a professional match
Since everyone is in Wimbledon
mode, in this lesson we are going to cover how to watch a professional
match with an informed and intelligent eye. All too often we miss
some of the key things that are happening because we are too caught
up in the sensational or the dynamic winners! We miss the simple consistent
things the pros do that ultimately are the reasons why they are so
successful. As a result we develop misconceptions about what we are
supposed to do to play tennis correctly.
The first thing
I am constantly telling my students to do is recover quickly after
hitting the ball. Do not stand there and watch the greatness of
your last shot. Watch the pros closely as they recover by straddling
back and at the same time watching their ball go over the net. That's
right! They watch the ball just like you do, the only difference
is they are not standing there watching it, instead they are recovering
and watching at the same time! I have discovered that this is a
technique that can take months to learn. Watch the pros closely
and maybe that will motivate you to begin recovering faster.
The next thing
to watch is when hitting ground strokes or volleying they are not
always going for winners. Many times the pros just move the ball
around looking for an opening to finally hit a winner. I guarantee
you this is not the way you play. Too many times you are trying
to win the point on every shot, instead of keeping it in play looking
for a better opportunity. I call this mental attitude playing in
the hit-winners mind-set.
watch to see the depth they hit on some of the low volleys or approach
shots and what happens when they do not hit deep. By the way, note
that the pros do not have to hit the ball harder to get the ball
to go deeper. Instead, they slightly open the face of the racket
and let the correct racket face carry the ball deep. All too often
players try to send the ball deep by hitting it harder.
when watching the pros, watch for some simple things that really
make the difference. A few are:
quickly after their shot.
2. Not trying
to hit winners all the time.
deep on volleys and approach shots.
to look for when watching a match
As you are watching the matches at Wimbledon or any professional
match make sure you look for some of the things we have gone
over in the past.† In fact, letís go over a few principles for
those that have missed them.
Notice the pros do not stand still and
stay balanced when they hit every ball. Tennis is a moving
game, you must be balanced while you are moving. Staying still
and balanced to hit each shot is like trying to ride a bicycle
balanced in one spot!† Watch as the pros give themselves the
freedom to fall off balance to gain their balance and instantly
be ready for the next shot. Many times they even jump off
the ground after a shot.† The pros do whatever it takes to
regain their balance and stay ready for the next shot.† You
should learn to do the same.† Do not worry if you fall off
balance when you play. With practice, just like learning to
ride a bicycle, you will improve your balance.
Next, watch the pros as they do not move
their body weight into the ball. Thatís right, I said do not!†
Again, moving your body weight into every ball is a myth and
is not founded in true application knowledge.† Watch closely
as the pros move their body weight sideways as they hit the
ball, then backward as they hit the ball, and yes forward
as they hit the ball.† Which direction the body weight moves
depends on the shot they have at hand.† When you play, do
not think you have to move your body weight forward on every
shot.† Move your body weight in the direction necessary to
make the shot at hand.
And finally, watch as the pros do not
take the racket back ahead of time when they are hitting their
forehands and backhands.†† Actually they start their shoulders
back sooner than the racket goes back.† The racket does go
partially back as they are on the run to the ball, but when
they get with in the range of the ball is when the racket
starts going further back.†† You will find that every player
has a slightly different timing when taking the racket back.
You should learn to develop your own timing and not just throw
the racket back the moment you see the ball come off your
If you have taken a number of traditional
lessons I know these examples are probably different, if not
the opposite of† what you have learned.†† All I ask is that
you watch the pros closely and you decide.† It is time to
learn to play in a more automatic and instinctive mode and
not over think the technical end of the game.† Why?† Because
in the long run tennis is not based on mechanics. The game
of tennis is based on a feel of a given stroke and that feel
allows the mechanics of each stroke to function properly.
The next time you play do not worry if you fall
off balance after every shot, do not worry if you are not moving
forward into every shot, and do not worry if your racket does not
go back the instant the ball comes off your opponents racket.† In
this fashion you will play in a more automatic and instinctive mode,
and come closest to emulating a pro.
characteristics can help you!
The tennis court has certain characteristics that many players
know, but really do not use to their advantage.
Did you know when playing doubles the court is eight feet longer
cross court than down the line. This means in doubles if you
hit a ball down the line and it sails four feet out, it would
have been in if you would have hit it cross court! The same
is true for singles. You have more area to hit to cross court
than down the line.
