In this article I would like to talk in-depth about what makes tennis practice effective and what not. Unfortunately, there are way too many tennis players on this planet that have been following the same kind of practice routines for years and have stopped improving a long time ago!
This is of course no problem if your primary goal with your Tennis is to have fun. My experience in Tennis though has been that most people get the biggest enjoyment out of improvement!
There is actually a widespread belief that once you reach a certain age, it is completely normal to stop improving. I think that nothing could be further from the truth.
Anybody can improve their tennis game, no matter what age and level!
A few minutes after I see a tennis player, again no matter what age and level of play, I will already have several ideas in my head about how they could significantly improve their tennis game and what effective tennis practice sessions for them would have to focus on!
The Key For Improvement
In order to improve you need to set yourself the right challenges in your tennis practice! Basically you need to be challenged just enough and not too much. In this scenario you are struggling to learn something new but you are not overwhelmed by a challenge that is too big for you.
Daniel Coyle talks about this in his excellent book: The Talent Code. In the book the concept is called deep practice and Coyle did a great job examining how this works in many different sports! I highly recommend reading the book for anybody interested in this subject!
Let’s get back to your improvement though. So how come you have not been improving as much as you want over the years ?
What usually happens in Tennis is that people are not challenged enough because they keep performing the same practice routines over and over at the same intensity!
Oftentimes people don’t understand what they need to do in order to improve. They have been told that in tennis practice you hit 10 minutes cross-court for each side, hit some volleys and serves and then play some points and they keep doing this without much success.
The reason that most players don’t improve that way is not that hitting cross-court is a bad drill either. The reason is that they are not challenged enough. You can use very simple drills that can be very effective with the right challenge.
Creating The Right Challenge
The best drill in the world can be done ineffectively and the simplest drill in the world can be done extremely effectively! In the end it is all about creating the right challenge and taking yourself out of your comfort zone.
One key aspect for creating the right challenge is making it measurable. Basically we can apply Peter Drucker’s idea of: What Gets Measured Gets Managed Here!
If tennis players knew what they need to work on in order to improve and then had a way to measure that, a lot more players would be improving! My goal with this website is to help as many tennis players as possible get to that point.
Examples Of Effective Tennis Practice
So let’s have a look at some examples of what exactly constitutes effective practice. Remember: The key is to find new ways to challenge yourself to do things better on the tennis court!
Effective Technical Practice
Changing your tennis technique after years of playing a certain way can often be the most difficult task for a tennis player. The way you swing your racket is engrained in your brain and your subconscious mind is very comfortable with your current way of hitting the ball. It will resist any changes with a lot of effort, which makes it difficult to do.
The first step is getting a clear idea of what you want to work on. Once you know what you want to work on it is important to break the movement down into small parts and work at a very slow speed.
You will not be able to change your technique while playing at your normal speed!
If for example you have been taking the racket too far behind your back (meaning too big of a backswing) on your forehand and you want to stop doing that now, you need to start by using a new swing that feels way too short for you. Small changes will seem huge to you as a player. This is why oftentimes the student might think he just made some major changes to his swing but the video camera will show that the changes were actually minimal!
The best possible way would actually be using some kind of a biofeedback system that signals you every time when you perform the movement correctly or incorrectly. Unfortunately most tennis players will never have access to that kind of a system for their tennis practice though.
So what can we do instead ? Going back to the forehand example we can be creative and can come up with some drills that give us a feedback whether or not we are performing the movement correctly. One way is to shadow swing standing against a wall for example. Every time your backswing gets too big your racket will hit against the wall and therefore you get instant feedback.
Once you have found the right drills you then need to repeat the new correct movements over and over, first with a very controlled slow speed (shadow swinging) for example and then slowly increasing the difficulty step by step.
After shadow-swinging you could drop hit some balls, then play some mini-tennis with the new technique and then slowly work your way back to hitting from the baseline.
To learn more about how to develop great tennis strokes visit the Tennis Video Instruction page on this website!
Effective Physical Practice
The same principle applies in your Tennis Fitness training. You need to set an impulse stronger than what your body is used to in order to actually get some changes. In fitness training this principle is often called supercompensation.
Luckily practicing effectively on your tennis fitness is not as difficult as working on your tennis technique. In fitness pretty much everything is measurable and short-term improvements are also measurable. Therefore you simply need to identify which area of your fitness you want to work on, pick the right exercises, set some goals and keep measuring yourself along the way!
Effective Mental Practice
All tennis players have mental habits on the tennis court. Oftentimes it is those exact habits that are holding us back from performing at our best.
I am currently working with a 14-year old boy who is a Top50 junior player in Germany. He is used to winning a lot of matches and in the past he won those matches by hitting more balls in the court than his opponents.
Now his Tennis needs to transition into a more offensive game. His subconscious doesn’t like that idea though because it thinks that simply hitting the ball in has worked in the past. Especially in crucial situations he tends to go back to playing very defensive Tennis.
The only way for him to get out of this mental habit is to keep reminding himself and preparing himself mentally for these situations and then to force himself to act differently the next time around. He needs to be willing to loose some matches in the short term as a result of playing more offensive in crucial match situations. This is of course very hard to do.
Changing habits is always very hard to do but changing habits will also lead to the biggest results and the most fun afterwards!
Effective Drills Versus Ineffective Drills
Any kind of drill can be done effectively or ineffectively. The question is whether or not the right challenge is involved. Simply rallying cross-court where the coach keeps feeding new balls in once somebody misses is a very common drill in tennis practice sessions, and performed in this manner will not lead to any significant improvements.
If on the other hand you perform the same drill hitting cross-court but you play with only one ball for example where the player that misses has to run and get the ball to put it back in play, then all of a sudden you transform this drill into something very productive!
Of course using only one ball will be too challenging for most recreational players. Therefore I recommend you adjust the drill accordingly and possibly using only three balls for your cross-court hitting is the right amount where it still bothers you a lot if you miss in the net for example.
You need to find ways to challenge yourself in the right amount during your tennis practice sessions. To improve you need to leave your comfort zone in practice. You can do this in several different ways.
The idea of changing your technique for example can be scary but if you break it down into chunks and work them off one by one then it makes a lot more sense!
This applies to all areas of your game. Want to improve your tennis-specific endurance ? Find the right exercises for that, set yourself some goals that you can measure along the way, and then stick to your plan!
The key idea is this: Figure out what you need to work on and then find a way to measure your progress along the way!
So that was it for effective tennis practice. Hopefully this helped you to structure your practice sessions in a more productive way!