Living in a World of Clay
We live in a world dominated by clay court players. Just look at the Top 10 of the year-end 2008 ATP rankings. At least 7 of them grew up on clay. This is down from 8 at the end of 2007. In fact, as you look back at the ATP Top 10 year-end rankings since their inception in 1973, an astounding 83% grew up playing on the dirt. The message is unambiguous. Want champions? Make sure they train and play matches on clay. Click here to learn more
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Three Practice Elements to Reaching Your Potential
David W. Smith, Senior Editor, TennisOne
It is almost certain that nearly everyone who strives to become a better tennis player fails to implement the three elements of practice in proper amounts or intensity.
The Three Patterns of Practice?
The ‘trifecta’ of preparation is:
- Stroke Production Mastery (developing the right technique and strategy through specific drills)
- Live-ball Drills (putting those techniques in various rally situations)
- Competitive Matches that have meaning (employing sound techniques and strategy in real pressure situations.
Players almost always favor one or two of these practice elements at the expense of the others. That is, many players can be found drilling in clinics, lessons, or workshops all the time yet seldom get out and play matches or hit in live-ball practice with a partner. Others, on the other hand, can be seen playing five or six days a week in social or competitive matches but would never think to attend a local clinic or take a lesson. Others still, can be seen hitting with playing partners regularly, but when asked to play a set or a match, decline almost every time.
I’ve seen students refuse to play matches until they feel they are completely “ready” – meaning never, because no one will ever be “ready” to lose, or win for that matter, when they first start out. However, I’ve seen many more players who start “playing” tennis before any significant mastery of strokes have been accomplished. This type of player develops poor habits that will be very difficult to change later on.
The ideal practice combination will change as players develop and master the game. However, if you go to a professional tennis tournament, you will see that even the pros work within these three elements nearly without exception. The pros drill with a drill coach, hit with various hitting partners, and obviously, play many competitive matches.
The problem for many recreational, club, or team players is that they don’t follow this same discipline.
Order Based On Abilities
One thing I stress is that all beginners should understand and develop the proper grip, stroke, and footwork patterns associated with skilled tennis before they run off to start playing matches or even rallying. Beginners are almost never able to implement nor emulate proper stroke patterns without either being directed by some level of instructor, or, by watching, studying, and emulating advanced stroke patterns themselves.
The problem lies in that most advanced stroke patterns are not only unfamiliar, they usually feel very uncomfortable to most beginners. Thus, the simple adage of going out and “playing tennis” to learn tennis seldom results in players mastering more advanced patterns. While nearly everyone can figure out ways to “hit a ball over the net” using just about any form, the reality is that not only is it nearly impossible for beginners to “spontaneously” discover more advanced form, the longer they play using some alternative method makes their chances of changing and developing more effective form nearly impossible.
Stroke Development to Rally Development
Once players can emulate the proper swing patterns, the next step is to start to “cooperative live ball rallys.” That is, attempt to repeat the desired swing patterns while hitting with a partner in a controlled rally. Players need to realize the difficulty of this transition because balls being hit by partners are almost never as well placed as those hit by their teaching pros.
This is an important stage because players tend to change their swing pattern to accommodate the ball’s location at contact. Most players don’t move well enough at this stage for balls to move into their "ideal hitting zones." Consequently, players tend to resort to awkward swing mechanics to compensate for poor footwork so they can contact balls outside of this "ideal strike zone." I have players simulate many footwork situations in drills before they start this rally stage so that many shots that are encountered in cooperative rallies are not completely foreign.
When players begin to master footwork patterns to better position themselves to utilize the strokes they are trying to learn, they start to gain confidence and consistency.
Competition: Putting It All Together Under Pressure
The final element is to implement is competition. That is, playing matches that have some intrinsic or extrinsic value. Matches that don’t have pressure don’t prepare players for pressure. As a result, these players tend to break down both mentally as well as technically, when they face a pressure match. This usually is referred to as “choking.”