The principle here is obvious. Hitting down the line is a lower
percentage shot than cross court. Yet, I constantly see players
hitting a high percentage of their shots down the line in both
singles and doubles. Either because they do not know any better,
or are winning on the level they play on and do not realize
their mistake. Failing to recognize that as they move up to
another level the down the line shot will not be effective.
Not only is the court shorter down the line, but the net is
also higher! The net is three feet high in the middle and three
feet six inches on the sides. With these two facts in mind,
the court being shorter and the net being higher when hitting
down the line, your strategy should be to hit a higher percentage
of your shots cross court. As simple as this sounds, I have
seen many excellent tennis players overuse the down the line
shot. Do not be guilty of this infraction. If you would like
to hit down the line, here are a few pointers to help you select
the correct times in doubles:
1. Your opponent is poaching (running across cutting off the
ball you hit) a lot.
2. The net person can not volley that well.
3. To surprise your opponent and keep them off balance. In singles
it is a totally different story.
The best time in singles is when you are on the baseline rallying
with your opponent and you have not wandered too far from the
middle. If you hit down the line you give your opponent the
angle away from the side you are on, but since you were positioned
close to the center you will be able to cover the shot your
opponent has angled.
In contrast, if you go down the line when you are positioned
wide on the baseline, your opponent can angle and immediately
put you in trouble. You are so far to one side of the court
it will be tough to cover the angle on the other side! Besides
who wants to do all that running. You may be thinking, why can't
they hit an angle if I hit the ball cross court to them. The
answer is, they can!!! But, they have to angle it back toward
the side you are on. You will do a lot less running that way.
Remember, whether playing singles or doubles use the characteristics
of the court to your advantage. The net is lower and the court
is longer hitting cross court .
In this lesson I would
like to give you two simple myths of tennis. First, keeping
your eye on the ball does not make you to hit the sweet spot
of your racket. Many times when players miss hit you hear them
say, "keep your eye on the ball." Sounds logical,
but it is not true!
It is your JUDGMENT that helps you hit the sweet spot of your
racket, not keeping your eye on the ball. When your judgment
improves you do not even have to follow the ball right into
the strings. How do you think a pro hits the ball from behind
his back. He never sees the ball hit the strings, but he hits
the sweet spot anyway.
Its judgment! Stop thinking that keeping your eye on the
ball will make you hit the sweet spot of your racket. It will
not! At best keeping your eye on the ball gives your brain information
about the flight of the ball and eventually, with time, your
judgment will improve. Over time (repetition) when your judgment
improves you will be able to follow the ball with your eyes
automatically. The better your judgment is the easier it will
be to keep your eye on the ball!
when the grip turns in your hand you think you did not hold
on tight enough. As a result, the next time the ball comes
to you, you squeeze tighter to make sure this does not happen
again. Squeezing tighter is not the answer. The true answer
is you did not hit the sweet spot of your racket! You hit
off center which causes tremendous pressure and makes the
racket turn in your hand. I have always felt that this was
one of the reasons players develop tennis elbow. They simply
are squeezing the racket to tightly! Holding tighter is not
necessary. When you hit the sweet spot there is no pressure
for the racket to turn. How do you hit the sweet spot of your
racket? Simple, keep your eye on the ball....only kidding!
Again, the answer is improve your judgment by learning from
the greatest teacher of all - REPETITION! If your judgment
improves you will hit the sweet spot more often. Hitting the
center of the strings is a natural result of improved judgment.
thing about hitting the sweet spot of your racket is that
no one can tell you anything that will speed up the learning
process. The only answer is seeing a lot of tennis balls go
over the net. This is very similar to the way we learned how
to walk. Repetition was the great teacher. If you really would
like to learn how to hit the center of your strings and improve
your ability to watch the ball simply play more tennis or
practice on a ball machine. The more times you see the ball
go over the net the faster your judgment will improve. Remember,
the key here is judgment.
stop thinking every time you miss hit that you have not kept
your eye on the ball and every time your grip turns in your
hand that you did not hold on tight enough. The solution to
both of these problems is improving your judgment. I challenge
you to not say or think a thing the next time you miss hit
or your grip turns in your hand. Test yourself when you are
on the court and see what automatically pops into your mind
when you miss hit or lose your grip. Then remind yourself
of this tennis lesson, forget whatever you were thinking and
This lesson is going
to be on the lost art of learning. With the advent of the quick
fix, feel good, learn to be an A player in a weekend mentality
true learning is slowly losing out.
