How long have you played tennis for? How many hours of lessons have you taken? How many times have you ever seen yourself on video hitting a tennis ball? I would wager for the majority of people reading this the last question would be answered with “never.”
The problem with teaching pro’s who never use video analysis for instructional purposes is that it is virtually impossible to see certain mistakes without the aid of a slowed down video. Even mistakes that are somewhat easy to see without the aid of video become glaringly obvious when seen on video. With virtually everyone having a smart phone with high definition video on it today there is no reason to not video yourself (or have your instructor do it).
Another huge advantage of video is that, for the student, it gives them video evidence of their mistakes. Just because someone tells them they are doing something wrong doesn’t mean they will necessarily believe it, at least subconsciously. The beauty of video is that it doesn’t lie, but the brain can be deceptive. Most people think they hit the ball way differently then they actually do. I remember the first time I was filmed as an adult, after having taught tennis for awhile and being so scared that I would be hitting the ball differently then I was teaching, luckily for me that wasn’t the case. I was actually hitting the ball the same way I was teaching people to hit it. I’ve seen a ton of videos on youtube of people telling student to do this or that and then when the teaching pro demonstrate it, they do something different. So even some professionals don’t hit the ball the way they think they do. We learn better if we can use as many of our senses as possible. Using visual references enhances the learning process. You can tell someone a thousand times that they are doing something wrong and they still struggle to understand or be able to fix it, but show them what they are doing wrong and they will immediately start improving.
Comparative Video Analysis
Video also gives a good record of improvement. It can show that as the months go on, you are changing and improving your strokes. I often compare previous videos of students to recent videos so they can see how much they are improving. It really helps to show subtle changes to a players technique. In the above video the player was initially taking their top hand off the racquet too early and swinging the racquet head down on the unit turn. Now they are keeping on longer and keeping the racquet head higher.
If you have a teaching pro, demand that they video your strokes and explain to you what and where things are going wrong.
The only real piece of equipment you will need to film yourself is a camera. There are several other things that are useful and make it easier to do, but really all one needs is a camera of some sort.
A video camera of any sort can be used. Even a standard camera will allow you to see your strokes. Obviously a high definition video camera will give better quality video and allow you to see more precisely what is going on with your strokes. Most smartphones now have high definition video. I now use my iphone to film all my students. The only real drawback of a phone is that its hard to get it to fit on a tripod so you will need someone to film you or figure out a way to get it to be steady enough and high enough to film. There are several smartphone tripod adapters that work well.
You will need one or two people to help with the filming process. You will need one person to film if you don’t have a tripod and one person to feed balls for you to hit. You can even use a person to feed balls who does not play tennis. Just have them toss the balls underhand near the net on the same side you are on. Ideally you can have several other tennis players involved and all of you can get filmed at the same time. You would not need any body else if you have a tripod and a ball machine.
When to Film
I recommend filming right now, don’t wait another day. If you are someone who has played a lot of tennis filming now will give you a good baseline as to where your game is at today. If you are about to embark on some wholesale changes to your game this will give you a good reference to see your improvement as time goes on. Trust me, you will see the improvement over time. If you have never played before, film yourself after you feel you are starting to get the stroke down. Once you are at the point of hitting live balls (balls hit or tossed to you) film right away. You will catch mistakes much quicker this way and hopefully before they become bad habits.
What to Film
You are going to want to film the seven essential tennis shots on your initial filming. These shots include the forehand, backhand, serve, forehand volley, backhand volley, overhead and underspin (or slice) backhand. After the initial filming you can film individual strokes as needed. If you are a beginner who hasn’t done all the seven essential shots yet, film each individual stroke as soon as you are hitting live balls.
How to Film
To properly get all the angles covered on each stroke it is best to be filmed from three different angles.
The height of the camera should be about 5 or 6 feet above the ground. You don’t want the shots to be angled up or angled down. You want a level view.
The next angle is behind the player. It is best to be slightly on the racquet swinging side of the player, this allows for a good overall view of the stroke.
The third angle is from the front. It is best to position the camera right at the net post and once again on the side where the racquet will be swinging. So for a righty backhand film from the left side.
Each stroke should be filmed from each angle for at least 5 swings. I recommend stopping or pausing the recording after each 5 swing session. It is much easier to organize if each stroke and angle are separated. By stopping in between each angle you will end up with three files for each stroke. One from the side, one from behind and one from the front. If you film all seven essential shots you will end up with 21 files.
Before filming yourself I would recommend warming up for a bit, almost like if you were playing a match. This will help you groove into your strokes a bit and take out any potential stiffness that can happen if a player is not fully warmed up. Get a decent amount of sweat going before filming!
Pre-Filming Set Up
Have the person throwing or hitting the ball stand slightly off to the hitting side.
Standing Off To Hitting Side
If they are throwing have them stand close to the net, but on the same side as you.
Throwing from Same Side As Hitter
If they are hitting you a ball have them stand on the other side of the net. Preferably not too far away from the net as you want accurate hits, the further away from the net they are the more likely their hits to you will be errant. They should also be feeding from the same side you are hitting from.
Feed From Other Side of Net
Ideally the throws or hits will not make you run as you will be trying to get a good view of your shots in an ideal situation to check out the technical aspects of them. If you want to see how your strokes look while running you can do that too, but definitely film from a static position first.
During filming just hit the ball, don’t over think what you are trying to do. Hit any ball, even ones that are not perfectly thrown or hit to you.
Analyzing the Videos
There are several ways the videos can be analyzed.
Have a Professional Look
One way is to have your current teaching pro check them out and tell you what you are doing right and wrong. Of course this will generally cost money to do and if they don’t have the proper equipment might be impossible. A professional can more easily see what is right and wrong as they are trained to notice these things.
Do It Yourself
The second way is to check them out yourself and check to make sure you are doing the main key points correctly. As discussed in the progression section there are several key points for each shot. If you pause the video at these spots you can check to see which key points you are doing correctly and which ones you need work on. The rest of this section will assume that you want to do the analysis yourself.
There are two main ways one can analyze their videos. I personally use both methods.
The first way is directly through an app on a smartphone. I use an app called Coach’s Eye. You can find out more about the app at their website located here. The app runs around $7 to purchase, but is well worth the money. This is a great method to use if you are trying to fix one thing on a stroke such as learning to pronate on the serve. I routinely film people, work on something for a while, then film them again to see of there is any improvement. I personally don’t feel an app is a great way to go if analyzing complete strokes. For complete strokes it is better to use the second method of video analyzing.
Video Analysis Software
The best way to analyze your strokes is with the aid of a computer and a video analysis software program. This can allow much greater flexibility then just an app. It also allows you to see the video on a bigger screen which can make noticing things much easier. Either a laptop or a desktop can be used. An advantage of a laptop is that the analysis can be done right at the tennis court if need be. After deciding on what type of computer to use the next decision is which software program to use. I have used several expensive video analysis software programs in the past, but over the last few years have switched to a program called Kinovea.
Kinovea offers mostly all the same features as the expensive programs, but is 100% free. I would recommend using Kinovea (located here) and will be using it in the below sections on how to analyze your videos.
Comparative videos analysis