Why Spec Tennis is Like A Balance Bike & R.O.G.Y is Like Training Wheels
If you haven’t heard of Spec Tennis by now, let me summarize it for you in one sentence: It’s the best bridge into tennis.
I was talking with my friend Dave Fish (who coached the Harvard Men’s tennis team for many years and was also the Director of Development at UTR) about a month ago, and he made a very powerful comparison.
He asked if I had ever heard of balance bikes. I hadn’t, and so he explained to me how balance bikes are essentially small bicycles that have no pedals and the purpose of them is so kids can learn how to ride a bike. He pointed me to a video and an article making the case for why balance bikes are much more effective than training wheel bikes.
It all made so much sense.
Balance bikes teach kids the most important skill which is balancing. Training wheel bikes teach kids how to pedal, which is much less important than being able to balance.
Once a kid who has learned on a balance bike wants to transition to a real bike, all they have to learn how to do is pedal, which is the easiest of the bike riding skills to learn.
When a kid uses training wheels and then takes the training wheels off, they basically have to re-learn how to ride the bike because they have not learned how to balance it, or even how to lean when turning.
Dave then told me that he thought Spec Tennis was like a balance bike, and that R.O.G.Y. was like a bike with training wheels. I started thinking about this comparison and realized he hit the nail on the head.
Players learn control in Spec Tennis, which in my opinion is the most important skill in tennis (if a player doesn’t have control they can’t go very far). Players often do not learn control in the R.O.G.Y system because the racquets are too powerful, and oftentimes there are more inexperienced coaches at the beginning levels than at the ‘high performance’ levels.
When players play Spec Tennis, they are able to learn how to actually play tennis. They are able to visually see and execute patterns on the smaller court and they are able to play an all-court game, rather than just playing from the baseline like you see so many kids doing as they have a fear of playing from the net.
Many players who go through R.O.G.Y don’t learn how to hit through the ball, because when they try to with the powerful tennis racquet they hit the ball out, and they have no way to fix it if they haven’t developed control. when they finally get to the yellow ball on the 78’ court, it’s like they have to re-learn technique, just like the training wheel bike kids need to re-learn how to ride a bike.
When switching from Spec Tennis to tennis, it’s like the balance bike kid switching to a real bike. The skills the player needs to learn are on the easier end of the spectrum: learning the scoring system, overhand serve, and adjusting to the larger court with a faster ball. Compared to learning control, the skills mentioned above aren’t hard.
The R.O.G.Y system uses 4 different racquet sizes, 4 different balls, and 3 different court sizes. Spec Tennis uses 1 court size, 1 paddle size, and 1 ball.
Maybe it’s time to simplify the tennis development process and just use Spec Tennis to train our players rather than a system that doesn’t have a great track record?
If you’d like to learn more about Spec Tennis or about how I’ve been using it in my racquet sports program, email me firstname.lastname@example.org