How to Slide on Clay
As the world's leading supplier of clay court surfaces, the question we get asked more than any other, from teaching pros and players alike, is about how to slide on clay. Sliding not only makes you more efficient and more consistent on clay, it makes the game more fun, so we have put together a three-part video series on how to slide on clay. Check out part 1 on our website. We hope you like it and find it instructional. Give us your feedback. Play the Clay, Learn to Win and Play for Life!
"What's New" Product Video
- from Tennis Warehouse - Women's apparel and shoes; Reebok Spring Tanks, Skorts, Tee Covers; Wilson Tour Vision, Strike, Open shoes; KSWISS Speedster
Why Aren't We Better?
Why aren't we better? For the moment, let's confine the question to tennis. Why aren't we better tennis players? Here, the question is the answer–or the beginning of the answer. The reason we're not better tennis players is first and foremost, we haven't asked ourselves the question.
We have a plan for our family, a plan for work, and a plan for retirement. Heck, the zealously-prudent among us have a plan for how we will be laid to rest. So how is it that we–most of us anyway (I include myself)–don't have a plan for getting better at the sport we devote so much of our lives to? Stunning, isn't it?
So let's pose the question, at least rhetorically. Why aren't we better players? Here are the schools of thought I've heard from my fellow players (and I've enrolled in a few of these myself):
- Complacent school "Perhaps few tweaks, but you know, the rest is good."
- Non-thinking school "I come to the tennis court NOT to think."
- Just-wanna-have-fun school (the less thoughtful in the non-thinking school)
- Humble-school "I'm kind of a clutz."
- It's-too-late school "My parents were bowlers."
- Terminally-lazy school "Sometimes I disgust myself."
- Out-of-shape school "I'm waiting for the fat to go away."
- Don't-have-the-money-for-lessons school "Some day I'll have a pro living in the guesthouse of my estate."
- Not-competitive-don't-care-about-winning school "I'm just a social player."
About right? So why aren't we better tennis players? I noted earlier that part of the answer is that we haven't asked ourselves the question. The second part of the answer is that we don’t have a plan. We have excuses, rationalizations, fantasies. We simply don't have a plan on how to get better.
Prof Anders Ericsson researched and defined the 10 year rule to achieve expert performance.
The Road to Excellence
Why aren't we better? Now we can broaden the context to, well, everything, chess, piano, video analysis, you name it. All of these skill areas have been studied systematically by scientists under the heading of "Acquisition of Expert Performance." The unofficial dean of this field is a Florida State University Professor by the name of Anders Ericsson. His seminal compilation of the findings is summarized in his book, The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports and Games. You can also find a 40 page PDF summary of the book online if you do a Google search.
Professor Ericsson is credited with researching and popularizing the
idea that it takes 10 years of deliberative practice to acquire expert
skill in any field. Deliberative practice is systematic, sustained,
specific, and focused effort to improve your skills. (And let's not pass
this moment to tip our hat in genuine admiration for the few among
us–even our competitors–who have put in the long years of deliberative
practice and have come back to teach us what they see.)
Why aren't we better tennis players? First, we haven't asked ourselves the question. Secondly, if we did ask ourselves, we typically come up with answers that evade any personal responsibility. Too late, too fat, too whatever. There are specific, non-emotional answers to the question: 1) can't hit a topspin backhand; 2) second serve isn't hit with sufficient spin; 3) yes, I'm too fat to play an entire match without becoming exhausted. These are the real areas that need to be improved upon. And the fourth reason we're not better players is that we don't engage in deliberative practice to improve our weaknesses. We hit-around, we fool around, we take a lesson here or there, we play lots of competitive matches. We don't practice deliberately.
It's Not All or Nothing
How long do we need to practice deliberately to really get better? A long time (that's why our writers are always saying "there are no quick-fixes"). According to performance experts, to acquire expert skills in any area requires 10,000 hours of deliberative practice. Translating this to the tennis domain, to become a 5.0 player or better you have to practice deliberately 4 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 10 years. That's a huge commitment, and most of us can't allocate the time and money, or summon the passion to do it. But just because we can't commit ourselves to becoming a professional-level player (I hope some of you reading this will) doesn't mean we should simply accept our current level of skill.
We'll probably devote thousands of hours to our tennis games over the next ten years. With as little as 2 hours per week focused on improving weaknesses in our game, we could compile over 1,000 hours of deliberative practice in the coming decade. Yes, that still is a substantial amount of work. But the reward is guaranteed (within reason) by performance experts. Study after study has shown that there is no barrier to acquisition of much higher levels of skill. If you have average intelligence, coordination, talent, and you put in sufficient hours of deliberative practice, you will improve your skills in a meaningful way.
The group that practiced successful free throws mentally performed almost as well as those who practiced physically.
Practice in Your Head
"Nice job, Kim," I can hear many of our readers saying. "You made us feel guilty. And yes, we could practice 2 hours a week on our weaknesses. But you know, 2 hours a week is still a lot!" Okay, point noted, but I won't let you off the hook quite so easily. You can put in part of those 2 hours a week of deliberative practice by practicing in your head.
