Staff photo by Tyler Heffernan Isabella Nava returns a shot toward her opponent during an Instinctive Tennis Academy camp session last week.
Isabella Nava makes it look easy. The youth tennis player honing her skills at the Instinctive Tennis Academy this past week volleyed, served and returned shots better than boys noticeably older than her.
“Isabella, how old are you?” a Family Circle Tennis Center employee shouted.
“Six and three quarters,” she yelled.
If the tennis drills were designed in winner-stays format, Isabella wouldn't leave the court. She's a product of the Eye Coach, an innovative teaching tool used at the Instinctive Tennis Academy (ITA) on Daniel Island.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King has endorsed the product.
ITA camps run throughout the summer for week-long sessions. Camp director Peggy Bachofner uses the Eye Coach in three steps at the summer camps. The first step is to mold players' swing by keeping their head down for hand-eye coordination and keeping proper form. Then, feeding “still balls,” or stationary, is the next step. Feeding moving balls is the final step, maintaining the same swing and watching the point of contact just like when using the stationary Eye Coach.
Bachofner said beginning players have a tendency to raise their heads at the point of contact, “The first thing you want is that instant gratification,” she said. The Eye Coach helps players keep their heads down through contact, producing a smoother and more accurate swing.
The Eye Coach is used at every level at the ITA, according to club professional Bryan Minton. The younger kids spend more time with the training tool, but even the more advanced players still begin every session with at least 10 minutes on the Eye Coach.
Minton said the bottom line for the elite program is commitment – accomplished by the same training methods they've had for years.
The shining star of the ITA program is Shelby Rogers, currently slotted No. 134 in the Women's Tennis Association singles rankings. She began using the Eye Coach since it was popularized on Daniel Island.
Editor's Note: Reporter Tyler Heffernan contributed to this report.