Our Coaching Cues Hall of Shame silver medal goes to a cue which creates unhelpful wrist tension and destroys effortless topspin: "point your but cap at the net."
The butt cap does point at the net early in the swing, but that position is a dynamic position; it should not be entered volitionally.
TV Can Be Deceiving
Many bad cues originate from watching the pros; to the untrained eye, it looks like Rafael Nadal is turning his racket over through contact, even though he isn’t. As we watch on TV, there are two fundamental information barriers that routinely lead to bad coaching cues.
- It’s difficult to tell the exact timing of the movements that we’re seeing. Yes, Rafa’s strings did turn over, but that was part of the follow through, not part of the swing itself.
- We can’t tell what the player did intentionally, via conscious effort, and what happened passively as an unconscious result of those intentional actions.
The Butt Cap Myth
The “point your butt cap at the net” fallacy originates from the second barrier. It’s cued because, at a certain point in the swing, every professional player’s butt cap is in fact pointed towards the net.
The problem? This butt cap pointing is passive, not active.
Our silver medalist is a pernicious misconception which causes tight wrists and slow swings. When our wrist is properly relaxed during the take back, our butt cap will point towards our body, not at the net.
In order to force the butt cap to point at the net instead, we would need to tighten and extend the wrist and pre-rotate the forearm – this ruins the swing, and can get you hurt.
The Butt Cap Reality
As explained in the The Fault Tolerant Forehand, adding tension to force the butt cap towards the net ruins our wrist’s performance as a hinge, and thereby causes our racket head speed to crater.
From the section – Relax:
So instead of tensing the wrist and trying to extract some small modicum of force from those tiny muscles, we completely relax it to use it as a hinge. Instead of generating force itself, the wrist acts as a hinge to transfer energy from the rest of the kinetic chain into the racket. And the looser it is, the less energy is lost in this transference.
This is why a tight wrist leads to such a slow swing. A tight wrist is an inefficient hinge that the racket cannot freely whip around, and therefore it doesn’t matter how hard we drive with our legs and trunk to start the motion, most of that energy is going to be lost before it ever gets transferred into the ball.
When we relax during the swing, the racket will naturally lag backwards as a result of inertia; it wants to stay at rest when your hand pulls it forward. This natural, non-volitional lag is what results in the famous "wrist lag position" that’s so common on the tour, not any sort of intentional action.
It’s a position that’s entered without conscious effort.
Attempting to consciously put your hand into the "wrist lag position" only creates unnecessary tension that prevents the wrist from effectively acting as a hinge to transfer force. When you, instead, relax during the swing, the racket does the job on it’s own.
So ignore where your butt cap is pointing during your stroke.
It’s not a useful piece of information. When you take your racket back, relax your hand. When you throw it out, up and through the ball, maintain that relaxation. Use just enough tension to maintain a consistent string angle through contact, and to prevent the racket from flying out of your hand.
Other than that, keep the wrist loose, throw it in the right direction, and it will perform properly during the swing.