3 Steps To Improve Your Game

Improve Your Game

Making any changes to your game, whether they are technical or tactical is usually fraught. Players feel comfortable with what they know & can often resist (sometimes subconsciously) even the most subtle of tweaks. They might say that they want to improve their game but unfortunately, there is a disconnect between what they say and what they do!

The easiest player to teach is one who arrives on court as a blank canvas. They are very receptive to new ideas & happy to implement suggested changes.

I have encountered this type of player but not very often! Typically, players would like to make adjustments to their game but are not willing to go through the pain to make the gain.

This resistance is rife at all levels. It’s not just limited to players with established games. It is as likely to surface with beginners as it is with advanced players. Indeed this type of player can feel they have the most to lose. The problem for everyone is that a change from the norm feels odd, awkward & problematical; great reasons to either not try at all or give up!

Players are also unsure about whether they will succeed. They fear that they could spend hours and hours practising something without actually learning it. I do understand this feeling and always try to assure my pupils that their hard work will be rewarded.

The key question is just how much does the player want the improvement. They might say they’re desperate to get better but are they prepared to practice (a lot!)? Are they willing to see levels dip short term? If the answer is yes, success is inevitable. If the answer is no, well you’ve guessed it. The phrase “it’s going to get worse before it gets better’ perfectly illustrates the sacrifices players must make in order to improve.

Moving from an Eastern Forehand grip to a chopper/continental grip on the serve is a case in point. This is never a change that players feel comfortable with, however, those who persist & go through the tribulations of balls being miss-hit (and missed!) will invariably prevail.  Check out my Youtube video on how to make the change to the chopper grip when serving here.

One amusing trait that I often encounter when I see players ‘trying’ to use the chopper grip is the mysterious ‘grip moving external force’ otherwise known as the GMEF. They start their serve with the chopper grip & then it mysteriously moves before contact. “It just moved; I don’t know how”,  they say, not recognising that it was they who did the moving.

This move can happen without conscious thought, hence the surprised reaction, but more often than not, they start with great intentions and consciously pull out at the last split second, sensing an imminent mistake. This scenario is common in all learning situations where players abort very late on, not having the confidence to commit wholeheartedly to the new way and guess what! If you never practise it, you’ll never learn it!

I have never met anyone who hasn’t successfully made the transition to the chopper grip on the serve who has persisted. There is a degree of inevitability about it as long as you have to stick at it. Those who say they can’t do it have simply not persevered.

The fear of making a mistake is probably the biggest impediment to learning. Embrace your mistakes – it worked wonders for Stan Wawrinka who had famous Samual Beckett quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”, tattooed on his left arm, and subsequently played the best tennis of his life. I might try something similar myself!

Follow these 3 steps to change any aspect of your game:

1. Decide on the change. “This will be good for my game”.

2. Commit to the change. “I will see this through to the end”.

3. Implement the change.  “I will practise diligently”.

You can apply this process to any change. The decision to alter your game is important. It would normally be based on what you’ve seen or heard. Your coach might have suggested something to you or you might have read about it or seen it on the internet.

Deciding to make a change is the easy part. Once you have made this decision, you will need to commit to the process and then it’s time for the tricky bit; Implementation. Practice is key.  Ensure that most of your time on court initially, is spent practising with high intensity and focus at all times.

Attempting new techniques in a match situation puts additional stress on a player & you’re more likely to revert to your old way when under pressure but it’s a necessary part of the learning experience.

Nobody likes to mess up shots. Most players aspire do things as well as they can. Changing your game can conflict with this desire. If you do play in a match, you’ll sometimes feel that if you did it the old way you might be playing better. This is perfectly understandable but nonetheless, it’s crucial that you stay on track & stay focused on the long-term gains.

Set yourself some performance or process goals. These are targets that you can control 100% and that your opponent can’t impact on. If you’re working on your ball placement on the serve, you could lose serve every time & still achieve a goal of only hitting balls that are placed in the correct position.

If you’re working on improving your return of serve, your performance goal could be ensuring you split-step every time. You could lose every game & still come off court satisfied by the successful completion of your performance goals.

Improving your game is scary. You need to be brave, positive & undaunted my mistakes. Don’t wait to feel confident before starting out. The confidence will come over time, when you start to experience some success. Doubting your ability to succeed is normal but ultimately you need to have trust in yourself (and your coach!) that you’ll get there and I can assure you, that you will get there.

This quote from Henry Ford encapsulates the two options you have when embarking on the improvement journey  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”. I recommend the former.