Q&A with Coach Lisa Dodson

This next Q&A is with Lisa Dodson.  Lisa currently lives and teaches in Northern California.  She is a certified USPTA Pro 1 and PTR coach with over 30 years of teaching experience.  She was also a ranked player on the WTA tour.  As you will read below, Lisa is a passionate coach who has much to offer in the way of player development.  Enjoy!

ParentingAcesWhat was your junior tennis experience like? Did you go straight from junior to the pros or did you play college tennis?

Lisa Dodson:  My junior tennis experience was pretty unusual in today’s terms of developing players. I was the youngest in a tennis playing family so I don’t really remember the first time I held a racket but I do know that it was heavy and wooden! I played primarily at the club we belonged to in Chappaqua, NY and really had little formal instruction as we know it today. Being the local “tomboy” I played every sport with all of the boys in our neighborhood so tennis was just one of the things I participated in but I loved it.  I played only one tournament in 12 & under and I didn’t like it. I had no idea what I was
getting into, what the people were like and the competition level. My most vivid recollection is of the mothers on the sideline (in the ’60’s Moms went to matches as Dads were at work). To a 12 year old they seemed “mean” and the tension was heavy.  I had a close match which I lost against Stephanie Matthews. Clearly the experience was powerful enough for me to remember her name! I did get revenge later in my tennis life!

After winning high school Sectional tournaments for several years and practicing with a “tournament” group I decided to try a few Eastern 18 & under events. This time I had a lot more experience but substantially less than my opponents. Much to everyone’s surprise I played through to the semis of The Empire State Tournament on Long Island, NY handily beating ranked girls who were “better” than I was. Mary Carillo quickly put me in my place in the semis but my eyes were now open. The best thing was that I had no idea how good I was, I just played tennis and had a great time. I wasn’t groomed to be a great player so just loved the process, felt little pressure and started getting lots of recognition.

I was accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and sports did help my entrance there. I was recruited for Volleyball (I played on the Eastern US Team in high school) but ended up becoming a “walk-on” for Tennis and Basketball ( I went to Olympic trials for basketball in high school, too). So, my freshman year was pretty crazy: fall tennis, winter basketball, spring tennis with some practice schedules overlapping with both practices on the same day. Oh yeah, I had school too.

Tennis took over as “the” sport at this point so Sophomore year was all tennis and school. I was in the top 6 for UNC and excelled in doubles. My entrance into the pros didn’t come until 3 years after graduation. That’s another story.

Revenge came during my college years against my first and only 12 & under opponent.  As it turns out, Stephanie played for arch nemesis Duke and we were matched up more than once. One thing that I started to learn: tennis is a small world. Everything comes around. Tennis shapes one’s life and behavior. Be a fierce competitor but always fair, honest and forgiving.

PAWhat is your current role in the tennis world?

LD:  Currently I’m specializing in teaching the serve, the most difficult, misunderstood and under practiced stroke in the game. I’m attempting to reach all players and pros possible to help make the serve a dominant force in the women’s and junior’s game in particular. I was a serve and volleyer which is non-existent in these days for a variety of reasons. One reason is that women just don’t spend the time on learning the techniques properly. They need to learn to throw (ball/football). Throwing better will quickly give them more efficiency and power on the service and overhead motions.  Throwing a football for 15 minutes a day will do tons more than hitting the same old
serve daily with no new elements for success.  I have become the “inventor” of the teaching tool The Total Serve and I have been traveling for the past year attempting to spread the word. Women’s and junior tennis have become so one dimensional. Yes, they all need great groundstrokes but what if someone had a SERVE to set them apart by creating “cheap points”, lesser returns and hopefully the ability to serve and volley on occasion. Sam Stosur got smart. How about that serve? She gets cheap points and dismantles the best return in the game (Serena Williams). Stosur and Williams are the only 2 in the women’s game that has a serve that can damage. Certainly others are capable.  Before skipping directly to the top players in the world we need to give girls at beginning stages a good “throwing” foundation. Without that their serves will just fall into the masses of inefficient and attackable serves in the women’s game.  I’m on a mission to get pros to understand how easy it really can be to form great serve technique at all levels. More time needs to be spent on the various components of the serve and it needs to be broken down and addressed not put to the side and neglected.  Unfortunately this falls on a lot of deaf ears. Pros just don’t expect much of a women’s serve which is a major part of the problem.

