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Winning Tennis: What to learn from the Spanish players

An Excerpt fromTranscript of Patrick McEnroe and Jose Higueras Player Development Conference, 2010

Q.  But given that, is there something to be learned or that has been learned from the way the Spaniards do it? And specifically if so, what is it?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Well, we look at the Spanish players, there are a couple of things that they do great which are very important when you play tennis.  One, they move great.  They’re moving every direction, laterally, diagonally, forward, back.

Another very important thing, they play great percentages.  The unforced errors normally are going to be less generally than the rest of the players.

The third one is that their shot tolerance is pretty high with a good quality shot.  Those are the three things that I believe makes them so successful.

Q.  Is this something that their system has kind of drummed into them?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Well, they pay attention to that.  I mean, tennis the winners are very important, they look better, but the unforced errors count the same.

So the point, you hit one point out, if you hit a winner, the other guy misses it, or girl.  So they teach once again to be consistent without pushing.  I wouldn’t say that that Nadal is a pusher.  I mean, he has an extremely heavy ball.  They’re great movers, great percentage players, and very aggressive with very good shot tolerance.

That’s something that they practice obviously every day.

Q.  You had great success coaching Jim Courier, I believe, right, to win his French Open title?  So what specifically are you doing on court, both strategically and tactically, to combat this Spanish Armada?

PATRICK McENROE:  If you go out and watch the juniors and watch ‑‑ the Spanish, they don’t have that many juniors really, but they don’t play as many events, junior events.  But you see a difference when you see our kids play about the things that I just mentioned, about the shot tolerance, their percentage plays, and their movement.

So the other thing is that to really have an impact on that, you have to start with younger kids.  It’s very difficult to get somebody that is 15, 16, 17 years old to change those habits.  It becomes tougher and tougher.

So that’s how our philosophy said, you know, with parameters, with parameters on technique, parameters on movement, and parameters on the shot tolerance.  The younger you get the kids, then the easier it is for them to grow up and understand the concept.

Q.  Could you define shot tolerance for me?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  It means when you can play more than one shot or two, as many as you need to stay in the point, and not lose advantage on the point.

Basically one second you can hit the ball, you can hit the ball that lands close to the baseline a couple inches from the net; you can you hit it when it goes three feet over the net.  Effectiveness is the same, but you can probably hit a lot more when you go three feet above the net.  That is shot tolerance.

Q.  Not putting yourself on the defensive?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  No, that’s a huge misconception, and that’s something that when you’re working with kids that haven’t grown up with that concept.  If you say, You gotta be a little more aggressive, and then everything is a thousand miles an hour.

Then you say, You gotta play a little more consistent, then everything is a push.  So the reason a middle ground, which is normally the shots that are used more in tennis.  So it’s not about playing defensive, it’s about playing good percentages.

Q.  Why do Spanish players know that?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Because they’re taught it.

PATRICK McENROE:  They’re taught it.

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  They’re taught it at the beginning.  I mean, for them, accountability about missing is very, very important.  And it also comes with the surface that you grow up with.  If you grow up on hard courts, on a fast surface, missing becomes a lot more normal because the courts are faster and you don’t have much chance to get set up.  Which on clay, the misses is normally not as acceptable.

Q.  You look at our greatest champions in our history, and many of them were all‑court players.  When kids are young, trying to teach them an all‑court game, like Sampras, who took a lot of lumps in the juniors, how challenging is that trying to encourage the kids, that, Hey, look at the big picture; you might have to take some losses to develop down the road kind of thing?

JOSÉ HIGUERAS:  Well, my belief is that you reward the kids when they’re young about making the right decisions, and the right decisions are about doing the right things that give you the tools to be able to keep getting better as you go older.

That’s obviously the job of the coach or the teacher to convey that message to the player.  If the message is, You win, you’re great; you lose you suck, more than likely the kid is going to do whatever it takes to win.

So it’s extremely important, and that’s one of core things about what we’re doing, is to give the kids the tools to give them a chance to keep getting better as they get older.

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