Key Essentials for ANYONE to improve their game.
My sport is tennis, so many of the tips below describe tennis advancement techniques. Whatever your sport, the following essentials hold true for any serious student-athlete seeking elevation. Below are some basic tips for overall improvement:
1. A Notebook
This is a primary and essential tool for learning. You wouldn’t consider taking a class in school without taking notes that you could review later. Translate this into your sport. I have noticed throughout decades of coaching that few if any, players consider that their sport must be studied. Avid students excel. Serious and meaningful improvement happens when you realize you are educating yourself on sports performance. I am amazed at the number of players who continue to schedule lesson after lesson without jotting down notes. How can you possibly remember all the nuances of technique, mechanics, or strategy? I am equally perplexed how many tournament players neglect this crucial step. Key points of the game should be reviewed, analyzed, and scrutinized – on and off the court. Consider your notebook or playbook as your private memory space. Immediately after every lesson or match, sit and think about the key points you’ve learned or observed. Write them down, and revisit your notebook regularly. Explore what is working well, what didn’t, what you can easily tweak, and the developmental help you may need. Include action steps that you intend to do to move forward.
Here is a scenario about Anger Management that some of you might be able to relate to:
Sixteen-year-old, Karen, sees herself as a serious tennis player. She has talent and a pretty good win/loss record. She plays locally and does well. I became Karen’s coach right before she was scheduled to play a ‘big’ tournament. Her last match of the tournament was, in her words, a disaster. I watched Karen’s demeanor as she stormed off the court. She made quite the scene as she proceeded to smash her racquet and throw it into the woods by the court! I approached Karen and calmly asked her, “What did you learn today?” She screamed, “Absolutely nothing!” I remained calm and asked again, “You must have learned something, right?” She wasn’t grasping the question. She was furious and demanded to know what she should do now. I suggested that she buy a notebook and write down her feelings. She looked even more exasperated and truly puzzled. I clarified, “Either it’s the notebook or you’re going to need to buy lots and lots of racquets.” I needed Karen to realize that journaling in her tennis notebook would provide valuable insights into her match play and her emotional outburst. Karen’s mindset will become one of the most important aspects of her development as a tournament player. This is called reflective learning. Until Karen was a willing participant in this step, her ability to be coached (and her progress) would be compromised. After some time had passed, Karen admitted she needed to pause and ponder her “why” for playing tennis. She sheepishly showed me her new pink notebook. That was my signal that the cultivating had begun.
2. Formulate a Plan of Action
I have seen many players continue to perform at the same level, using the same strategies, and continuing to make the same mistakes. What’s even more paradoxical to me are their comments about being baffled as to why they can’t seem to get better. As a player, when you are mystified that doing the same thing the same way does not bring improvement, it’s time to seek a competent professional – a tennis professional, that is. (Although I remember a very smart person who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.)
When you decide that coaching is in your future, I suggest your very first lesson with your coach be an ‘off-court’ consultation session. You won’t need your racquet. This is an essential foundational step. Be completely honest with yourself and the coach. Discuss how the world of tennis looks from your perspective. Relay your realistic time commitments for lessons and practices. Ensure the coach knows your goals: recreational or tournament play. Now, it’s your coach’s turn to fully assess your skills and create a plan. Then you need to listen – carefully. Accept constructive criticism – insist on it. Take notes. Non-coach time involves an off-court review of your study notes. This reflection and review is the beginning of learning and adopting new aspects of your game.
3. Practice Partners:
After your consult lesson with a professional, he/she may be able to help you find practice partners. Your practice partners are integral to your improvement. All accomplished players have practice partners. And, they devote much more time to practicing than they do to playing. Did you know that Roger Federer invites practice partners to his home from all over the world? Throughout his career, Roger Federer has had hundreds of hitting partners. His practices are intentional, prescriptive, thorough, and planned.
