The advantages of playing on clay

As the clay court season reaches its climax, Roland Garros is in full swing and the players are grinding it out on the clay courts in Paris. There are many advantages to playing and training on clay and it is something that a lot of young British players are missing out on.

One of the reasons nations such as Spain and France are so successful in the tennis world is how many opportunities there are to train or compete on clay courts.  The characteristics of the court develop physical and tactical skills in players that you don’t get on other surfaces. Growing up and learning your skills on clay can have huge benefits for young players in the long-term.

Clay courts are naturally slower than all other surfaces and this means that players have to learn to be tactically more astute, learning to construct longer points.  It is not as easy to hit winners, as it is on faster surfaces, and so consistency is the true tactic of the clay court player. For this reason, clay court players also develop their movement and fitness to be able to continue to hit with high quality over a high number of repetitions. The volume of balls you have to hit on clay, due to the speed of the court, also allow players to develop their technique to a high level.

In Great Britain, this is something that a lot of our players do not develop as easily.  A high percentage of players train indoors on fast surfaces such as acrylic or carpet which do not always promote the strong tactical or technical base that is required for aspiring juniors.  A fast court does make you move faster but at the same time, it does not allow players to develop consistency as it is too easy to go for a winner rather than learning how to construct points more effectively. Unfortunately, there a very few clay courts in Great Britain so what can we do to make sure our players don’t miss out?

This week, a group of our players from Liverpool Tennis Centre visited the excellent Soto Tennis Academy in Spain to spend a week training on clay. This was a hugely beneficial week as it allowed the players to complement their programmes back home with a week training outdoors on clay in hot conditions.  Visiting such academies can be very motivating for players and they can take the new experiences and lessons learned back to their sessions and tournaments, allowing their games to develop at a faster rate.

In his book The Secrets of Spanish Tennis, Chris Lewit highlights not only the factors that allow other European nations to be successful but also the many different characteristics that their players develop through training regularly on clay courts. The book also highlights the core drills Spanish coaches use to develop their players and I would strongly recommend all coaches read this book to see how they could incorporate some of these principles into their teaching.  The RPT also run a very helpful Spanish Drills Course for coaches that can help develop their understanding and experience of teaching relevant movement patterns and techniques.

There are many things that are out of our control here in Great Britain, the weather being the most obvious one, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore the factors that are making other nations successful.  We do have shortage of clay courts and the more new courts that can be built, the more it will help our players develop.  The introduction of artificial clay is a positive step forward, particularly when it replaces other, faster surfaces.  Cost is often prohibitive but indoor clay courts or more courts under canopies or other less-traditional structures needs to be considered if we are going to compete with other tennis nations on the world stage.

What are your views on the advantages of clay courts? Let me know your experiences and views on how we could we could do more to make sure our players aren’t missing out…

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