cue, meaning it will probably work to make a short term impact but don’t expect it to fix everything in match conditions and don’t use it all the time. The implicit cueing idea is ‘by the book’ and will be better longer term.
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