By the way there actually is a book titled "Learn to be
an A player in a weekend".... I can hear the wheels turning,
I know what you're thinking....where can I buy that book?
are two aspects of learning I would like to focus on. Number
one, learning takes time, it's long term. Number two, learning
is doing simple things consistently.
It's amazing how many of us can not get the first one right,
learning takes time, it's long term. Most of us will say,
yes I know that, then proceed to take a lesson and become
frustrated because you can not do what you are learning immediately.
You say, I've been practicing for 10 minutes, isn't that long
you must develop a long term focus. Here's a great tip. When
you are learning a new stroke you're really not trying to
make the shot, instead you're trying to simply start the process
in the right direction, so eventually it will happen by itself.
I'm constantly telling my lessons to take themselves out of
the equation, follow the correct principles, and let the correct
principles work for them.
This is difficult because we want to make it happen NOW! Here's
some cold hearted truth...whether you like it or not, no matter
what you do it's going to take time, so you might as well
relax and enjoy the process.
two, while learning is taking time, during that time you must
do simple things consistently. Find simple things to work
on then do them consistently.
This concept of doing something consistently is mind boggling
to people. They think because they have been working on a
shot for 3 weeks they have been consistent. It's a beginning,
but you have to work on it week after week for months before
you can claim some kind of consistency.
is not dong something 100 times. It's doing something 100
times 100 times.
I tell you what if you can get these two concepts clear in
your mind. Learning takes time and do simple things consistently.
You'll actually find yourself learning faster! Isn't that
what you wanted in the first place?
tennis's greatest ally
won't wait.... I'll tell you right off that learning tennis'
greatest ally is your patience. More extraordinary talent has
bit the dust, due to impatience on the part of the player, than
for any other reason.
You watch as the powerful stonecutter raises his hammer to hit
the huge stone. He hits it hard, again and again. On the third
blow, the stone splits in two, and the magnificent statue inside
is revealed. Think that means it took three blows of the hammer
to do the big job?
it didn't. It took 500, and maybe 5,000 blows. That final
blow wasn't crucial all by itself, but only as one of many
blows that combined to achieve the stonecutter's goal. To
a clueless neophyte observing, it took only three blows. But
you, the stonecutter and I know the real truth.
truth is that learning tennis is a whole lot like stonecutting.
Your dynamite talent might not do the job. Your "make
it happen" attitude might fall short, as well. But your
persistence, along with your long-term focus and patience,
will get the job done very nicely.
blow of the stonecutter gets the credit for the masterpiece?
Which stroke gets the credit for moving you from learning
to having learned? It's the stonecutter's patience that gets
credit for what he has hewn from the rock. It's your patience
that wins the prize for the final result - generated by your
a unique person to stay the course, while blow after blow
fails to hit home. It takes remarkable talent to remain with
what is being learned, when instant results are not produced.
Yet, for many members of a time-conscious public, instant
gratification is not quite swift enough. This is a characteristic
of many people - the "Warrior" learner not included.
stonecutters know that there is no rock they cannot split.
They have more patience than any rock. The "Warrior"
learner knows there is no challenge they cannot surmount -
it gives them more patience than their competition. Their
behavior is demonstrated in both their restraint from making
changes in what they are learning, and their willingness to
continue executing what they are learning, despite the absence
of quick results.
picks a spot on the rock, and hammers at it over and over.
You focus on what you are learning - practice it, and execute
it over and over. Eventually, the rock splits. Eventually,
what is being learned takes root and grows, your tennis goals
attained. It didn't take genius as much as it took steadfastness.
will be filled with frustration and anxiety, if you expect
what you're learning, easy or difficult, to produce superb
results instantly. But, if you give your practice the time
to penetrate your mind, and condition the skills, it will
become part of your subconscious, and will become automatic.
you will soon discover that persistence in learning does indeed
work, and that patience is the age-old secret of success.
tennis and stonecutting are different from most human activities.
