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Don’t Brush Up the Ball

by Evan Gaudreau

Coach Evan is back with a piece about brushing up the ball. Well, actually, don’t brush up the ball!

Don’t Brush Up the Ball

Here is why you shouldn’t “brush up the ball” and how it can cause you errors.

“Brush up on the ball,” the tennis pro said as he fed a ball slowly and without any spin. The boy swung at the ball and released his left hand off the racket at the finish. “Finish your swing,” the “pro” added. “Make sure you keep your hands together.”

We’ve all heard these words before. Today, when I hear a teaching pro say “brush up” on the ball, I cringe. It’s as if someone scraped their hands across the chalkboard. At your local tennis club, if there are older teaching pros, like over 50, you will hear a lot of “Brush Ups.” Why wouldn’t you? It’s what they learned as kids, and it’s still effective, right? Look at the world around you. Is it the same as when you were a kid?

Technology forces adaptation…from the newer rackets with a higher launch angle…to tennis courts with sand mixed into the paint (slowing the ball down, killing those new sneakers you bought three weeks ago and are already showing wear or the tennis balls that can’t make it through a set of tennis).

How you should “brush the ball”

There are two forms of “Brushes” that you should be focused on…. “Brush out” and “Brush across.” If you want to use trigger words at all. As a coach, be careful what you say. Really what word should be used is “Spin the ball” and “Faster.”
Or “Stronger”. That way, the player will feel and learn what it means without mental blocks.

For instance, I made that mistake as a beginning teacher transitioning from playing to coaching. Ten years into my coaching, I ran into a former student and picked on him for brushing up too much and how he looked more focused on the finish of the swing rather than the spin at the contact point.
“I’m doing what you taught me,” he replied.
Oh Shit! I thought. He’s right.
I felt like a turd.
From then on, I focused less on the “bad trigger” words and more on the contact point. I was already doing this and adapting my style at that point.

Adapting to the game’s evolution

I’m constantly adapting when the new generation comes. Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Thiem-Alcaraz. Every top young player adds a new version to the swing. Whether it’s adaptive to the latest technology or the newer poly strings etc.…It doesn’t matter. It exists. If you pay attention.

Here’s the problem. What if you are older, have been playing for a long time, and have that brush-up swing?
“Do you take the Blue pill or the Red pill?” There are ways to adapt without reconstructive surgery on the swing.

Another teaching issue is watching a teaching pro try to teach an ‘older person” how to hit the modern forehand. Then, you see the player wearing the tennis elbow brace down the road. Doh!

For you turkeys out there coaching, to GUT a swing takes many hours, months, and years. Each swing is an extension of the player’s personality. Did you know that? Tennis is weird like that. If you pay attention….but….Have you ever thought about your swing and how you play in relation to your personality?

Your personality is in your swing

When I was a kid, the coaches kept trying to get me to play more consistently… keep the ball deeper…or play only cross courts…. As I played and competed more, I learned I liked manipulating patterns and messing with people. The coaches didn’t know what to do with me.

But here’s the trick.

Once I started to pay attention to myself and who I was off the court (a bit of a prankster and manipulator) and brought that to the court, MY style of play…my game jumped levels. I unlocked the door….found the Oak Island Treasure. If you want to run and hide from who you are…So be it. You’ll always be running.

It’s time to “Grow Up.” Harsh words for weak minds. Sometimes you have to be an A-Hole to get your point across.

Don’t fight the process

**When I teach players (especially Adults), they fight the learning process. They don’t want to know their true nature because they’d feel pain. It’s easier to “hide” from yourself. Kill the EGO. Get over yourself. Go watch “Good Will Hunting.”

“Maybe you’re perfect right now; maybe you don’t want to ruin that,” Robin Williams said. That way, you can go through the rest of your life without ever knowing yourself….What a super philosophy. One dimensional.

Finish your swing

“Finish your swing!” This goes with the “Brush Up.”

Adding the trigger, “Finish your swing,” makes the swing path more linear and more susceptible to high topspin balls. Pay attention to your swing path. If it is inside your finishing shoulder, My Boy, Youz got yourself a “Brush Up.” I’m constantly vigilant in recorrecting my swing path to fit the modern game. The finish works better when it’s outside the finished shoulder. It “Wraps” the finish, adds spin and more control, and it’s more adaptive at the contact point, and doesn’t have to be PERFECT.

What’s funny is that everyone is looking for the perfect swing (they don’t exist) and chasing it like the Holy Grail. Look at the video on Youtube that has the Top 20 ATP swings for reference.

**Club players. If you have a buddy with a Brush-Up…send him a cluster of high topspin and watch him “swat flies.” Cha Choo Choo. If you are a parent or coach….and the player is getting better, introduce topspin feeds during fed ball….I do this to all “New” players who come to me from the “Old” system. They swat flies at first, but over time, they adapt and stop hitting that weird “patty cake.”

Keeping your hands together

“Keeping your hands together” on the finish. Again, this is another extension of the trigger flaws previously mentioned. When you have a two-hander….it’s ok to release the left hand to learn what it feels like to wrap the finish. When you “lock” the right hand (for righties), it creates stiffness and a “Block” of the head of the racket. It will not activate the spin…especially if you have a continental two-handed grip.

I’m old school in that my only grip change is my forehand (Eastern hybrid semi). Everything else falls under the continental grip. New players struggle to learn to slice backhands because that adds to their multiple grip changes. Young players have a Semi-Western grip on the forehand, the continental for serves and volleys, and a “Topspinny” grip on the backhand. More Maintainance.

The best thing you can do as a player or coach to get rid of the brush up is to stand behind the service line and take “Full” cuts at the swing, which will force you to “wrap” the finish. Also, introduce topspin feeds. And STOP giving the players “TRIGGERS” causing Mental Blocks down the road. I was GUILTY of it. But these days, I pay attention to what words I use.

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