BY GEOFF BROWNE, USPTA, PTR, MRT
How many times do you have a great team clinic or practice where all of the new techniques you learned work perfectly, but then match day comes around and you find yourself back in your familiar habits, failing to put your newly acquired skills to work? In truth, this is very common among all levels of tennis players. It’s easier to go with what you are comfortable with during a meaningful match. But moving your game forward requires mastering techniques before the pressure is on, so I always encourage players to take advantage of practice matches to nail a new skill.
Keep in mind that improving your tennis game is a progression. It is extremely difficult to go from a clinic or private lesson and implement a new technique or tactic into an important match. The average player prefers playing to drilling. The progression of mastering a new skill starts with executing the skill under the watchful eye of your coach, then repeating the skill, then using the skill in practice play and, finally, being comfortable to use the new skill in match play – even in an important ALTA match!
The best way to feel comfortable implementing something new into your game is by setting up a simulated match experience. The next time you are playing any match where the end result doesn’t have any consequence on you or your team’s league standing, I would strongly suggest you turn that into a practice opportunity. This can include working on score situations, technique and/or tactics.
But how can you achieve the same feeling of a high-pressure scenario in practice? A great way to simulate a match situation with a strong sense of pressure is to start the score each game at a specific score, such as 30-all, 40-30, etc. A tactical example: work on a specific tactic – such as serve and volley – where you come to the net behind returns, poach with signals and so on.
It is important when working on improving your game during practice matches to focus on mastering the skills that you want to incorporate into your game, not the ultimate score. Of course everyone likes to win, but if you don’t practice skills in a simulated setting, it will be almost impossible to utilize those skills when you’re in the heat of playing an important match. So, next time you and your partner play a practice or social match, be mindful of how you can incorporate polishing up new skills and techniques – and try to find a way that works for you to simulate a pressure situation to ensure you can tackle those efforts when it counts.
Geoff Browne is director of mixed tennis at Dunwoody Country Club.