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Hardscrabble Scramble
August 2001 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Compete To Improve

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Mike Whittington

What is your game plan for improving the way you play? Do you take plenty of lessons? Have you been to tennis camp? Do you watch all the tennis you can get on television? Although those things obviously help, many players neglect what I feel is one of the most important aspects of improving - competition.

Have you ever played in a tournament against someone that looked like a professional in the warm-up but completely fell apart in match play? It happens all the time. These players feel comfortable until it is time to actually keep score and since they are in that situation only in tournament matches they may not be used to the pressure. Playing in a tournament can be great for your game and I've watched players of all levels improve after learning their real strengths and weaknesses in tournament play. Playing actual matches puts a certain amount of pressure on you that just can't be replicated in a lesson.

If you are a tournament or team player I think it is imperative that you play matches to supplement your lessons if you want to really improve. It's like doing your homework in school - you've been taught a technique or style and you need to put it to the test in some sort of competition. Players may feel a false sense of security if they hit well in lessons but never use their game before the competition.

An example would be someone that can get in 10 out of 10 first serves during a lesson but they habitually double fault in match play. You have to learn to carry your lesson game to the actual match and the more you compete the sooner that will be. I realize that not all teaching professionals will agree with me. In fact I know that some players playing on tour have been advised to work on their strokes over a certain period of time without competing. This philosophy does have some merit in that you might want to make sure that your game is completely sound before attacking the tournament circuit. However, I see players that are competing in match play, tournaments, team tennis, etc. improve at a much faster rate than those who do not.

Just try my theory for a few weeks. Double the amount of match play you have now if that is possible. Many people use their lessons as their only form of practice. Try adding just a match per week. I bet you will find that not only will you improve faster but also you will learn your strengths and weaknesses better and get more out of your lessons.

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Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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This column is copyrighted by Mike Whittington, all rights reserved.

At the time at which he wrote this column, Mike Whittington was a USPTA pro in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he served as director of tennis at the Hardscrabble Country Club.


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