As published in Florida Tennis Magazine
The Simple Method of Lluis Bruguera
I have spent the last 10 summers studying with Lluis Bruguera in Spain as well as other legendary Spanish coaches, but the Bruguera approach has made the most lasting impression on me--more than any other system in Spain.
Lluis says, "Tennis is simple, facile--yet most coaches complicate everything." Indeed, in this era of technological advancement and scientific achievement, there is an unprecedented amount of information available about the game tennis. We have tremendous tools as coaches, from racquet sensors and Smart Courts, video analysis and online resources, to name a few. But for modern coaches, sifting through this vast data can be laborious and confusing, to say the least. It can be difficult to design a successful blueprint to develop a champion player.
The Bruguera Method shows that a simple, clear-minded approach can be successful in this complex Age of Information. With a relatively spartan philosophy and training system, Lluis has developed dozens of top ATP players since the 1980's and recently scored a modern success with Garbine Muguruza's breakthrough on the WTA tour.
Here is a sampling of ten tenets of the Bruguera approach that players, coaches, and parents can all learn from:
1. Train on clay when children are young to help develop, patience, strategy, stamina, racquet speed, and footwork and balance. Use hard courts to develop attacking skills and quick reactions as players grow older.
2. Don't talk too much to students and don't over-analyse. Find the right exercise for the individual and let players discover the answer rather than tell them everything. Lluis commonly says, "Coaches always want to tell a student what they know. It's better to find the right exercise and let the player figure out the answer. And for this, the coach must give the player time for trial and error."
3. Be positive with children. Lluis says, "Never say No. Never tell a player he can't!" Don't be overly negative or critical. Inspire and foster each player's dream with positive reinforcement. Be tough and disciplined but without being verbally abusive. Never squash a child's big dream.
4. Be solid. For Bruguera, this means consistency. Spanish players are known for this. Lluis says, "To be solid, to be consistent, this does not mean you are a defensive player." He also adds, "To be solid, to know that you can put the ball inside the lines every time, this builds mental confidence and reduces the anxiety of the player."
5. Develop decision-making and remember that there is no perfect technique. In the Bruguera approach--and all across Spain--the focus is on the tactical decision-making of the player and control of the ball, rather than on developing perfect form according to some abstract model. This saves development time and allows for player individuality and creativity. Spanish coaches like Bruguera build smart tactical players with broad technical parameters rather than with very specific technical prescriptions.
6. Focus on footwork, movement and balance. Reading the incoming ball with the eyes and positioning the body well to receive the ball is an obsession in Spain, and this is the focus in the Bruguera style as well. Instead of obsessing about technical form, Bruguera obsesses about the balance and body control of the player when receiving and sending the ball.
7. Use topspin and develop a big forehand weapon. In the Bruguera Method, the forehand with massive topspin is a primary method of attack. Bruguera uses a series of special exercises to develop the whippy style of forehand made famous by his son, Sergi. But Lluis is flexible. Some players cannot develop heavy spin and must hit flatter. If you look at Muguruza's style, you can see she plays flatter than traditional Spanish players.
8. Tennis--at its core--is a game of errors. Bruguera consistently reinforces to players that the essence of the game is to make fewer errors than the opponent. Winners and weapons are important, but making fewer errors is more important. This message is especially important for young, developing players to learn before they grow into their bodies and develop power. It's also an important message for less-talented players and players prone to anxiety.
9. Don't overtrain. Play less tennis and do more physical work off the court to build endurance, become a better athlete, and to stay healthy. Injured players don't win tournaments, don't move up the rankings, and don't get a paycheck. Lluis always says, "It's better to stop when a player still wants to play more, so he is hungry to come back the next morning." Lluis also contends that, "players with better physical conditioning make smarter decisions over the course of a match."
10. Teach players that tennis--and life--involves suffering. For Bruguera, tennis is a game of sacrifice, discipline, and physical and mental suffering. The player who is willing to suffer the most on the court generally wins in the end. This is especially true for players who want to one day win a clay court tournament like Rolland Garros, where endurance is critical to success.
Lluis has proved that with his simple approach, hard work, and a willingness to suffer, champions can be developed in a very efficient and practical way, even in today's modern world of big data, scientific development, and technological advancement.