Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Productive Practice

Elderton is a big wheel in Canadian tennis
The concept of deliberate practice, aka 'practice with a purpose', applies to just about any area of endeavor. Wayne Elderton broke it down for us tennis players in his article here. As tennis coaches we encourage our students to get out there and play as much as possible between lessons. So when you are out there, make the most of your play time. As Wayne says, this means introducing an element of structure and focus to your time on court. In other words, always be working on something.

Narrowing down what to work on can be a challenge. Consider mastering the basics before attempting loftier goals. For example, before you work on a monster kick serve, make sure you can get a respectable first serve in seven times out of ten. Can you give it different types of spin? Can you place it in one of the three main target areas of the service box? Once you master an impressive level of control over any given stroke, it is time to pursue some advanced skills. You have to walk before you can run.

Time is also an issue for many. The spirit is willing to get out on court five times a week, but the schedule just will not allow it. So for those times you can squeeze it in, make the most of it.

  • Ball machine - the ball machine can be your best tennis friend. You can hit more balls in 30 minutes on a ball machine than you will in two or three entire doubles matches (3-6 hours). The repetition is invaluable (assuming your are practicing proper technique). Be careful not to overdo the first couple of times you try it. 
    • Consider having a friend come along - many ball machines have the option to send balls to multiple locations. So you can work on your forehand while your friend works on their backhand. Plus that reduces the number of balls you each hit by half, thus reducing the chance of overdoing it.
    • Have a friend video you as you hit to help make adjustments to your stroke. I am always amazed at how people's perception of their own technique bears little resemblance to reality. Video doesn't lie! A common culprit: the follow through.
    • Use the last hopper of balls during each pickup as serving practice. It's a nice break from all that hitting, and the serve can always use some work.
  • Hitting Wall - no time or budget for a ball machine? A hitting wall is also your best friend. It is never late. It never misses. If you have never enjoyed the tennis 'zone' you can get into while hitting against a wall, you are missing a treat. Great for forehand, backhand and volley practice. Invite a friend and double the fun. Yes, the garage door is a great substitute if no true hitting wall is available. Pick up some foam balls at your local tennis shop to eliminate dinging up the door. You will be surprised how challenging they can be.
If you are just going out to hit with friends, give yourself permission to work on something, even if it means you may lose the friendly. This is the perfect opportunity to grow as a player. Don't waste the chance. If you really want a challenge, be candid with your opponents and tell them what you are working on. Encourage them to hit to your weak spot. Just be sure your weak spot is no longer your weak spot when you play them for reals!

Sometimes you need to just go out and enjoy tennis without it always being 'work' - you know what they say about all work and no play. But if you indulge yourself too often and your tennis is always 'play', your matches will be a lot more work than you want them to be. Keep your matches enjoyable by including some Purpose in every Practice.