How to Hit the Drop Shot
This is the newest installment of our video series for techniques used to play on clay. To be a truly effective clay court player you need to develop a drop shot but this shot is woefully misunderstood. We used our flip cam to discuss where, when and how to hit this shot in a 4 part series. 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 -Liquidation Sales - Nike Lunarlite Vapor Tour Shoe (Federer's shoe); Nike Air Court Ballistic 2.3 Women's shoe (Nadal); Babolat Aeropro Drive Racquet; Babolat Aero Storm Tour Racquet
Meditation on Mastery, Part Three–Flow
Kim Shanley, Publisher TennisOne
My considered opinion is that in general we only use a fraction of our latent capacity in most walks of life. The rest is buried in habitual contradictory motivation, to which we have become so accustomed as to be unable to feel what is happening. Great men rarely have greater capacity than you and I have…casting aside all that oppose or hinder the positive motivation….The resultant action is unhesitating, without resistance."
- Moshe Feldenkrais, founder of the Feldenkriais Method (awareness through movement)
In this third meditation, let's take our eyes "off" the prize of mastery (the external ones), the gold medals, the hoisting of trophies. Let's get back to you and I (as tennis players–or as painters, dancers, or….you name the domain of your attempt at mastery). We try. We take lessons. We…..improve? Well, to be honest, really honest, most of us don't improve a heck of a lot. In private, tennis pros express astonishment that students pay them thousands of dollars for tennis lessons but don't improve very much. Why?
The one obvious answer we've covered is that we don't put in enough deliberate practice time. The less obvious answer is that we have contradictory motivations. We are "cross-motivated" (as Feldenkrais would say) because on the one hand, we genuinely want to get better. On the other hand, we passionately don't want to get worse. As many psychological studies have concluded, we feel our losses more than our gains.
Actor Nick Nolte, stars a sensei-coach "Socrates" pushing a young gymnast (eventual world champion Dan Millman) to let go his ego and fears in the film
So what do we have to lose? Plenty. Most of us tennis players (but it's true of every other field of mastery) have invested our time and money to achieve a certain level of skill. Call it a USTA rating of 3.5 or a 20 handicap in golf. We are cross-motivated because we don't want to lose that rating and all the status and prestige that come with it.
This is not theoretical fear. At my tennis club, at the end of January, the USTA would mail out the new tennis ratings to all players. It's embarrassing, even a little humiliating to be "moved down," as the expression goes. The humiliation doesn't stop with opening up the mail and reading your public demotion in the tennis world. Your former teammates then call you up to tell you that it's probably a good thing that you'll be playing on a new team, a team where "you might" have a better chance of winning!
Getting Worse Before Getting Better
When you're wrong, what's right feels wrong
- F.M. Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique
We keep circling around the subject of mastery, going deeper. Taking the rather intellectual notion of cross-motivation and now moving to how this feels, we arrive at what Dan Millman, himself a master (world champion gymnast) calls psychoschlerosis, a hardening of feel and attitude.
Most of us develop our skills to a certain goal we've set for ourselves and this becomes our "feel" for the game. When our tennis or golf pro tries to change that feel, as F.M. Alexander said, even if the change is "right"–or more correct from a technical perspective–it "feels" wrong. So our first reaction is often resistance.
Even if we don't resist, our commitment to changing that feel is only half-hearted, and we don't persist. We don't follow up the lesson with deliberate practice to master this new feel. Here is where the over-emphasis on results and competition has a serious negative effect on skills mastery. As the dean of human performance research Anders Ericsson puts it, "To give their best performance in competitions….individuals must rely on previously well-entrenched methods rather than exploring new methods with unknown reliability."
Actor playing Don Juan, the Yaqui sorcerer in the "Teachings of Don Juan" books and films. Don Juan tries to get his hee-hawing, nay-saying apprentice Carlos Castaneda to "see" and "know" the way.
We "say" we want to improve, but our fear of losing our competitive edge and our social status keep us drifting at the same level of competence. Historian Arnold Toynbee said "nothing fails like success." Toynbee meant that we become over-invested in our "success," making us reluctant to learn new skills and strategies to meet the next challenge–thus, success leads to failure. In the tennis context, the skills that made us successful at the 3.5 level–if not improved significantly–are likely to fail at the 4.0 level and will result in certain failure at 4.5.
This "success-leads-to-failure" syndrome doesn't just apply at the amateur level. The skill level that gets a professional player to a top 50 ranking in the world (success) –again if not improved upon–will lead to failure when attempting to crack the top 10 in the world.
