Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Set Your Expectations High for Success

At the level of 4.5 tennis and below, success in doubles is about two things: serves and returns. Success in singles is about rallying and finishing. In other words, in doubles, if you can serve effectively and get almost all returns back in play, you will beat most other teams at your level. Your other shots come into play, yes, but you can be mediocre with those if those first two are extremely solid. In singles, the returner has a lot more freedom to get the ball back in play and there's not a guy at net, so longer rallies are much more common. You have to be able to sustain long rallies, and when your opponent makes a mistake, you have to know how to finish. So, to sum up:

Doubles: Serving and Returning
Singles: Rallying and Finishing

The first step in achieving mastery of those skills is to set your expectations extremely high. The following phrases sum up the mindset:

Serving: "Nobody breaks me."
Returning: "I don't miss a return."

Rallying: "I'm gonna hit 50 balls."
Finishing: "I am going to end this point."

The importance of setting your expectation high is to motivate you to reach that goal. The expectation should be with you at all times - especially during practice. If you practice or play and accept failure, you will continue to perform at the same level.

When you fail, the expectation needs to be aggravating - not in any negative way, but in a motivating way so that you know what to do to not fail in the future. This is a very important point. Many tennis players get mad when they miss a shot, but they make several mistakes with this anger. First, they let their opponent see that they are emotionally out of control. This energizes their opponent and sends even themselves a defeatist message. Second, they let the anger feed into negative thoughts like "I suck." or "Why me?" I'll answer both those statements. You don't suck, you just made an error - now figure out WHY you made that error. Why you? Because you are in control of your own errors. Don't forget that - you are in control of your own shots and the opportunities you give your opponent.

So, again, the important point is your high expectation should put you in an aggravated state when you don't live up to it, but that aggravation should lead to positive action. For instance, losing a match because you couldn't hit 50 rally shots should motivate you to practice your groundstrokes for hours until you can. Or, getting your serve broken in doubles, should motivate you and your partner to carefully examine why you lost that many points and make adjustments in the next service game to avoid those same problems. Or, missing an approach shot should motiviate you to figure out exactly why you missed it - was it the right shot selection, did you decide what do do quickly enough, were your feet in position, was your racquet ready in time for the stroke?

This aggravation should be internal and any external display should be one that indicates control and thought. No negative body language. No whiny tone. If you realize that you missed the shot due to poor footwork, you should at least say "Feet!" in your head and smile. Why are you smiling? You're smiling because you know why you missed that shot which means you are less likely to make the same error the next time. That means you are in control and a very dangerous opponent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Playing The Net Drill #1

The key to becoming a master of the net is to relax, be confident, and know what you want to do in different positions on the court. Being relaxed helps you react quicker. Being confident helps you stay relaxed. Knowing what you want to do keeps your opponent in a disadvantageous position.

This drill designed to have players practice hitting volleys from different areas of the court so that they get better at hitting volleys at different depths and begin to memorize where to hit the volley based on their own court position.

Here are the general rules to remember:
1. The farther you are away from the next, the less aggressive you should be with the volley. Just be content to get the volley back in play. Aim for a spot as deep as possible maintaining a margin for error. Aim for a spot that is directly in front of you (so if you're in the middle of the court aim for the middle of the court).
2. The closer you get to the next, the more aggressive you should be with the volley. Concentrate on placement instead of power. If you are fairly close, but not on top of the next aim for a deep corner. If you are very close to the net, aim for a short angle winner.
3. Hit your overheads with authority. You have just as much a chance of missing a tentative overhead as an overhead hit with power. And a tentative overhead means your opponent will probably get it back. The only exceptions to this rule are if you can barely reach the lob or you are extremely deep in your court.
4. If you don't have time to get under a high ball or overhead, lock your right arm and swing through it like a volley. This typically happens when you are coming to the net after a serve. If your weight is still moving forward hitting a full overhead is very low percentage.

One player stands at the baseline. The other player starts a step back from the service line in the middle of the court. The player at the baseline feeds a ball in play; the feeds should be varied so that the player at the service line has to hit both volleys and half-volleys. From the starting position, the net player should put the ball back deep to the center of the court with a high margin of safety. After hitting the shot, the net player should take a step closer (which may be part of the act of hitting the volley or half-volley). The player at the baseline is now free to try to pass or lob the player at the net. The player at the net should hit a volley according to the rules above and move a step in until he she is a racquet-and-arm length from the net.

To practice what to hit in each position, the player at the baseline can play points where he only hits balls to the middle or forehand or backhand side for the entire point.

You can also have the net man stay at a certain court depth (i.e. not take a step in) to practice what to hit at that depth. This is probably a good way to start when the player is just learning the rules.