Bill Tilden, the dominant tennis player of his era, wrote the book, SPIN OF THE BALL. Once the techniques involved in play were incorporated in his game, it became much more effective.
In analyzing his defeats, Tilden decided sliced or chopped backhands floated up to a net rusher and were easy to kill, like the proverbial ducks-on-a-pond.
A friend gave him access to a private indoor court. For one full year he worked to develop a top-spin backhand. This presented net rushers with a major problem.
Over-spin is valuable in tennis. There are many occasions it is useful.
Currently, Roger Federer is the reigning world champion. Some aficionados, even those of by-gone days, consider him to be the best player in the history of tennis. This Swiss star has won 10 Grand Slam men's titles, was the first man in the Open Era to win three of these coveted titles (French, Wimbledon-Great Britain, Australian and the United States Open) in three consecutive years. He has been ranked No. 1 in the world since February 2,004 and holds the all-time record for the most consecutive weeks as the top-ranked player.
One of Utah's best-ever tennis players, an 11-year old boy, broke his hip. This also broke his heart. All of his older brothers had been football players and this was his dream. The break stunted the growth of his left leg. As he grew older, it became four inches shorter than the right leg.
His father gave him a tennis racket thinking tennis was a gentile sport.
In watching this future NCAA singles finalist one thing was apparent: The opponent did most of the running. Using heavy top-spin, he angled the ball well wide of the baseline. Delicate under-spin drop shots forced a mad dash to the net only to be followed with a top-spin lob that bounced away from the rusher.
Let's take a look at the value spin in an understanding of sports played with a ball. A key principle to keep in mind is that whenever a ball hits an object such as a floor, golf green, baseball diamond, rim of a basket, baseball or softball bat or other objects, it reverses the direction of its spin. Thus under-spin changes to over-spin and visa versa.
Coaches usually define under-spin (or reverse spin) as rotating backward while over-spin goes forward.
A young lady on a Manti High School volleyball team was very short, probably barely five-feet tall; however, she used spin to compensate for lack of height. Her serve was heavily topped making it difficult to "dig-out" because of over-spin created as the ball struck the opponent's hands.
Baseball or Softball
High school softball is an evolving sport. Originally the pitcher lobbed the ball up like a lollipop ready to be "licked."
Now-a-days pitchers deliveries have velocity, side-spin or change-of-pace slow action. Hitters are kept off balance.
The main ingredient, assuming both teams can field and hit with equal success, is the quality of play of the pitchers and catchers.
It is common for softball pitchers to throw three-hitters, or on occasion, no-hitters. What ever is said about baseball, in this article, applies to softball.
My older brother lived in Boston and often saw Ted Williams play at Fenway Park. Williams, he thought, was a joy to watch. Even when he struck out the crowd was mesmerized by the beauty of his swing.
This wonderful hitter, batted .406 in 1941, won six American League batting championships and had a life-time batting average of .344, all in the "dead" ball era.
At the height of his career, Williams missed nearly five full seasons. Three years were spent flying fighter planes in the military. Two of the five years he was on the disabled list because of major injuries.
He hit 522 home-runs. Hitting home runs was not his goal. He strived to make solid contact on the baseball with the "meat" end of the bat. Possessing an analytic mind, Williams became an astute guru of hitting. A level swing gave him a better chance to whip the bat at the last second. Many line-drives resulted.
There are innumerable cases where spin is used in softball or baseball. Some are indicated below.
Obviously golfers use a wide variety of spins to slice, hook, or position the ball on the course. A ball lying in the rough of a fairway presents a far different action than a chip shot out of a sand trap. Golfers are not playing on an even surface like a basketball court or softball diamond. Adjustments must be made for subtitle undulations on a green. A ball lying in the rough off the fairway is far different than one in a sand trap. Balls in a sand trap are chipped with under-spin. Upon striking the surface, the ball assumes over-spin and comes back toward the target.
In nearly identical situations one golfer may use a putter that imparts over-spin to roll the ball toward the green while another uses an iron to under-spin the ball and have it spring back toward the target.
Add to the above discussion of spin the different angles on the face of irons and woods and it becomes evident how important spins are in golf. As a consequence, spin in golf is not as controllable as it is in a sport such as tennis.
Of course in all sports there are stand-outs with "touch." Touch is hard to define but you see it in every sport with players such as Tiger Woods in golf, Federer in tennis, Wayne Gretsky in hockey, Pele in soccer and Williams in baseball. A player with "touch" handles a golf club, tennis racket, hockey puck, or baseball as Michael Angelo handled a chisel or paint brush.
The application of the principles of spin may not appear to be as obvious in football as in afore mentioned sports. The age-old consensus that "a football can take a lot of crazy bounces” is true. However, similar to all sports played with a ball, spin does enter the picture.
A ball kicked off a tee at the start of the game has some under-spin. If it strikes the gridiron, the under-spin changes to over-spin and a "friendly" forward roll ensues. If the receiver catches the ball, it tends to jump out of his hands. Fumbles frequently result. This is why only specialists are used by coaches to return kick-offs. In performing a "Statue of Liberty" play, the quarterback should not flip to the fullback, but let the driving player take it out of his motion-less hands.
Although at the start of this article, tennis was used as an example of why spin is important in sports involving a ball, by no means did it give more than a glimpse into the usefulness of spin.
Coach Pete Newell, the Gold Medal coach at the 1960 Olympics held in Rome Italy and the winning NCAA coach in 1959, said this about basketball: "For every offensive move there is a defensive counter." To paraphrase this logic it can be said, "For every spin in sports played with a ball, there is a counter-spin." Newell also said, "It is important to know why a coach asks certain things of his (her) players."
The why deals with the mind and the how with the technicalities of a game.
Hopefully this glimpse into the why will open up windows of application of the how.
Improvement is the key. Loving the game is the key-stone.
Good luck as you venture forward in the intriguing world of coaching sports!
Wilbur Braithwaite passed away in April of 2010 at the age of 83. He was one of the nation’s most beloved high school coaches and of the key contributors to the NFHS Coaches’ Quarterly magazine. Braithwaite coached basketball and tennis at Manti High School in Utah. He coached basketball for 37 years and tennis for 53 years. He was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 1989.