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Tips to Mastery
I was recently asked by a publication seeking an article, to provide them with my top three tips for the average club player.
A reasonable enough request for a sensible article, so I sat down to make a list of my "Top Tips." I thought about racquet preparation, footwork, watching the ball, grips, strategy, practice routines, readiness, relaxation, non-relaxation, soft hands, powerful core movements, slowing down, speeding up, singles, doubles, first serve, second serve, return of serve, concentration, and that's just to name a few.
After a great deal of deliberation I finally threw all of them out and came up with my own idea of "Top Tips."
My Top "Tips"
Tip 1 – Learn to be a dancer on the court. Tennis is a light a flowing game. There is only one moment of force in the game of tennis (when you drive the ball) and the rest of the game is a choreographed flow of delicate motion. Think and feel like a dancer to increase rhythm, form, and continuity and minimize sporadic and labored movement.
Tip 2 – Learn to stroke and not swing. There is no "swinging" in tennis. Swinging (which is what almost all club players do) is when the racquet is pulling the arm and hand (like a tether ball). Swinging will only lead to collision between the ball and the racquet and proper control will never be achieved.
In contrast, stroking is when the body "drives" or pushes the arm. The racquet is used like a big hand to grab onto the ball rather than to collide with the ball, while the body drives the arm out to the target. Stroking is an energy transfer that is based upon connection (torque) rather than collision, and it is the only way to keep your tennis game from getting "out of hand."
Tip 3 – (And this perhaps should be Tip 1 and only) When you are ready to really make a big jump in your game, stop thinking in terms of "tips" altogether.
Getting a Clearer Picture of the Game
Tennis is a game of constantly changing, continuous fluid dynamic action. This applies to the movements of the body as well as the judgment and decision making processes of the mind. As beginners we can only see the game in very brief individualized pieces. Our mind tends to grasp onto these simplistic "snapshots" of the game as they give us a sense of stability and security. And most pros try to teach the game in the same format, knowing that this is what most people are comfortable with and tend to seek. But top players see the game in a very fluid continuous stream of movement and information processing.
Top players know how to break the game down into an infinite number of pieces and organize them into a continuous, orderly flow. No one piece is weighted or emphasized more than the other and in this way there is rhythm and fluidity. Top players will have infinitely more "pictures," a higher frame speed, so to speak, which produces a mental and physical "film" with much greater clarity, fluidity, and information.
Lesser players tend to break the game down into far fewer pieces (into a more simplistic expression) and they tend to over-emphasize these particular pieces or "positions." They think that because they have fewer pieces they are more efficient, but the truth is they tend to go from one position to the next in rather stiff, exaggerated, lurching movements. They rush from one position and they get stuck waiting too long in the next, and then have a hard time getting out of the one they are stuck in; needless to say they get anxious and mechanical, and lose rhythm and fluidity.
Pushing the "Comfort Zone"
I like to use an analogy of two cyclists in a bicycle race. One cyclist is riding a one speed bike and the other is riding a fifteen speed bike. The cyclist on the one speed bike smiles and thinks that he has got the race in the bag.
"Look at that complicated bike with all of those confusing parts and pieces. That guy is just going to get derailed, fall apart, and be left fixing his bike on the side of the road while I zip right past him." And that logic may in fact, be right. Certainly the fifteen speed bike has more moving parts and levers and processes to learn. But one would be crazy not to see the advantage of using a more sophisticated machine and putting in the time to get proficient at the skills necessary to utilize the more efficient system. Of course this requires getting out of one's "comfort zone" and accepting certain challenges that may seem a bit daunting at first. Still, we would all be crawling around on all fours if we didn't push ourselves to improve and accept these challenges.
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." – Albert Einstein
And yet so many tennis players are unwilling to give up the one-speed bike. They keep insisting that simpler is better – a phrase that is true to a point, but as Einstein noted "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." And this is the danger of too strictly adhering to a tenet that "simpler is better."
