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Practice With Purpose

October 27, 2017

I thought I would share a blog I wrote a few months ago for a local tennis friend of mine. I hope you enjoy it!

How Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

According to the Department of Transportation, the average American drives 13,476 miles a year. This should mean that people are getting better at driving as they get older correct? The best way to look at if this is true is through the number of accidents based on age group. Here is what the stats look like from the insurance company, AAA through 15 years of data.

As you can see, there isn’t much difference in driving ability once you get in your mid 30s. So this begs the question, why are we not improving at a skill that we practice almost every day? With all the cumulative practice, we should be professional drivers by the age of 40! This isn’t just for driving either. Many of us can relate to feelings of plateauing in our tennis game too. If you are not improving at your game as much as you would like, this is the article for you!

The Path of Least Resistance It is within the chemistry of our brains that makes it easier to focus on the instant gratification rather than the satisfaction coming from dedicating a large chunk of time towards a long-term goal. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that communicates with neurons in your brain, is responsible for the drive towards instant gratification. In fact, there are many addictions of drugs, food and money that are directly related to the dopamine released in your brain.

Even without knowing the details of how brain chemistry works, you can see how this relates to practicing as an adult. Most adults that I’ve seen on the court practicing will either hit balls from the baseline or play a practice match. Although these practices can be beneficial, most of the time we turn into auto pilot while doing them, losing valuable opportunities in improving our game.

Think of it like this; if you’re hitting baseline shots back and forth, you’re putting yourself in a situation that is comfortable and easy. This is very similar to driving. We don’t improve in our driving because we are doing the same actions over and over again without any concentration towards those actions. If you are not focusing on certain elements of your game while hitting, you might as well stop hitting as there will be no opportunities for growth and a chance to improve your game.

Change the Environment to Change the Behavior

The best way to improve your practices is to change the types of drills you do. This will instill a behavior conducive to learning. For example, if you have trouble with hard balls to your backhand, have your hitting partner hit inside out forehands to your backhand. If you struggle with volleys, play baseline points where any groundstroke your partner hits into the service box you need to come to the net on. There are plenty of purposeful drills available for you to try but the main idea is to isolate the problem you have and set up a drill to work on it.

Books To Read On Focused Practice

If you are interested in learning more about the importance of focused practice and how it relates to other aspects of your life; check out the following books:

· Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

· Bounce by Matthew Syed

· Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Here's A Tennis Player Working On Faster Racquet Head Speed. Check It Out!

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