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Hardscrabble Scramble
October 1998 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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The Ritual - A Simple Start

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Mike Whittington

In many of the lessons I teach we discuss the importance of consistency. To most players consistency means being able to get the ball back to your opponent over and over until they basically wear out. In fact, some players feel that the consistent player is not really playing tennis but is considered a "pusher." I consider consistency more of a player's ability to hit a shot the same way rather than the number of shots a player can get back.

A good way to get a little more consistency in your game is to try to start the point the same way every time - get your ritual. Your ritual is a set routine that you go through before serving or receiving to let your mind know that the point is starting. Going through this pre-shot routine can let your mind and body get in synch in preparation for the upcoming point.

If you watched the U.S. Open this year you may have noticed the rituals of the touring professionals. Although each player's pre-shot routine is unique, each has some specific move that gets them into a mental state prepared to play the point. You might notice things like the number of bounces before looking at the target for serve, maybe a rocking back motion like a Sampras or a swaying motion and small steps before receiving serve. Whatever the ritual, it is the same every time no matter who the opponent. In the pre-shot routine or ritual, it doesn't matter the opponent - what matters is that the player has prepared him or herself for the point in a consistent manner. This can bring on more consistent play.

More and more I notice the similarities between golf and tennis. There are many of the same muscle movements between the two sports. However, it seems there are countless books and articles on the mental side of golf as compared to tennis. Over and over in these golf books a players is told to learn to focus the mind on the target and the ritual and then let the shot happen rather than think of swing mechanics. In fact there is a saying "don't let your brain get in the way!" which I think can apply to tennis as well.

The next time you play a practice match try to be conscious of your ritual and keep doing it no matter what the results. You might have to experiment to find what is comfortable but a consistent mental start to a point can lead to more consistent play. Start your ritual, visualize what you want to happen, then execute without thinking of stroke mechanics in the middle of your swing. Remember that winners visualize what they want to happen and losers visualize what they are afraid will happen. The results will speak for themselves!

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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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