Every year, tennis players spend tons of money trying to improve their forehands, backhands, volleys, etc.. But just working on one stroke can consume a ton of money and likewise, a ton of dollars, and sadly enough, it often doesn’t produce the desired result.
In a typical lesson these days, your coach will feed you balls for hours giving you slight corrections from a vantage point 70′ away. And maybe you get better for a short while just through having hit enough balls. Your technique may limit you later on, but meanwhile, your coach shouts encouragment and says “that’s better” or“good shot” on every 4th or 5th ball. I guess if he said “man, you just aren’t ever going to get it”, would you come back to him and spend your hard-earned dollars with him? Probably not!
Good coaches, in my opinion, will use various tools to help you improve. Video Analysis to help you improve faster. They will also be good enough as tennis players themselves to give you some kinesthetic cues as to how it feels to hit with the correct technique. As in, “it feels like you are hitting up on the ball”, or “it feels like you are aiming towards the side fence on your slice serve.”
Good coaches will also teach in progressions, whereby you learn in increments. For example, for a drop volley, practice catching a ball in your hand first, pretending it’s an egg and being real gentle so as not to break the egg. Then, practice catching the ball on your racquet with only one bounce. Once you develop that feel, try and squeeze just a little bit harder so the ball goes forward, but not too much.
To really accelerate your tennis improvement, try these learning tips.
- Practice in front of a mirror. It’s amazing how much this helps. You can mimic the correct position and swing path in the mirror and it gives you direct feedback on how it feels to be in that position. Brent Abel with WebTennis.com reminded me of this recently, and it was one of the methods that helped me greatly when starting on my tennis path. And it’s one that I had put aside for too long. I’m glad he reminded me!
- Video Analysis Video your matches from the top of the fence so you get the whole court. You can then analyze strategy and technique under match conditions. Do your strokes hold up? Is your strategy sound? Click here to see what one college coach says about match videos.
- Find a practice partner who shares your desire to improve. Find someone who is willing to do drills such as hitting crosscourt backhands for ten minutes straight, then forehands, volleys, etc. Someone who will not insist on playing a match.
- Have a practice plan If you are lucky enough to find that practice partner, get with him and agree what you are going to work on. Share tips, give each other feedback. Let him/her know what you are working on and ask for feedback if they can. This will keep you focused.
- Practice as if you were in a match. Practice with as much intensity as you would play an important point in a match (and yes, they are all important). Lazy practice will result in lazy play.
- Take tennis lessons and seriously consider filming them. I like to video my lessons so that I can review them at a later time to see what I might have been missing. It’s hard sometimes to retain everything an instructor gives you. A reminder down the road can be a helpful thing. Towards that end, I always write down what we worked on after each lesson. I helps to review!
- Use props, like the Racquet Bracket, to help you develop the correct feel. There are a number of props that help you develop the feel of correct technique. Oncourt/Offcourt has a great selection of tennis-specific tools.
- Read some good books on learning, like Galway’s Inner Tennis, or one of my favorites, Dan Millman’s The Way of the Perfect Warrior. The Perfect Warrior never mentions tennis specifically, but talks about how we learn, and how to be mindful.
- Vary your practice opponents. Playing against a variety of opponents will sharpen you game. Better players will raise your game, and lesser players will allow you to experiment with new shots.
- Remember, practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect. Mindless hitting just reinforces bad habits if you haven’t ingrained the right ones to begin with. Better to hit one ball right than 100 incorrect.
Incorporate all of these tips and you will be amazed at how quickly your tennis game improves. Just writing this article has me pumped up to improve my game, because I know it works, and in my quest for a National Title (senior of course), it’s absolutely necessary that I follow these guidelines.
Here’s a picture of me (left) with a trophy and winner’s check. I like to win!