When do we accept "simplicity" as a convenience or as an excuse to avoid the obvious challenges that are inherent in a more complicated process? When do we start to become sloppy with our thoughtfulness and our questioning and slip into denial under the veil of favoring "simplicity?" When does the principle of "simplicity" as a virtue slip into passivity, resignation, and surrender? When does it mask laziness and a fear of failure? Too often "simplicity" turns into simply doing what comes easy.
Tips as Useful Tools
On the other side of the coin Einstein also noted, "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."
This begs us to look at the nature of "tips." Tips are helpful hints, or guidelines. They imply a certain cursory or superficial look at something; as in the "tip of an iceberg." And below that "tip" can lay a mountain of information, detail, and challenges. This is true in just about any activity. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and certainly nothing is as simple as a "master" makes it look.
But tips also provide us with a great service. They can distill overly weighty information into digestible and usable succinct pieces. This is especially useful in times of competition and performance. At these particular moments it is critical to maximize the overall immediate result so one can manage the task at hand.
But this is the nature of "performance" as opposed to practice. Performance is much more immediate whereas practice has a much longer ranging perspective. Although one could argue that everything is "practice," performance is much more focused on the immediate outcome whereas practice is designed to invoke positive change and may, and almost always does, involve a temporarily negative effect on performance.
Digging Below the "Tip"
Great players like Tiger Woods seem to be constantly tinkering with their games to get the most out of it.
But make no mistake, top players have dug far below the surface. They have gone far beyond the "tips" of these tennis matters and have wrestled with the heaving lifting. They have broken things down into smaller and smaller pieces, questioned things, turned them over and inside out, until things began to become clear; relationships between parts are revealed and common threads are discovered and pursued to great lengths. Tips turn into insights and then into revelations.
And finally this journey that began with a refusal to accept the "simple way" returns full circle to simplicity. But instead of the beginning state of "simple mindedness" this new state of simplicity is what I like to refer to as "mindful simplness." This new simplicity is filled with "awareness," not so much conscious thought, but instead, more like an extra "sense” – a knowing of everything that is happening at every moment in the game and an ability to constantly and seamlessly process, adjust, and act on the myriad of complex dynamics that come into play.
This is what we refer to as "mastery" and it is something that few attain but all admire. Our goal at TennisOne is to be there with you throughout this journey, to guide you, to inspire you, to encourage you, to help you enjoy the trip, and ultimately, to get you there.
- New TennisOne DVD – "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin Backhand," by Doug King Public – Members
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The Art of the Volley
Take a lesson on the volley and you might hear the words "don't swing" repeated by your teaching pro. Well, if you don't swing, how then are you to generate any pace on the volley. Former world number one doubles champion and six time grand slam doubles and mixed doubles winner, Ken Flach addresses this and other myths about the volley. This is a must for any club player who wants to be more aggressive at the net.
Waking Up From Your Worst Nightmare
In the eyes of many, big shots and “winners” are what make the champions great. Though power and winning shots are certainly an aspect of tennis, the fact is, unless your name’s Rafa, Roger, or Serena, the vast majority of your matches will be determined by which player (or team) commits the fewest errors. With that in mind, Greg Moran shows you how to minimize your own errors, and induce your opponents into beating themselves.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Samantha Stosur's Serve & Net Game
This 26 year old Australian veteran turned pro 11 years ago but has been on a bit of a tear recently. She has captured one title this year, two overall, but in the past she has been known as a doubles specialist with 22 titles under her belt. She's amassed $5 million plus in prize money but the story here is her ranking, which has climbed to 5th on the WTA singles list. An all court player with a two and one-handed backhand, equal fluency at the baseline or the net, but Samantha's game revolvers around her wicked kick serve absolute, absolutely the best kick serve on the women's tour. New this issue, Samantha Stosur's Serve and Net Game.
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
- "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
- "Keys to Modern Tennis Technique: One-Handed Topspin," Doug King 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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