Pros who are consistently thrust into pressure situations usually respond better in same situations later. Of course, there are always those who, either by luck, by situation, or by some inherent quality in their DNA, respond better under pressure than others. But, until you are in those situations, you will never gain a sense of comfort nor confidence. Remember, everyone gets nervous. However, when players let their nervousness become fear, that nervousness will usually result in failure of some kind. People who face their nervousness by mentally preparing for the shot rather than the result, usually respond better under such pressure.
Continued Practice of All Three
I’ve seen hundreds of players get pretty good pretty fast. And, as such, often start playing competitive matches almost exclusively. Unfortunately, like anything, these players often develop poor habits or revert to less effective techniques because they are focused so intently on “winning.” If a player’s goal is to develop his game to the highest level possible, he needs to be "willing" to lose. Using newer or less confident strokes often results in losses, even to players they are accustomed to beating with their less effective—but more comfortable—strokes.
Click photo: Veteran pros like Carlos Moya still retain coachs to help them improve their games.
This is the caveat to why so many players stagnate or fail to reach more advanced levels: They place winning in the short term (using methods they are comfortable with) above long term improvement through the continued use of newer, more effective strokes. What they fail to realize is that while they may (or may not!) beat a lower level player using lower level shots, the continued use of such techniques will inhibit the acquisition and application of more effective shots at some later date!
I have a favorite phrase for this peculiarity: “If we avoid that which we are trying to achieve, we will only achieve that which we are trying to avoid.”
Watch the pros practice, they will often work very specific stroke patterns (such as hitting inside out forehands or backhand to backhand slices).
One of the hardest things for good players to do is to take lessons or attend clinics. Obviously, when players get pretty good, they don’t feel the need to learn more about the game. They also don’t realize that in order to fine-tune their games, they need some level of practice; no different than any other skill. Accomplished piano players still practice scales; Tiger Woods still uses a swing coach and can be found on the practice green or driving range nearly every single day. This is an area that is important for all levels to recognize. In fact, the pros often have their coach feed them specific balls to work on a stroke element or to work on grooving their strokes or simply to gain greater confidence. High level recreational and club players should consider this part of their game, either by having a hitting partner “feed” balls to work specific shots or to have a pro work on parts of their game they might be taking for granted or to work on a ball machine to focus on specific shots.
The three practice elements are key to every player reaching his or her true potential. Neglecting one of these areas can have a lasting effect. It is not a bad idea to stress one of these elements for a particular week or month and then another element for a similar period of time. Regardless of tournament or league schedules, team matches, or your social tennis schedule, you will want to work on each of these elements regularly.
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.
We hear a lot about good form in tennis but exactly what does it mean to have good form? Doug King thinks form is really about shape and that shape is holding together not only space but the energy of the stroke. In this video, Doug looks a little more closely at this idea of the shape of a stroke, the movement and containment of energy and how it flows, and how this can impact the fluidity and effectiveness of your game.
How to Eliminate Racquet Face Disturbances
A racquet face disturbance refers to an interruption of the accurate path of the racquet face to contacting the ball. At any age it is smart to eliminate disturbances, but for older players who need to rely on consistency and accuracy more than power, it becomes essential. Equally important is that avoiding disturbances will prevent strains to the shoulder, elbow, and wrist which are common overuse problems as we age. Kathy and Ron Woods
ProStrokes 2.0 - David Nalbandian Forehand
David Nalbandian, has amassed nearly $10 million dollars in his long and storied career. A solid baseliner with a two fisted backhand, Nalbandian known more for his smarts and all around game than for massive power. Nalbandian’s strong baseline game carried him to a career high ranking of number 3 in the world in 2006. Nalbandian’s fluid, conventional ground game, strong semi western forehand, two-handed backhand, mixes with the patience of Job, sends a message to opponents, “you are going to have to beat me; I’m not going to beat myself.”
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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