By Ron Steege, Director of Tennis
If you know me, then you may have heard that I’m somewhat obsessed with golf. What has been interesting to me is how my journeys toward improvement in both golf and tennis have mirrored each other over the years. My progress in golf has been slower, but I find the paths I’m choosing toward meeting my goals with golf, are similar to those I had with tennis. Learning a different sport has reminded me of this process and how much fun it can be when a goal is met and a skill is finally realized. In both sports, I’ve found that I enjoy practicing as much as playing. My golf learning experience has also made me a better tennis coach because I can relate to what my students are going through.
Learning any new skill as an adult can be both challenging and discouraging at times, but you’re to be applauded for trying. The first lesson one has to remember is that tennis is a difficult sport and there are no easy answers or short cuts to becoming a skilled player. I mentioned how much I enjoy the process of learning new golf skills; this should be the foundation of your development. An unfortunate element of learning a new sport as an adult, compared to a child, is the shortage of repetitions. Finding enough time to get the reps you need can be a big challenge. Most adults are lucky if they get to play once or twice a week. You can expect progress to take longer and come in smaller steps as you work your way up the NTRP ladder. You can expect larger jumps in your game as a 2.5 level player, but as you move in to 3.5, 4.0 and beyond, it may take a year or two before you realize a change in your rating. Remain patient with yourself and keep chipping away at improving those areas of weakness!
Realizing that finding the time to practice can be a challenge, make sure the time you have is used wisely. The quality of your practice becomes more important than quantity. It was said that Jimmy Connor’s practice sessions were so intense that he would get more out of a single hour than most pros could in three. This requires good planning and intense concentration. For starters, one must have clear goals in mind for every practice session. The change of seasons can be a great time for reviewing and establishing goals for the months ahead. All journeys require a clear pathway for getting from point A to point B. Start with a realistic main destination goal, such as becoming a 4.0 player. The next step is to evaluate your current skills and determine what you must develop to get to that level. This may involve developing technical, tactical and mental skills. Progress should not be measured against wins and loses. The goal may have been to get 60% of your first serves in. If you lost the match, but achieved your first serve percentage goal, then check it off as mission accomplished and be happy regardless of the score outcome. Your improved first serve percentage is a great building block for the future. Typically, your goals during the winter months will be different than the summer months. Working on a technical problem during the summer when you’re playing tournaments and league matches is usually not a good idea. This is a time to grow tactically and mentally. The winter months are perfect for repairing those technical flaws.
Finally, there must be balance in your development. Depending on the season, your time should be divided between lessons, drills, hitting and match play. Overdoing any one facet can slow progress in other areas. If you spend all of your time playing, you may be weak technically. Conversely, if you only take lessons, you may lack some of the creativity of point construction and important mental skills for competing. Remember, “failing to plan is a plan for failure.” Have a plan for every practice session and match you play and measure your progress against your plan. Good luck! I look forward to seeing you on the courts!