June 20, 2016
So many of us put in many hours of practice a week yet we don't see much change in our game during matches or even in future practices. Have you reached your ceiling? Is this as far as you can go? This is hardly the case. Research (we will get into this another day) proves that our capabilities are rarely reached physically but rather mentally. Meaning you think you reached your peak or you just become content with where you're at. Let's take a look at some changes that might help you keep improving in your practices.
Practicing the Right Way
We are often reminded of the quote practice makes perfect. I completely disagree with that. I tell players that I coach all the time that practice makes permanent. Michael Jordan would say that if you shoot 10,000 shots the wrong way all you're doing is getting really good at shooting the wrong way. No matter what you will improve but there will eventually be a threshold that is reached if your practice is not done correctly. This can be difficult on your own so it’s important to get a professional to look at your strokes. Another good way to do this is to video yourself playing points out. You might be surprised to what you see from a third person perspective. Either way make sure you have the right technique down to begin practicing towards your goals.
Practicing to Get Better
This leads to the other aspect of practice that I I'm convinced why most people do not improve while practicing. When most of us practice, we think of it as an enjoyment. We get in our comfort zone and hit the shots that allow us to get positive results. I see this all the time when people are working on the ball machine. They will hit volleys or ground strokes without an obvious intention to work on some element of their game. They are just randomly hitting balls and expecting to get better that way. When we do this, we also tend to make things easier while practicing. (See “Path of Least Resistance Blog Here) Every time you walk onto the tennis court there should be something you are trying to improve. This mindset is rare in not just tennis. We see this in other sports too such as golf. When we hit the driving range, it's for pleasure. Professional golfers hit way less balls than an amateur and have meaningful hits for each shot. If you ever tried to do a session with a pro at the golf range, you more than likely would notice the pace to be dull and boring. Intentional practice is key!
When someone is given an idea to improve their tennis game and they try it, it obviously get worse first. This decline in performance keeps people from continuing to practice the right way for future improvement. See the graph below to show what I mean by that. Let me give you a practical example from my personal experience. I am known to have a big serve but my form has given me problems with my shoulder. I know that in order to be able to serve hard for a long throughout my tennis career, I will need to change my form to allow that to happen. When I first did this, I sucked. I didn't win any points on my serve when practicing against lesser opponents and it was frustrating. The negative outcomes made it tempting for me to go back to my old form just so I could win. I patiently kept working on the correct form and after a week or two I had a better serve and it didn't cost me a future injury to my shoulder. Trust the process and you will improve!