The Myth of the Pitch

John Yandell

"Serving is just like pitching a baseball." Probably everyone who ever took a serving lesson has heard this claim. It's is one of the most common myths in teaching. Unfortunately, it's not an accurate description. It's of minimal value in learning to serve and can even be counterproductive. This is especially true if the student has actually played baseball and can throw or pitch well.

Is this the model for the serve? How much does the serve really have in common with the pitching motion in baseball?

Actually the baseball pitching analogy is part of a larger category of misleading analogy myths. Hitting a one-handed backhand is "just like" drawing a sword out of scabbard. Hitting a forehand volley is "just like" throwing a punch. Then there's a teaching pro, and a regular correspondent who insists that serving isn't really like throwing a ball at all. Really, it's just like throwing a javelin!

There are two related problems with these analogies. First, rather than simplifying our explanations of the strokes, they actually make them more complex. What a tennis serve most resembles isn't a baseball pitch, a javelin throw, or any other motion from any other sport. The motion a tennis serve most resembles is a tennis serve! Why try to hit a serve by emulating a motion from some other sport that may be bio-mechanically completely different?

Which brings me to the second problem with these analogies. They imply that we can't really understand tennis strokes on their own terms. They have to be compared to other motions so we can learn them. This is not only misleading, it makes tennis seem like a second rate sport. Tennis strokes are among the most beautiful and complex motions in all of sports. They deserve to be understood and taught on their own terms. Imagine a baseball coach trying to tell a pitcher that a fastball is really just like a first serve.

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John Yandell is widely acknowledged as one of the leading videographers and students of the modern game of professional tennis. His high speed filming for Advanced Tennis and Tennisplayer have provided new visual resources that have changed the way the game is studied and understood by both players and coaches. He has done personal video analysis for hundreds of high level competitive players, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Taylor Dent and John McEnroe, among others.

In addition to his role as Editor of Tennisplayer he is the author of the critically acclaimed book Visual Tennis. The John Yandell Tennis School is located in San Francisco, California.

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