Here is another gem from coach Todd Widom. Tuck this one away and have your college player re-read it at the beginning of December as a reminder to stay in peak condition throughout that long winter break!
There is plenty of information on the internet about how an ATP or WTA professional prepares for their upcoming season, but there is minimal information about how high level college players prepare for their upcoming seasons. This past winter break I was very fortunate to have four very high level division 1 college players to train. Two of the players are tops in the Ivy League, one is a very solid SEC player, and the other player is one of the top players on his team locally here in South Florida.
These players were coming off of taking some grueling final exams and for a few weeks their training was minimal. If you have read one of my previous articles, no two tennis players at any level should be training the same way. I do not believe in the cookie cutter mold since each player has different body types, athleticism, techniques, etc. This situation is no different as each college player is treated differently in terms of how they are going to train and prepare in order to have a successful college tennis season. This winter break training time of a couple of weeks was spent cleaning up specific areas of each athletes game, getting into great physical condition, and also making sure they were playing the proper game and patterns which will work for each particular individual for when they are competing in their matches.
With the players taking some time off, they came back a bit out of shape; therefore, we started with some very grueling drills that tested their mental and physical strength. Each athlete can handle different levels of these grueling drills. It was between 80 and 90 degrees here in South Florida over the break so for some of the boys coming from indoor climates, in the beginning it was very difficult physically. These players can make plenty of shots, but they worked a lot on hitting specific targets. They hit many repetitions repeatedly and we made necessary adjustments technically to be able to do it more consistently ball after ball. During this time, we were not making major changes to technique, as there is not enough time to be able to make drastic changes to technique and have that become an ingrained habit before their season. With these repetitions, the players worked countless hours on mobility and being light on their feet. They also worked on court positioning and constantly moving in and out of the baseline, as they tend to crowd the baseline and struggle to maintain enough balls on the targets due to being out of position if someone hits a deep ball to them. This type of training is imperative to their success.
When I was a sophomore in college, I was invited to train with Andy Roddick after he had just made his first semifinal at the Australian Open. I had known Andy basically my whole life and had trained with him many times. One of the lessons I learned from him was about hitting specific targets. We were hitting cross court forehands and I was crushing the ball and rarely missing. After the drill was over, we spoke on the changeover, and he told me that I was a bit off the mark and that the mark I was hitting was for amateurs and not professionals. That was a good lesson for me as I had professional aspirations and so do some of the college players that I trained over the winter break. During this winter break, we worked on seeing how many balls they could maintain on a professional mark and not an amateur mark, which is not easy, as you need to be in perfect position and strike the ball consistently to be able to hit these professional marks on the court.
After a week or two working on specific areas, we then worked extensively on making sure these athletes were working on their game that would give them the most success during their season. The type of point construction that works for their body type, techniques and strategy are crucial for these players. They need to be using their strengths in the right way to be most successful. In college tennis, you can be very successful making lots of balls and running well because many players are not able to maintain enough tennis balls. You will win matches based upon the other person missing routine shots. If you want to be a very high level college player or even play on the professional tour, you need to be able to hit such quality shots that force your opponent into errors or at least get short balls where you can take the initiative and hurt your opponent. This is what you see the best tennis players in the world doing. If these college players are winning a sufficient amount of matches in college by making a bunch of balls, that is great, but I am not sure they are becoming better players. It all depends on what your long term goals are. In terms of these players, we worked a lot on them being aggressive and using their weapons in the right way so that they can keep progressing to higher levels of tennis.
Plenty of college players use their winter break to relax and spend time with their family and friends. These players I worked with over their winter break are molded differently. They have a passion to play and have a great desire to keep improving their skills. If you are a serious college tennis player, these weeks are the opportune time to be working on many different aspects and variables of your game, which will then carry over to your season. The college tennis season in the spring is not an easy time for these student athletes as they will be missing class time due to traveling, making up school work and tests, and they are expected to win their matches. During the season, the coaches are also preparing their teams to try to win the most amount of matches that they can, so many programs are working a lot on singles strategies and also doubles strategies. Many times, there just is not enough time to be working privately with each player to be able to work on their games. That is why the winter break can really help players get a significant jumpstart to the season, if you train properly.