A Chat with Rafael Racquet Club Tennis Director

This month, we spend time with Lisa Berg, Director of Tennis at Rafael Racquet Club. She shares some insights from her decades-long career teaching tennis. Has the game changed much since you started playing and teaching, Lisa? The game has changed a lot in 40 years, but I still get a kick out of teaching it. My youngest student is 4 and the oldest is 75ish. When I started, we used to just hit balls around, but now it’s all about the equipment, style of stringing and fitness. Tennis has become so fast and so physical that you have to do more stretching and strengthening, for injury prevention and to keep up. What are the three most important factors for tennis players? Footwork is first. You have to be able to move quickly to the right position. Being fast and agile helps you avoid getting injured. I do a lot of footwork drills with students—running around cones and through ladders. It’s about getting where you need to be, behind the ball. Grip is the second element I focus on. You need to choose and stick to a grip so you have your hand on the racquet the right way with the racquet face set correctly every time. I watch what the student does naturally, then decide what will work best for them. A 65-year-old woman’s grip will be different than a 10-year-old kid’s. I’m flexible with students and take their tennis history, natural tendencies and level of coordination into account.

Watch the ball—that’s the third part of the equation. A lot of people crowd the ball and then hit it late. When I say watch the ball, students tend to watch when it’s coming and then where it’s going after they hit it. So I’ve refined my instructions. I say, “watch the ball hit the strings.” That’s what gives them maximum control. What are your thoughts about training? If you play at a high level, worry about overtraining. Instead of constant drilling, mix it up with cross training, spinning, power yoga, etc. Club level or recreational players are more prone to injury, so be sure to do 15 minutes of stretching before you play. Kids are resilient and can take a bit more intensity. And training for balance is very important for older players. What do we need to know about racquets? More important than the racquet is how you string it. The looser the strings the more feel you’ll get and the more power. You can do more with the shot and it’s softer on your arm. Any advice on shoes? When the courts are freshly resurfaced they’re stickier, grittier and a little slower. Watch for that, because if you wear grippy new shoes on a sticky court you can roll an ankle. I recommend you break in new shoes before you play on a resurfaced court. How have you recovered from injuries? Over the years I’ve been to orthopedists, acupuncturists, a variety. I’ve gotten more out of working with Dr. Dan than all of them. His treatments are a combination of everything. He’s very knowledgeable and calm, not pushy. He really spends time and pays attention to you, and is more collaborative and caring in his approach. There are only a handful of good ones in the field, that’s why it’s easy for me to send other people to him.

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