Ensure you and your practice buddy understand ‘how’ to practice. Practicing parameters involve specific actions, repetitive drills, and training movements. A practice session is not match play. In addition to your human partner, below some unconventional practice partners to try: the ball machine, the practice wall, an empty court, the internet, TV, or books.
a. Ball machines are great for tuning up specific areas of your game. I recommend hitting on the ball machine for one-hour sessions. Break up the hour into several different stroke production groupings (i.e., groundstrokes, volleys, etc.). This will minimize overuse of any one muscle group and reduce injuries. You must practice proper technique for obvious reasons. I advise that your pro attend your first ball machine session. Don’t go it alone. Your pro will show you how to properly operate the machine and use the different settings as well as ball speed, and spin for a customized practice session.
b. It’s unfortunate that practice walls sit idle at most clubs. Hitting against a practice wall will improve your groundstrokes, volleys, serves, and overheads. Any serious student of the game will spend time regularly on the practice wall. Getting good practice on the wall does require a skill level. However, once you can control your strokes, the wall is a wonderful practice partner. (I attribute much of my improvement as a player to significant time spent on the ball machine and the practice wall.)
c. An empty court is great for practicing serve placement. All you need is a racquet and a basket of balls. Stay focused. These practices create muscle memory through repetition. Eventually, this process will bring efficiency and accuracy.
d. Internet, TV, and books are also great practice avenues to accelerated learning. With the internet, tennis education is a click away. There are endless online coaching tips, videos, and learning opportunities. Television makes it easy to watch your favorite players. Watching high-level tennis is technically a visualization exercise – one that I feel is underrated. (I think it is safe to say that watching players at your level will not carry the image of the greats into your mind. Obviously, cheering on your teammates and friends is part of the game, and I encourage it.) Immerse yourself by watching and studying high-level players. Study their techniques. See how they construct points. Observe how they assess their opponents. This will crystalize the picture in your mind’s eye of what a particular stroke is supposed to look like or how court strategy can be executed. Have you read any tennis books or articles? Don’t dismiss this medium. Most classwork requires reading. If you are serious about cultivating your game, you will seek out many ways to learn. You must take total ownership of your learning.
Lessons + Practices + Match Play + Tournaments = The Magic Formula.
Early in your tennis journey, your learning time will consist primarily of lessons and practices. Eventually, match play will be mixed in along with the introduction of tournament play. These components are indispensable for skill development. This magic formula of combining lessons, practices, match play, and tournaments is the same for beginners as it is for touring pros. All parts of the formula are essential to success. No part of the formula can be skipped. I see far too many players who believe playing a match is a practice. Big mistake. While match play is important, without continued learning (lessons and study) and practice (drills and training) your game will likely plateau. We’re back to doing the same thing and expecting better results. The magic formula is tried and true.
Off-court fitness and nutrition are also vital to your overall physical ability and injury prevention. Mindset, concentration, and focus are fundamental to any sport. (Please refer to my previous blogs on the topics of nutrition, fitness, and mindset.)
When all these elements are working harmoniously, forward motion happens and skill levels advance. Like many sports, tennis requires hand-eye coordination, flexibility, agility, and speed. It is a game of skill and strength and grit. And, like any sport, injuries and muscle fatigue can happen. Take care of your body. I founded BodyHelix with both aspiring and high-level athletes in mind, to help us with our injuries. Tennis is a fun and rewarding sport for a lifetime. If you feel you are stuck and have trouble improving, feel free to reach out to me. I will do my best to offer suggestions. Let’s move through it together.
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It is my greatest hope that you will implement some tips from our Bio-Cultivating and Neural-Cultivating blogs. Further, it is my hope you will be inspired to pass these learnings along to family and friends. We all have people in our lives who have the desire but lack the accurate information to improve their health. It is frustrating to sift through the bombardment of data and the misinformation in today’s world. It’s no wonder some give up in frustration. I believe that we deserve the healthiest choices that honest modern science can offer. It is my mission to help as many of us as possible get and stay healthy.
As a tennis coach myself, I found the compression industry to be unacceptable for our needs. I set out on a journey to help you and your students. I know we all get beat up. The harder we compete, the more we get injured. All compression is not created equal! At Body Helix, we start with an unapologetic obsession for exceptional quality. Our design philosophy is to create modern, innovative gear that surpasses that which is offered in the global marketplace. As a privately held, Veteran-owned, North Carolina company we challenge global leaders to elevate their compression game or step aside. It’s compression gear designed by tennis players for tennis players.
Visualize where you are going! Dare to make this a reality!
Fixate on where you are going!
Dare to crash and burn! It’s still forward movement!
-Fred. A. Robinson
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