Do we need to play tennis matches to improve our tennis? Most of us, quite naturally, believe that it is only when we are put to the test in lots of competitive club matches that we really improve. Or we believe, again quite naturally, that we can only improve when we spend hours on a practice court hitting with friends or a coach or by trying to beat the ball machine.
But have you thought how you might improve your tennis when you are away from the court? After all, we have busy lives, work and family commitments, other hobbies and sports. So, how to keep steadily improving our tennis game when we are away from the actual tennis court?
The game of tennis can be categorized into four main areas:
To improve we need therefore to try and improve in all of these areas. And we can do this off court.
Here are some key tips:
1. Videos. It's hard to see ourselves play. When we see ourselves on video we realize that we don’t look how we thought we would. So watch videos of yourself play. This can help you identify what your coach or other players see. Are you putting into practice what you and your coach are working on? Everyone learns differently. Some of us learn kinaesthetically, some of us learn in an auditory way, some of us are best visually. But all of us can maximize our senses when we learn. As you watch yourself hit shots, what helps you best as a learner? What can you do to improve?
You can also watch videos online of pro players. As a club player you might not have the same grips, or the same slice or drop shots, or the same consistency; but you can learn from watching and getting images in your head. Of course, you won’t have the same amount of time as pro players have to study the game; but quality matters more than quantity. Even for just a few minutes each day, really focus on something you have been practicing and watch and learn.
2. Get fitter and more mobile. The modern game of tennis requires a lot more power and agility and flexibility so spend time off court to strengthen those areas. Here are some ideas.
-Add a dynamic warm up and cool down with flexibility exercises to your matches and practices. -Do what the pros do and prehab as well as rehab.
-In particular, build more flexibility exercises into your daily routine. You can do these at home. This will help to minimize the nagging aches and pains that can affect you when you play but can also turn into longer-term injuries.
3. Become a more reflective player. Do you execute what you have been working on in practice? What were the pluses and minuses in your recent matches and practices? Most experienced tennis players can analyze what went wrong after a match but the key is to be able to recognize it during the match under the stress of competition. Therefore, if you practice becoming more pensive and reflective it will help you think your way through situations and get better at problem solving. It is also important to reflect on your wins so that you can make sure you understand what worked and so you can then repeat it.
After each match make a list of three main points to discuss in the next lesson with your coach, You don’t normally have the luxury of your coach watching all your matches so the better you can learn to analyze things the more effective your coach can be in helping you.
4. Post-match analysis. Ask yourself how you played your last match. How did you assess your opponent (s)? Could you be more relaxed on key points? Did you work to bounce back after losing a couple of games? How did you maintain your lead? Did you keep a focus? In what ways did you support your doubles partner?
Most important, what can you learn to carry forward to your next match?
Watch pro tennis on the TV. Listen to the commentators and learn to notice how players play key points? Notice their shot selection and court position. What players do you admire most and why? Which tennis pro has the same style of play as you (aggressive baseliner? all court game? counterpuncher?) What can you model in your game?
So, keep learning off court to lead to constant improvements on court.