No stonecutter expects results in a hurry. But, all stonecutters
are positive, in that they can do the job they set out to
do, if they concentrate upon the results down the road, rather
than the hard-rock surface facing them. Many people who learn
to play tennis gaze intently at the rock surface. So short
a gaze, results in prematurely abandoning learning strategies.
learner does not even acknowledge the surface. It's insignificant
compared with what they will hew with their patience. This
farsighted approach illuminates the way to their goal. They
see that the way is not so much a route, as an attitude. This
is the attitude of the stonecutter. This is the mind-set of
the "Warrior" learner. Both have what appears, to
the innocent, as an impossible task. However, both know there
is no way they will fail.
comes to those who learn tennis, if they begin with the "Warrior"
mentally. They persist in their objectives, continue breathing
life into those objectives, and have the patience to move
beyond the need for instant results.
would you like a formula for tremendous success in tennis? Okay, Im
going to give it to you....are you sitting down? Here it is! "Do
the simple right, then do the simple better, then simply be the best
at doing the simple! The Pros do the simple so well, you think its
complicated!" This is a very powerful concept and usually takes
years to completely understand! I challenge you to adopt it NOW! Winning
is not about fantastic shots or hitting winners all over the place!
Winning is about keeping it simple and letting the fantastic or spectacular
be a natural result.
Do not make the fantastic, spectacular, or winners your first priority
in your mind. I call it playing in the "hit-winners mind-set."
Play instead with a "consistent mind-set" and upgrade to
the "hit-winners mind-set" when the opportunity arises!
players for years try to reach another level by trying to hit the
ball a lot harder or hit more winners! They figure that must be
it, thats why those players above me are better! This couldnt
be farther from the truth and is a pitfall for many a great player.
I mean think about, when a player breaks into the Pro status he
thinks, now I really have to make some great shots! It never dawns
on him that the difference is very simple, but subtle.
Instead of hitting 8 out of 10 deep approach shots the next level
makes 9 out of 10!!! Instead of hitting a serve at 280 miles an
hour the next level hits a higher percentage of first serves in!
Instead of hitting 30 unforced errors the next level up only hits
28! Instead of making decisions based on the fantastic, the best
in the world make their decisions based on percentages!!! The fantastic,
again becomes a result of this type of thinking, but is never a
cause of winning!
Now, if the
best are thinking this way what in the world are you doing with
the emphasis on winners and the fantastic! This is a mind-set you
have to change to reach higher levels! Increase the percentages
of the simple shots you have, dont try to increase the spectacular
for that one moment of magnificence. Sounds simple, doesnt
it?....wrong! This concept eludes most players. "Do the simple
right, then do the simple better, then simply be the best at doing
the simple! The Pros do the simple so well, you think its
complicated!"...But, its not!
Mental Toughness Sphere vs. the Emotional Sphere
Mental Toughness Sphere vs. the Emotional Sphere. Which one do you
reside in for most of your matches? Here are some characteristics
of the Emotional Sphere and the Mental Toughness Sphere that will
help you understand when you are in or out of the Mental Toughness
Sphere. The Emotional Sphere is characterized by subjectivity (taking
your mistakes personally), over thinking (paralysis by analysis),
and dwelling on past failures. The Mental Toughness Sphere is characterized
by objectivity (not taking your mistakes personally), correct thinking
(relaxed mental attitude), and playing in the here and now.
mistakes, and failures become more paramount in your mind than the
next shot you know you are in the Emotional Sphere. You must quickly
recognize this and switch back into the Mental Toughness Sphere.
How? Simple! The Refocus Technique - the next shot is more important
than the last mistake. You must refocus and move on. Now! The Refocus
Technique is the recovery technique that brings you back into the
Mental Toughness Sphere.
is a simple technique and sounds easy, it is amazing how many players
cannot forget their mistakes and move on. The main reason they cannot
forget their mistakes and move on is because most players become
entangled in the Emotional Sphere. Listen to some of the answers
players give me when I tell them to use the Refocus Technique. Each
answer is followed by my response. I warn you though, I do not pull
any punches. Read on at your own risk.
1. But, that
was such an easy shot I missed!
did not say forget your mistakes and move on only on difficult shots!
The Refocus Technique is for ALL mistakes, easy or difficult.
2. I practiced
for months and I still make the same mistakes.
some more, forget your mistakes and move on!
