For as long as he can remember, Jeff Salzenstein has been obsessed with tennis. A self-proclaimed student of the game, he was constantly looking for ways to improve, which eventually led to him becoming one of the game’s most talented servers with an unexpected, yet fruitful professional career.
Salzenstein, now a high-performance coach and Founder of Tennis Evolution, never dreamed of playing professionally as a junior. In fact, his ultimate goal was to play tennis collegiately at Stanford. Despite growing up in Colorado, he was able to achieve that dream, eventually becoming a 2 time All-American and national team champion while playing #1 singles.
After playing No. 5 singles throughout his freshman year, Salzenstein realized that he needed to develop a more consistent serve in order to enhance his game. He played some satellite tournaments, but could not even break out of the qualifying rounds because of his weak serve resulting in far too many doubt faults.
Instead of continuing to play the events, he went back to Colorado to work on his serve. After watching Goran Ivanisevic play in Wimbledon that year, he attempted to copy his serve and something just clicked.
Salzenstein then returned to Stanford and vaulted to No. 2 singles, eventually playing No. 1 in his final two years of college. The main reason for this monumental rise was his serve, which had catapulted to a consistent 125 miles per hour. In fact, the serve was the chief reason Salzenstein was eventually able to pursue a professional career.
After retiring from professional tennis at the age of 33, Salzenstein opted to pursue coaching. He moved back home to Colorado, where he worked with a group of 30 juniors, testing out different methods and styles of coaching.
Salzenstein then realized he could reach a broader audience of students with the boom of online education. He began making YouTube videos and blogging, even putting together his first online course in 2011.
The website features a number of educational courses, video lessons, blog posts and general tips and tricks for becoming a more successful tennis player. “I had this vision that I wanted to expand my reach and help people on a global scale. That’s what I’ve been very passionate about for the last decade. My mission is to improve tennis education for coaches and for players and to improve instruction. I’m trying to help players and coaches raise the bar of our game and make it easier, more efficient and more fun to learn,” said Salzenstein.
Salzenstein also works with coaches and players who send video of their strokes through the Tennis Evolution platform. Naturally, one of the most requested analysis is for the serve. While the serve is one of his favorite aspects to coach now, he was not always comfortable with teaching it.
“When I transitioned to coaching, I had no idea how to teach the serve. I thought I had an idea, but it was the one shot I was the most insecure about teaching. The serve is one of the most mysterious shots in tennis. It’s very difficult to coach and understand,” Salzenstein explained.
“When I started coaching junior players, I became obsessed with how I could break down the serve and how I could teach it. Then I moved all of my content online with Tennis Evolution and started creating courses around that to break down the way I teach the serve into a simple framework” he said.
Salzenstein’s coaching style is incredibly formulaic due to the immense amount of time he has put into studying the game. “I’ve been fortunate enough that I was able to play at a high-level, so I bring that experience, but I was also very thoughtful about the game. I probably over-thought things, I’ve analyzed the game over and over again, but that makes me a better coach,” he said.
“I wanted to be the coach who could give answers. I’ve been obsessed with communication and personal development for many years. I’ve studied nutrition, peak performance, the human body, injury prevention, technique and body awareness,” said Salzenstein. “When I coach someone, they’re getting all of my years of experience, as well as personal development. I focus on communicating clearly and effectively and asking questions. Instead of just telling my student what the answer is, I try to learn from them. I think I’ve brought a unique framework to how I coach.”
Based on Salzenstein’s outlook on coaching, it only makes sense that he is now a certified RacquetFit instructor. RacquetFit is an educational organization dedicated to the study of how the human body functions in relation to tennis, with a mission to educate tennis players and industry professionals on the ‘Body-Tennis Connection.’
“One lot of the problems we have as tennis coaches is that we’re trying to improve a tennis player’s technique when the player actually physically might not be able to do it,” explained Salzenstein. “We take a look at all the joints in the body and do a 10-minute assessment that any tennis coach or professional can learn at one of the seminars. From that assessment, we can then look at their serve or any other stroke and make the connection.”
“It’s a brilliant model because it addresses technique and the body and pulls it all together. At the seminars, we identify 14 characteristics that all coaches can agree are inefficient. If everyone is speaking the same language around these characteristics, then the tennis coach can call the physical therapist, doctor, or chiropractor down the street who is also RacquetFit certified. The tennis coach can then come up with a performance plan that is all based around the assessment,” said Salzenstein.
“We’re not trying to teach players how to serve, we’re identifying what is inefficient, and how we can make them more efficient whether with the body or the technique. We bring it all together,” he said.
Above all, RacquetFit strives to create a common language among coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists. “There are a lot of great coaches out there and there’s a lot that could stand to improve, but we’re all teaching our own way of doing things,” said Salzenstein. “We want to have coaches, medical professionals and fitness professionals all educated with RacquetFit so we’re all speaking that same language.”
For female athletes, RacquetFit is particularly beneficial, especially in terms of teaching a more efficient and powerful serve. “There is a huge opportunity for women to take advantage of this information and become more efficient with the way they serve. There’s a bigger upside for female players to develop world class serves using the RacquetFit technology,” said Salzenstein.
Finally, Salzenstein urges coaches to utilize RacquetFit as a tool for finding mentors and guidance within the sport. “I think sometimes in our sport, coaches think they might have the answers, and while they can be very skilled, there’s still a place for an expert consultant tocome in and give fresh ideas,” he said.
With a program like RacquetFit, coaches no longer have to feel isolated and in their own bubble. Every member of the team can feel supported and speak the same language to generate the all-important mind-body connection within the athlete.