PAWhat made you invent The Total Serve? What benefits have you seen from the product?

LD:  Like a lot of pros I taught with a tube sock with 3 balls in it to help people “feel” the serve. It helped so many people because players only do what they do. They don’t really “feel” anything they just go through the motions automatically. Unfortunately most of us do it automatically incorrectly. We’re looking for efficiency.  Tennis is a kinesthetic sport so our best learning tools and “AhHa” moments come from FEELING, copying and reproducing a stroke. Pros, including myself, all use the show and tell method. Everyone learns differently but FEELING is by far the most powerful tool that we can give our students.  One day a lifelong 3.5 woman student (with a really funky service motion) used the sock and started seeing immediate results. She said “you should do something with this and make a product”. I took it seriously and set about making a prototype in my garage out of all sorts of balls, stockings, cords, handles and weights. This was really fun! To make a very long story short I did focus groups, found a manufacturer and did the hundreds of other things needed to create a viable product.  What I knew for sure was this: If a sock and some balls can create fast and positive change on the serve then a well thought out and tested product with all components was really needed!  Lots of pros and players don’t get it (this really makes me wonder about the pro). It’s a simple tool that reinforces the correct GRIP to form great throwing technique and enable players to incorporate all movements of the service motion. The main reasons for developing this tool?
1. Grip is essential but players “cheat” and pros let it slip. Women and children in particular can’t get the ball to go forward because their body doesn’t understand what it is supposed to be doing. Using The Total Serve initially as a tool to get the shoulder, arm and wrist to unconsciously understand HOW to act in combination with other body movements (tossing arm, legs, etc)
2. Take the ball out of the equation. Making change takes time and progress can be slow. Changes happen by taking components of a stroke, breaking them down and repeating. Take the ball out of the equation and you have no negative feedback. The biggest deterrent to someone trying to make serve changes are bad results: the ball goes into the ground, the net and into the side fence as the grip is corrected. These results are GREAT! They are on the right track but since the feedback is negative the person quits. I see it every day.
3. Practice time: The Total Serve allows practice anywhere, anytime. The biggest deterrent to improving the serve in the general tennis pool of recreational, league and tournament players is practice time. Everyone loves to get out and hit groundstrokes but they don’t make time for the serve. Even when it is practiced the player is typically just reinforcing flawed technique. Using The Total Serve corrects, develops and reinforces great technique that can be practiced as much as desired.
4. Pros: it’s so simple to teach with. Your students will love you. It’s new, fun, easy and gets results. Send all of your students home with one in their bag and have them practice what you have taught them. You’ll see results. By the way, you can make money on it too.

In the last year The Total Serve has demonstrated to me an thousands of others that fast and easy progress can be made on the serve. I have had so many AhHa! moments! The consistent incredulous response is “that’s what it’s supposed to feel like? Yes, that’s what it’s supposed to feel like so do it again and if you’re really good I’ll let you actually hit a ball.

PAIf you could tell tennis parents one thing what would it be?

LD:  Encourage your kids to play other sports. Cross training in team sports is fantastic for physical, emotional and mental development. Playing big court or field sports (soccer, basketball, baseball) develops the brain to “see the whole picture” of what’s going on at all times and develop the geometry skills needed for tennis. When transitioning to a smaller tennis court a kid has already developed some major mental skills. Throwing, running, jumping and fast feet are developed in varying sports. Let them learn to work together with a team and have that fun and excitement as a way to get better results on the tennis court. Don’t pigeon hole them or they are likely to be unhappy and unfulfilled
youngsters which carries over into the rest of their lives. Worried that they may love another sport more than tennis? It’s about them not you. Let them choose otherwise it’s a no win for both child and parent.

Again, a big thank you to Lisa!  If you have any additional questions for her, please put them in the Comments box below – I will be happy to forward them.

2 thoughts on “Q&A with Coach Lisa Dodson

  1. When I teach 4-5 year old, I spend lots of time developing brain connections that are related to catching and throwing things. TRACKING a tennis ball is a skill that can be improved by CATCHING balls, frisbees, whatever. I see hitting a tennis ball is tracking and catching a ball with a tennis racket. Learning to throw underhand helps the forehand. And serving is learning how to THROW OVERHAND. We throw footballs to improve the serve. I am teaching and building brain connections–tennis is catching and throwing with a racket

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