Learning to Learn
Span of Control, the Power of Now, and this Bedeviling Game
So I am coming across a personal issue on court that may or may not sound familiar. I tinker with my game, and from time to time I am working on my eyes in the contact zone, my balance when "sinking" on the serve, a subtle grip change on the forehand groundstroke (those of you who may have played me over the years are probably saying, "Amen" on this one), monitoring my gravity starts and balanced finishes on the ground strokes, and more. And while from time to time I feel like I am making progress, generally I find it difficult to change any of these things, and equally difficult to narrow the projects down to one thing at a time.
If this is familiar to you, we at TennisOne can accept some of the blame, for we are always putting up new ideas and different approaches to nearly all facets of the game. If you are not working on anything in particular, then I doubt this does sound familiar, but if you are a "work in progress" perhaps some of what follows may help (as it does me from time to time).
Learning to Learn
Some years ago I formulated a one page document that described a progression of skills that would lead to tennis mastery (or something in that ball park). After probably 40 revisions, it occurred to me that before tennis skills, one might actually "learn how to learn." This is not how the coach communicates (though that is another issue) but rather how the student approaches the situation.
Learning is defined as a "relatively permanent change in performance" and in this case it is the change thing that is so difficult. In order to change, one must have a high degree of awareness. Awareness both in how you presently hit the forehand, and awareness of how the "new forehand" feels. Further it takes patience, for if it were easy to change we would all be club champions. Finally, changes may come easier if one can actually come to enjoy this changing process, rather than feel miserable while learning - hoping some day to be pleased when and if the learning is actually accomplished.
Span of Control
Consider the following scenario that occurs when your partner (or opponent) strokes the ball and you move to return it. Known as a motor action plan, you can really see how complicated tennis is when you compare a novice reaction with an experienced 3.5 player, and again when you compare the 3.5 reaction with that of a playing or even teaching professional.
Somehow this complicated task is actually made to look easy. Move your feet, sequence the hips with the racquet, time the speed of the backswing, monitor your finger tension, posture, track the ball, decide where to aim, eyes in the contact zone, relaxed follow through, on time for the recovery split step. And this is just a short list of things to do each and every time you attempt to stroke the ball.
Certainly most of these tasks become automatic, because no one has a span of control that allows them to actually pay attention to all of these elements, and in fact that may be why the novice makes this task look so difficult.
As pertains to your "work in progress" the advice here is to only select one thing at a time to work on. If you choose to work on your eyes in the contact zone, a la Roger Federer, then practice that and only that for a specific period of time.
Move your feet, sequence the hips with the racquet, time the speed of the backswing, etc., Somehow Pros make this complicated task look easy.
The Power of Now
Present centered means just that - centering one's focus, one's awareness, one's power in the present. While at this keyboard, I am not (presumably) distracted by yesterday's problems, by tomorrow's challenges, I'm just doing one thing at a time - which in this case is writing.
The quality of your own present centeredness is reflected in each and every activity within your day. How "here" are you? Same goes for tennis. When present-centered, you are only and actually hitting just one ball at a time, without reference to the score (the past) or your expectations (the future). Similarly, your ability to work on something new, and actually make progress depends on the clarity and quality of your ability to be in the now, stay in the now, and actually come to enjoy the now.
Having said all this, what is so interesting to me, is how difficult it is for me to keep my eyes still in the contact zone. Really, I can do this when rallying, sometimes when returning the opponent's warm-up serves, but once the game starts I am in and out of this piece to the puzzle. Same thing with my legs on the serve, and definitely the same thing on the forehand grip change. I do however enjoy the process, so in that case I hope always to be a "work in progress." I hope you will join me.
As always, we would love to hear your views on the subjects raised in this newsletter. Please click here to send your email directly to me.
Jim McLennan TennisOne Editor
(Click link to purchase Jim McLennans Secrets of World Class Footwork Video).
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