Yes, mental rehearsing of correct technique can absolutely improve your skills. While many studies have shown this, perhaps the most famous is a University of Chicago study on the effects of visualization on free-throw performance of basketball players. The players were broken into three study groups and tested for their free-throw proficiency at the beginning of the study. The first group was told not to practice free-throws and not to
think about about it during the 30 days. At the end of the trial, big
surprise. The first group didn't improve at all. The second group practiced their free-throws for one hour per day, and they improved their proficiency by 24 percent. The third group didn't practice physically making free-throws, but followed a regimen of mentally rehearsing making successful free-throws. Their proficiency improved 23 percent–nearly the same as the group that physically practiced free-throws. (And no, don't extrapolate these studies to mean that you'll be world-class by merely practicing in your head.)
One all-out run, with nothing left behind," Lindsey Vonn on her Gold Medal performance.
Laugh Out Loud
Before American skier Lindsey Vonn won her Gold medal in the downhill event at this week's Winter Games, the TV camera caught her preparing for her run. The pressure was enormous. Now 25, she started skiing at 2 years of age (same for Tiger Woods in golf). She won her first international event at 15 and entered World Cup competition at 16 (so 10 years of deliberative practice at world-class competition levels). At the top of the mountain, Lindsey enacted a strange routine. Sitting with her eyes shut, Lindsey shifted back and forth in a trance-like state, moving non-existent poles in front of her, as she visualized herself bobbing and weaving through gates below. She had all the excuses in the world for not winning the Gold, even though she had dominated the World Cup events leading to the Olympics. She had a bruised shin, an excruciating injury when facing a 70 miles per hour down a ski-rattling, icy-hard downhill course. But here she was, rocking back and forth in deep, deep concentration, mentally rehearsing her run. However, I think there was more than rehearsal going on.
When Lance Armstrong came back from cancer to win five straight Tour de France races, he wrote, It's Not About the Bike. (Incidentally, Lance started top competition bike racing at age 16, and won his first Tour at age 28–more than 10 years of deliberate practice.)
"My job is to suffer. I make the suffering in training hard so that the races are not full of suffering," Lance Armstrong, the King of Pain
As Lance tells it, when he was diagnosed with a virulent form of testicular cancer with a 90% mortality rate, he insisted the doctors pump chemo poison into him and only stop one click short of death. The chemo inferno consumed his cancer, 20 pounds of body mass, and burnt through his Texas-sized ego that used to resent Europe, France, and the tortuous rides up the big mountains during the Tour. Returning to the Tour, Lance says he awoke the morning of one of year's first big mountain stages and saw icy rain pouring down. His reaction was to laugh out loud. He knew the other riders would be resenting and resisting the pain of the coming day's race. Now, after passing through his cancer crucible, staring at the miserable rain pouring down outside his hotel window, he could fully accept the conditions and the pain of the ride to come.
So I think it was something like this for Lindsey Vonn before her big downhill race. I don't believe she was laughing by any means, but I think she accepted the pain that was coming and then let it go to focus on rehearsing her path down the mountain.
So what has all this to with getting better? If you're goal is to get a little better, good on you. A little is better than than nothing. Want to get a lot better? You have a long and arduous path ahead (at least 1,000 hours of deliberative practice)–but exciting and eminently worthwhile. Want to become great? Throw out your safe-and-sane calculators, my friends. Burn the boats. Drink deeply of the cup you've poured for yourself. Breathe in the raw fear of a journey that will ask more of you
than you know you can give.
Then lift up your eyes, take in the whole improbable, daring, suffering project with one Olympian, Zorba-like glance…and laugh out loud.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Squash Shot: Emergency Response Shot with Effect
Today's players are fitter, moving better, covering far more court, and able to hit shots that can get them out of trouble. A shot today, that we seldom saw professionals hit a decade ago, is the “Squash Shot. This shot is hit on the run on the forehand side, when a player is stretched wide. The shot is usually hit with a slapping motion of the wrist, and usually with a lot of slice. Dave Smith shows you how it's done.
Returning Break Points
Jim McLennan talks about the art of winning and specifically returning on breakpoint. The ability to successfully convert breakpoints as much as anything else is often the determining factor in the winning or losing of a match. The Federer/Nadal rivalry is a classic illustration of this concept. Federer's inability to convert a high percentage of breakpoints in the add court has often led to his defeat. Here Jim offers some tips and strategies about converting these often match deciding points.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Tomas Berdych's Forehand
This young man from the Czech Republic, with the massive forehand, has been on tour since 2002. He turned pro at the tender age of 16, has amassed over $5 million dollars in prize money, and reached a career high ranking of 9th in 2007. Currently ranked 23rd, Tomas is a dangerous "floater" in any draw, capable of big wins and unexpected upsets. In 2009 he held wins over Safin, Cilic, Davydenko, Blake, and Wawrinka. Elegant ground game, two fisted backhand, Tomas is still young enough to become a solid competitor within the top 10.
TennisOne Writers Store
One of your many new benefits as a TennisOne membership is your ability to purchase selected instructional DVDs at 20% off ($7.50 off each) in our new TennisOne Writers Store (login in first to access members links):
- "Building Your Ground Game," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Building a Kick Serve," Jim McLennan Members – Public
- "Achieving Peak Performance the Wholistic Way: The Mental Game," Happy Bhalla Members – Public
- "Building a World Class Serve," Phil Dent Members – Public
- "Building a World-class Volley," Dave Smith Members – Public
- "Best of Ken DeHart," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Corrective Techniques & Myths," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Defeating the Monsters in Your Mind," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Skills, Drills and Games for Beginning Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
- "Drills for Intermediate Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public
- "Drills for Advanced Players," Ken DeHart Members – Public.
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