I think it's safe to assume that if you are reading this column, you are a serious tennis player. Whether you are a junior or senior, beginning, intermediate or advanced player, the mere fact that you have logged on to the Internet, typed in tennisserver.com and opened up one of the many (dare I say, creative and insightful) columns that the Tennis Server has to offer, says that you enjoy tennis and have an interest in improving your game.
Given that my assumption is correct, let me ask you a question that I pose to all of my students who ask me how to get better: how many times per week do you practice? Their initial response is usually once or twice, the fortunate ones say that they are able to play three or more times each week.
Now remember I said "practice," not "play," and there is a tremendous difference between the two. "Play" means, simply that, warm-up and play a few sets. "Practice" means stepping onto the court with a specific plan to utilize your court time so that you can work on various aspects of your game.
Now, understanding the difference between practice and play, let me ask my question again; "How many times per week do you PRACTICE?" If you're like most, the answer is zero!!! Most players like to simply step onto the court, hit a few balls and then say "Serve em up."
Everybody wants to play, or compete. This is in itself an interesting phenomenon, and our cultural obsession with competition has been addressed in previous columns. While there is certainly a place for competition in developing one's game, those who are truly interested in improving their tennis, should, at least once a week, take the court with a specific practice regimen designed to work on different aspects of their game.
If you're like most, you are not playing tennis for a living and thus, the game is not your top priority. If you are a junior player, you have school, other activities and a social life competing for your time and if you are an adult, the demands and pressures on your time are even stronger. With that in mind, the time that you can set aside for tennis is probably at a premium so you should try to make the most of it and more often than not, this does not mean playing sets.
THE PURPOSE OF PRACTICE:
The purpose of practice time is simply this, to hit as many balls as you can in the time that you have available. For most players this does not mean playing games. In fact, when we play points or games we actually end up hitting fewer balls. The mere nature of playing points is to hit the ball where your opponent cannot return it, thus ENDING play.
Several years ago there was an article in the New York Times that spoke of a survey taken in tennis clubs around the country. The purpose of the survey was to try to determine exactly how many minutes of a tennis hour were spent actually hitting the ball.
The results was eye-opening. For each hour of court time, the average tennis player spent approximately seven minutes actually hitting the ball. The rest of the time was spent chasing balls in-between points. With the average indoor court costing between $40- 60, it doesn't take a math genius to see that we are not getting the biggest bang for our buck.
In order to make sure that we get the most value of our time on the court from a developmental, not to mention financial, standpoint, I encourage my players to, at least once a week, use their on-court time as a practice session. They walk on the court with a specific program in mind and spend the hour hitting as many balls as possible. Below is a basic, 60 minute practice session.
Developing consistency is not easy! It takes time and patience so, when you are doing these drills, BE PATIENT!!!! Also, be prepared for some resistance as many players do not like to do consistency drills. The usual complaint is that "they're boring." What they are really saying is that they are too difficult. It's much easier to walk out on the court and mindlessly wack the ball around for an hour, hitting a few winners, while making many, many errors. Unfortunately, this approach is prevalent among recreational players and is the reason why many never even approach their potential.
- WARM-UP BEFORE TAKING THE COURT.
Jump rope, do some jumping jacks and stretching, anything to break a light sweat so that you don't have to waste precious court time getting loose.
- TAKE A BASKET OR SEVERAL CANS OF BALLS TO THE COURT. This will minimize pick-up time. Remember, less picking up means more hitting.
- The following exercises are consistency drills with the goal being to hit as many balls as possible. With this as the overriding theme of the session, it is important to remember that you are practicing WITH your partner, not AGAINST them so DO NOT try to put the ball away. Instead, try to prolong each rally for as long as possible. This allows you to work on both your control and consistency while in the context of a rally situation.
It takes a great deal of composure and skill to be able to consistently keep the ball going to a specific area and there is not a touring professional in the world who did not build the foundation of his or her game around consistency drills. You can too.
60 MINUTE PRACTICE SESSION
Mini-tennis: Rally gently inside the service lines. This helps you to get your "feel." 3 minutes
Rally full-court: Lengthen your strokes and continue to get your timing. 3 minutes
Cross-court forehands: Keep count and try to hit as many past the service
line as possible. 5 minutes
Cross-court backhands: Same as forehands. 5 minutes
Down the line forehands: Keep count and go for depth. 5 minutes
Down the line backhands: Ditto. 5 minutes
Full court rally for depth and consistency: Rally for as long as possible,
keeping count. 5 minutes
Reflex volleys: Stand between the service line and the net and try to keep
the volleys going back and forth for as long as possible without letting
the ball bounce. 4 minutes
Groundstroke/volley rally: One player at the net, one in the backcourt rallying,
trying to keep the ball going as long as possible. After 5 minutes, switch. 10 minutes
Overheads/Lobs: The player at the baseline hits only lobs and the player at the net
hits overheads BACK TO the player at the baseline. 5 minutes, then switch. 10 minutes
Serve & Return: One player serves and the other returns, away from the server.
After a few minutes, switch. 5 minutes
Total hitting time: 60 minutes
Total number of balls hit: Hundreds
Amount of benefit gained: Immeasurable
After you have left the court, stretch and cool down. You've hit a lot of balls and had a good workout. Well done!!!
This is a very basic program which allows you to hit many, many balls and practice virtually every shot in the game while developing your overall consistency which as we know, is what wins tennis matches.