3. I cannot
win if I keep making these mistakes.
who - you! Have you ever heard of mental toughness, forget your
mistakes, get back in the Mental Toughness Sphere, and move on...now!
How is that
for being blunt. The point I am trying to get across is that the
principle of forgetting mistakes is more important than the mistake
itself. You are so preoccupied with the problem, you cannot see
the solution. Let me help you. The solution is to use the Refocus
Technique and remain inside the Mental Toughness Sphere...no excuses.
Now, go apply
doubles I teach my students to come to the net as quickly as possible.
Once theyve come up, utilizing the correct thinking is extremely
important when playing offensive tennis. Although there are five offensive
skills you should master (approach shots, volleys, overheads, positioning,
and priority sequence thinking) the most important for the correct
thinking is priority sequence thinking. The ability to think in a
sequence and prioritize that sequence! Have I lost anyone yet? Hang
in there, it will all make sense. To keep it simple lets take
just two shots, a lob, and a volley coming right at you. When
youre up at the net you should be thinking what type of shot
will your opponent be hitting at you. The question is, should you
be thinking volley or lob? The answer is, both, but in a priority
Heres the way this works. First, you need to know that the
first shot you are thinking in your mind is the one you will react
to the fastest! If youre thinking your opponent may hit a
lob youll react fast to the lob, but not quite as fast to
a volley coming straight at you. This does not mean you will not
hit the volley, it just means you will not react as fast to the
volley as you would have if you would have been thinking of it first.
Make sense so far?
Now, the characteristic
of the shot determines the correct priority sequence you set up.
Since, the lob will take longest to reach its destination,
it only makes sense to placed this in your mind in second place,
because the shot in second place will be the slowest to react to
(remember the shot that you think of first will be the fastest you
react to). When up at the net the volley should be first in your
mind because it will come at you the fastest! If for some reason
your opponent hits a lob and you are thinking volley youll
still have time to react because the lob will be slower. You have
correctly set up your priority sequence thinking when at the net
in doubles. The correct sequence is to think volley first and lob
second. Sounds simple doesnt it! Well, you would be surprised
how many players think lob first and volleys second, thats
why they are always volleying going backward on their heels! Do
you? If you do, my suggestion to you is the next time you're up
at the net start thinking volley first and you'll be surprised how
fast you react to the ball!
The Pros think
like this all the time and you probably do too! The problem is you
more than likely have unknowingly set up the wrong priorities! So,
the next time you find yourself at the net, practice the correct
priority thinking, and yes, you too can think like a Pro!!!
is the chariot of genius
it's time to learn a principle related to repetition that is very
subtle, but extremely important to understand. You can approach learning
tennis from the standpoint of placing the emphasis on the technical
or you can approach it from the standpoint of placing the emphasis
on repetition. Which is better? Even more important - why? The correct
answer is repetition! Repetition is the chariot of genius....sound
Now, this does
not mean that the technical is not important, because it is, but
it should be kept to a minimum. More importance should be placed
on repetition of simple principles. The subtle difference between
the two shows up in match play. When a person learns from the emphasis
on the technical they are constantly thinking, if I kept my eye
on the ball that would have worked, if I bent my knees I would not
have missed, if I keep my elbow in on the volley that would have
corrected the mistake, and so on.
This is exactly
the way they approach their matches. Always thinking if the technical
were right I would have made the shot. You have subtly conditioned
yourself to think the technical is what makes it all work, not YOU!!!
This subtle, but incorrect mindset can be devastating in match play.
Mainly because you will try to solve problems on the court from
this incorrect mindset...always looking for the technical to solve
On the other
hand, when you are repetition oriented you develop a different mindset.
Since repetition requires you to do something over and over and
over again until you get it, you and your thinking become the most
important factor, not the technical! This has the subtle affect
of YOU not blaming the technical for every mistake, which results
in YOU taking responsibility for your mistakes in a match. The end
result is YOU start looking for different and better solutions to
problems you face on the court! Solutions like, maybe I should slow
it down, I need to relax, don't overplay, I need to manage my mistakes
better, etc. This does not eliminate some minor technical changes,
but now the priority has shifted toward YOU! And YOU can win with
perfect technical skills or without them!!! Welcome to the world
of mental toughness!