[LETTERS to the editor]Korean tennis coaching lacks strategy

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[LETTERS to the editor]Korean tennis coaching lacks strategy

An interesting, recent (Aug. 28) Korea Times newspaper article examined the lack of development of professional men’s tennis in Korea. Except for Lee Hyung-taik, the world’s 70th-ranked player, the experts contend there is a void, traced mainly to a lack of quality coaching.
“We have too few coaches with good teaching skills and experience, unlike countries strong in tennis,” said Joo Won-hong, head of Samsung’s professional tennis team in Korea. “Young players don’t have the opportunity to acquire the advanced skills needed to compete at the top.”
In my judgment, having lived in Korea for 11 years and having stayed abreast of professional tennis, it seems Korean coaches in many sports concentrate too much on technique at the expense of planning. The need for better strategic usage was clear at the Korean junior boys’ tennis championships at Olympic Park in Seoul in July.
I attended this event because my former coach for the Anderson College (South Carolina) men’s tennis team (he is now the head coach at University of North Carolina-Charlotte), asked me if there was a good Korean player who could fill the No.1 singles position at his school, beginning in January. He was offering an $18,000 annual tennis scholarship, 80 percent of the full ride.
Most of the under-18 age-group players at this event were technically solid. I saw explosive forehands and backhands, excellent racquet acceleration, quick hands and feet and good hustle.
But strategy ― overall shot selection, awareness of how to play the important points and how to fully maximize the court to exploit one’s opponent ― was sorely lacking and was far below what it should have been for this caliber.
Like Joo Won-hong, I blame the coaching. At this tournament, each region of the country was represented by a team and its head coach. I witnessed coaches talking and demonstrating technique, but apparently strategy was not much of a consideration.
I tried to recruit a top-five 17-year-old. He was a lefty with impressive power, superb feel on the volley and a game that could get him to the pros. Yet his on-court planning was awful. He hit too many forehands and backhands down the middle of the court, instead of aiming crosscourt and close to the sidelines to force his opponent to run as much as possible.
His lefty serve to the advantage box should have been a nasty slice, but was mainly ineffective. When spun out wide to the sideline to the backhand, a good lefty spin serve is often unreturnable. It is also basic strategy incorporated by all good leftys, including John McEnroe.
Lee Hyung-taik is better now at 30 than 25, mainly because of superior strategy.
“I’m not hitting as hard as I used to, but I’m more accurate,” he said.
Players of Lee’s caliber have a purpose for every shot. In contrast, there were myriad wasted shots on display at the boys’ national championships.
Some coaches I saw there seemed self-satisfied and overly proud of their status, like big fish in a little pond. To help guide their players to play among the world’s best, they need to instill the mindset of not just technique, but of on-court planning too.
Korean tennis seems destined to remain stagnant unless coaches can teach the cerebral part of the game as well.

by Mark Dake
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