Coaching & Instruction: Player Analysis - By Martin van Daalen

Martin van Daalen, a respected tennis coach and author of Teaching Tennis Volume 1, investigates the importance of player analysis.
 
Player analysis represents a breakdown of all the specifics of a player in technical, tactical, physical and mental aspects. It can be used for different reasons. For coaches this would be to make improvements or corrections and for players to find clues to combat your opponent. For both coach and player it can be very helpful to study an opponent to make a game plan. As players become more advanced, an extensive analysis is very helpful for coaches to complement the developmental plan for instructions and corrections. Due to the various techniques and multiple styles of play, the complexity of instructions and corrections increases. It takes much experience and “a good eye” to find the proper methodology and approach to training the fundamentals, let alone the specialty strokes. 
 
Technical Analysis
In order to make a technical analysis for improvements or corrections it is important to have a method to recognize mechanical errors and to make comparisons to basic fundamentals. For that we need reference points in the stroke that include position and rotations of arms, legs and trunk. So as you can see, we need to train our eyes to look at the whole body, not just the stroke with the arms. These reference points represent certain recognizable positions of the body and racket and are called: 
 
The Key Positions
Ready Position
Backswing
Loading
Forward Swing
Contact Point
Follow Through
Recovery
 
The key positions can vary from player to player due to grips that lead to different contact points, racket trajectory, ball trajectory, foot stance, the individual style and intended stroke of the player - think of topspin, slice, etc.
 
Every player has strokes they favour during play. Either they are more comfortable with the execution and feel more confident with them or they are able to pressure their opponent better. If you have never played a certain opponent before there is an easy way to find out which groundstroke, forehand or backhand, they prefer. Start playing the ball straight at your opponent in the warm-up and observe which stroke they choose to return the ball. It will be their favorite shot and preference to start play with. 
 
Tactical Analysis
With a tactical analysis the reference points lie in the tactical applications of the game. In many cases the technical, physical and mental aspects influence the execution of the tactical aspects due to limitations or errors of the player. There are some fundamental points that generate the tactical ability of a player and can provide you feedback to their match skills:
The basic tactical experience of a player - amount of match play and years played
The style of a player, i.e. baseliner versus serve-and-volley player
The shot choices a player makes under pressure situations
The use of patterns of play in constructing points
The consistency of execution of all points above - consistency leads to confidence
 
These aspects can make a big difference in how a player is able to play points and compete in matches and tournaments. More match play and practicing different tactical situations will progressively improve their skills over time. 
 
Physical Analysis
In order to make a proper physical analysis, you first need to observe all the components that can influence the physical ability and capabilities of a player. The most important elements that decide the physical make-up of a player are:
Coordination
Stamina
Strength
Speed
Flexibility
Balance
 
The relationship between these components is different for each individual player. Percentage wise they can vary in the physical make-up of every player and possibly also be responsible in determining their strategy and playing style. Even though they are genetically influential, they are trainable to a certain degree.
 
All these aspects have a large influence on the timing of the ball in rally exchanges, on your consistency of execution and how long you can last in rallies and matches, how hard you can strike a ball, or how fast you can run from corner to corner in retrieving shots. 
 
Mental Analysis
Making a mental analysis of a player can be difficult and misleading. There are so many factors that come into play and it takes time to come to the proper conclusions on the mental abilities of a player. As a coach, I personally like to use a list of most important mental aspects. This list makes it easier to come to an informed decision and avoids leaving out or forgetting any aspects of the mental analysis:
 
Goals
Passion for the game
Work Ethic
Competitiveness
Execution under Pressure
 
As you might know from watching matches on TV, the mental aspects have a large influence on the outcome of advanced competition. Toughness is trainable to a certain degree but can also be a very useful skill.
Conclusions
Coming to the correct conclusions at the end of your analysis can be a difficult task when you are not organised properly. The many components can lead to confusion. 
 
Here are some points to assist your analysis:
 
1. Determine what you want to analyze
2. Stabilize the situation or strokes first for proper analysis
3. Start by analyzing the whole component 
4. Break it down in separate components for detailed inspection 
5. Make a list of errors or corrections
6. Eliminate possible side issues (secondary errors)
7. Make a final conclusion on the analysis
8. Do a post-analysis after making the corrections to see if it corrected the problem
 
Be organised and document your findings. After your conclusions, make a game plan on how to correct the problem or to prepare a game plan before communicating these with your student. 
 
Managed properly and meticulously, better analysis which will lead to improved match play and results.

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