The Sensei and the Goldilocks Principle
When a man decides to do something he must go all the way…he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions without having doubts or remorse about them.
– Don Juan to his pupil Carlos Casteneda in Journey to Ixtlan:
The Lessons of Don Juan
As a UCLA student, this writer witnessed first hand the miracles of "The Wizard of Westwood," John Wooden, who led UCLA to 7 consecutive NCAA Championships (and two 30-0 seasons when I attended).
So how do we get out of our own way? We need someone who has already been to the top of the mountain, someone who not only knows the way in terms of mastering higher levels of skill, but who also knows "the way" in a deeply human sense. He's called by different names in different disciplines. In the martial arts, sensei (master). In the fields of movement (Feldenkrais Method) and acting (Alexander Technique), teacher.
In a hundred films and books, he's just "the coach" (in Sampras' life, Tim Gullikson and for Agassi it's Brad Gilbert). In literature and mythology, he goes by a hundred different names. In Dan Millman's "Peaceful Warrior" books and films he's called Socrates. In Carlos Casteneda's books, he is Don Juan.
In life, literature, or mythology "the coach" knows the secrets of "the way," the step-by-step way to transform the self-conscious, fearful self into a master who acts with "no-mind." (1) "No-mind" doesn't mean you've lost your mind, in the sense of insanity. It means you've lost the ego's worrying, chattering, interfering mind and found a quiet, purposeful, and deeply focused mind.
Boston Celtic coach Doc Rivers, a master-coach in the making, had three individual super-stars shed their egos for the team using the South African concept of Ubunto, "I am what I am because of who we all are."(2)
The Celtics team, who say "Ubunto" when they break their huddle, made the single greatest turn-around in NBA history, from last place in 2007 to NBA Champions in 2008.
Because he's climbed the mountain himself, the master-coach has a deep understanding of the paradoxical challenge of mastery–total striving and complete letting-go. "The coach" can guide the student to mastery in a step-by-step fashion following what Dan Millman call the Goldilocks Principle, stretching the student's skills (of both body and mind) a little, but not too much.
At this point, let us take a short breather in our lengthy meditation on mastery. Besides questioning if this meditation has been worth reading, readers may now be wondering if attempting mastery–given what will be asked of them–is worth pursuing. (3)
We said at the beginning of this meditation that we would take our eyes off the prize—the external trophies of fame and fortune that come to masters of certain disciplines. But as we swing back around and approach the conclusion of our psychological study of mastery, we find, I believe, the reward for our long journey together.
Flow and the Zone
I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow--the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
"Flow" is the feeling of mastery in Maslow's Hierarchy
For those who follow the path of mastery to its higher levels of skill, a wonderful feeling awaits, what famed writer and University of Chicago Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow." Flow is the feel of mastery. In the tennis domain, we call it "The Zone." In The Zone, in flow, time slows down, awareness rises, and we act and move with deep purpose but without self-consciousness or fear. This is the pinnacle of self-actualization and mastery, when individuals are stretched to the limits of the skills–but not beyond–they've developed over long years of deliberate practice.
To achieve flow, we also need immediate feedback whether we're performing our skill correctly or not. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as an autotelic experience, "auto" "from the Greek auto (self) and telos (goal or purpose). In an autotelic experience, the goal is self-fulfilling; the activity is its own reward."
In Part One of our meditation, we circled around the outer walls of motivation, exploring why our common sense ideas of motivation (praise, goals, rewards) can de-motivate, robbing us of our autonomy and intrinsic drive. In Part Two, we probed deeper by studying how two great masters (Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi) found, lost and then re-discovered their motivation in their climb to tennis super-mastery.
We saw something in Sampras' life–perhaps something so light and fleeting (the famous Butterfly Effect) as a stranger telling his Dad that his six year old son was a good player–shifts the tectonic plates in Sampras' identity. From that moment he ascends the path of mastery on a pure jet of autotelic motivation ("I wanted to be a tennis player from day one").
And we saw how Agassi suffered and eventually triumphed over the deeply extrinsic forces ("I hate tennis") implanted by a tyrannical father. Now we make the final turns in Part Three of our meditation. We have moved in ever-tightening circles, each time moving from the periphery of our subject (mastery) to its core. With Csikszentmihalyi's description of flow stemming from a deeply purposeful and self-rewarding motivation, we have broken through the final wall in our meditation and exploration of mastery.
