One of the most common mistakes made by tennis players is that they will have a new thing they want to build into their game, take one private lesson with their coach, and assume that the new tactic will take hold immediately. The best way to go about building new tactics into your game is to take a much more methodical approach. Yes, take the private lesson from your coach, but there are a few more things you can do to really gain confidence in the play, so that you own it as you play it.
Progressive Challenge Levels
During the private lesson, work the skill, but then also have it challenged by making it part of a sequence of shots, then go to a situation where you have to make that shot first, then play a point out. After that play points out where your practice partner is trying to give you that shot during the point. Then play a practice, or simply have your opponent serve 8 serve points, followed by you serving 8 serve points with no score. During that live practice session you are looking to execute your tactic. Your practice partner may also be trying to execute a certain tactic, so you will provide that for them. Once you start to feel comfortable that you can execute in live play, then play a practice set that is scored. It’s interesting how adding the scoring changes the dynamic, because then ‘it counts’. People tend to change how they play when the outcome of a point can make it 30-all or 15-40. Once you can play the tactic the way you want in a practice match, then you will probably find that you don’t struggle as much to make it happen in a live match. Yes, this seems very involved, and hard to coordinate, so practically you may need to skip one or two of these steps, but you might need to pay the price of struggling a bit more in a live tournament or league match until you master the new thing you are doing.
Deliberate Practice With Purpose
Adding some ball machine time, or hitting on a wall can help, although neither is especially real life. The cool thing about the ball machine is that you can set it to give you the exact ball that bothers you, or the one that you want to take advantage of and hit that ball over and over, before changing the settings. One time, I put in a full hour working on hitting leaping overheads, so that only a perfect lob all the way to the baseline could get over my head. I’m 6’2 and had a 29” vertical leap, which is not world class, but it did make it hard for people to lob me. The next day, I had a job interview at a club to teach tennis. After the interview, I was asked to fill in for a fourth that did not show up. All three players were once full level higher than me. I was lobbed a few times, jumped up and cracked them for winners. I got the job, and my new boss complimented me on my overhead, which just a few days before had been a bit of a liability. One really good practice session not only solidified it, but made it one of my better shots.
The Overtraining Principle
Another great thing about the ball machine, a great coach, or a program with top players, is that you can overtrain. Sometimes you want to work out at a higher level than is realistic. I do a drill called plyometric groundstrokes where a player has to bound over two cones, and as soon as the foot lands on the court, I hit a ball to the complete other side of the baseline. This dramatically improves the explosiveness at being able to track down shots. Maybe you need lobs all the way to almost the baseline, or 70-80 MPH shots from the ball machine to volley, there are a lot of different ways to go with this, but the idea is to plan for some training at a higher level than what you might actually need in the match.
Having the right practice mentality is a huge part of being able to change and grow into being a better player. If you think are you just going to talk yourself into it, you will find it slow going. Having a growth mindset and that you can learn anything that you put your mind to, then planning the time on task, and going through the struggle of putting in the work will pay off in time.
Make It Your Own
Customize your plan for building in new tactics with a great coach who understands you, but use this template of ever increasing challenge levels and more realistic play situations and it can work great.
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