In our culture, flow, the zone, is a feeling most often recognized and celebrated when we play sports. However, Csikszentmihalyi points out that flow can be experienced when anyone has developed a skill set after long years of practice and is now focused intently (without cross-motivation) on performing that skill at the full stretch of their capabilities. So to return to our metaphor from the Bible (another "way" in a different context) from the first meditation, the path to mastery is narrow (difficult), but the gate is wide–anyone can experience flow if they travel to the end of path. (4)
Over the years, I came up with the expression “flow”: a term to describe the common denominator among those people who deemed themselves happy….Paradoxically, the feeling of happiness is only realized after the event. To acknowledge it at the time would only serve as distraction – the rock climber would lose his footing, the chess player his game. As I look back at a life devoted to happiness, I often wonder whether I have achieved it. Overall, I think I have and my belief that I held the keys to its secret has helped immeasurably.
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, interviewed in NY Times in 2005
Flow is more than a delicious feeling, according to Csikszentmihalyi and others. It is what people remember as their happiest moments. Csikszentmihalyi doesn't dismiss that people can find happiness in a variety of ways, through religion, romance or family. Yet his own studies and research lead him to the view that for many people, certainly those who have moved a distance down the path of mastery, flow is the secret and the real feel of happiness.
Just One Thing
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what "you" have to find out.
– From the 1991 Movie, City Slickers, with Jack Palance and Billy Crystal
In the final turn around the subject of mastery, I hope now the reader is smiling–and not just because this marathon meditation is at an end. As it happens, pursuit of mastery is a pursuit of happiness. It's a pursuit, a way of deliberate practice, a path to achieving our full potential.
Sounds very noble and all that, you may be saying, but where's the path?…where, my friend, "is" the damn path? What Curly says is true–that's what you have to find out. But perhaps we can take a few steps beyond where Curly leaves us. Let's go one more turn (truly) in this meditation. The last turn of the path winds through a tiny trickle of flow that found its way through you after a few hours of deep practice–perhaps something so slight and insignificant as the flap of that famous butterfly's wing–and someone said, "Well done…. will you do more?" Now instead of listening to your million-reasons-to-say-no Self, listen to your coach. Listen to Don Juan standing right behind you whispering in your ear, "Say yes, you fool."
(1)No-mind (wu-hsin) "literally means un-self-consciousness. It is a state of wholeness in which the mind functions freely and easily, without the sensation of a second mind or ego standing over it with a club." "The Ways of Zen," Alan Watts
(2)Ubunto is said to be the spirit embodied by Nelson Mandela.
(3)"Only a crackpot would undertake the task of becoming a man of knowledge of his own accord. A sober-headed man has to be tricked into doing it." Don Juan to his apprentice Carlos Castaneda, "A Separate Reality."
(4)The New Testament of the Bible is the story of 12 fearful students (disciples) who follow a "master" who shows them a method, a path, a way of being and doing he calls "The Way." Neither this meditation nor this reference is intended to advocate any religious point of view. The student-master story is told in different cultures for different purposes. Yet it's always a story of mastery.
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How to Deal with Weak Serves and Sitters
Picture this scenario: You're playing a match against an opponent who is solid from the baseline, however, his serve is weak and slow. You're trying to take advantage of this weakness but you're making way too many errors on the return of serve. Sound familiar? When faced with a slow ball, there is a lot that can go wrong. Tom Avery has some ideas to help you eliminate those unforced errors.
Deliberate Practice – First Serve application
So how does one become good at tennis? This is a question on the mind of many tennis parents and players. Is it only the 'talented' players that achieve success? Anyone will tell you, to excel at anything, you need to practice. But despite what you may have been told, practice doesn't necessarily make perfect. How specifically and purposefully you work at a skill is more important than your innate talent. Here, Wayne Elderton, offers some ideas as to how to practice the first serve and turn it into a real weapon.
Grip Tension in Tennis
Understanding proper grip tension in tennis is difficult for many players. A grip that is too tight will decrease your ability to generate racquet head speed and may lead to injury. Conversely, a grip that is too loose may lead to a lack of control and poor technique. Jorge Capestany and former French Open champion Luke Jensen discuss grip tension and how it effects the way you play the game.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Ivan Ljubicic's Serve
This 31 year old veteran, who held a career high ranking of #7 in 2000, has had a rekindling of fortunes. His ranking has climbed back up to number 15 following a breakout performance at Indian Wells with wins over Djokovic, Nadal, and Roddick on his way to capturing the title. He holds wins over nearly all the players currently within the top ten, an amazing record against the best players in the world, and much of his success can be attributed to his serve and the ability to back up his serve with punishing ground strokes and one of the prettiest one-handed backhands in the game. New this issue, Ivan Ljubicic's Serve.
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 Serve from the Ground Up," Jim McLennan Members Public
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- "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.
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