Many players have asked me why coaches and some well-known tennis websites state that hitting 10,000 balls without perfect form is an exercise in futility. These tennis enthusiasts cannot afford tennis lessons so they would like to work on their game by hitting lots of tennis balls and practice some simple techniques themselves. What should they do?
My advice would be to ignore that discouraging advice. Just use your common sense and hit, hit, hit and play, play, play! There is a self-correcting mechanism of the human body and mind that most coaches seem to be unaware even exists. This self-correcting mechanism is called homeostasis, the ability of the body and mind to seek a stable equilibrium. This capacity for stabilization was in full operation when you learned to walk, when you learned to ride a bicycle and, unbeknownst to most coaches, when you learned to play tennis. If you are standing and begin to fall, your mind will signal your body to automatically and instinctively stick out an arm or a leg in an attempt to correct the situation and balance yourself. Was this a conscious act? No, it was the principle of homeostasis at work. You must embrace this principle and begin trusting your body, because your body is what you are going to bring into your tennis battles. You must trust the body to let go!
As a coach, I have repeated this many times, but it is important to repeat again and again! In my opinion, understanding the mind/body self-correcting mechanism is the major problem that most coaches and players encounter that stops them from thinking outside the box. As a result, inside-the-box-thinking, with emphasis on technique and the so-called perfect form, is the order of the day. If you can avoid this same faulty thinking you can advance your game and improve beyond your peers. But you must stay the course.
PROBLEM: THEORY NOT REALITY
Most coaches theorize that if you hit all of these balls without exact form (whatever that is) you cannot possibly improve without developing many, many bad habits. What they fail to realize is many of the so-called bad habits are merely part of the learning process. If you were learning to ride a bicycle and you tilted your head to the left or right in an attempt to catch your balance, your parent would not tell you to stop doing that because it's the incorrect technique. They are right not to correct your faulty technique when you are learning to ride a bicycle. Instead, they give you a few basics, like keep your hands on the handlebars and your feet on the pedals, and encourage you to keep practicing. They know that with improved balance your head will straighten up. The same would be true if you kept placing your foot on the ground to catch your balance while learning to ride a bicycle. If they would just leave you alone, guide the process and let you practice over and over again the body will self-correct... homeostasis at work!
No offense to my colleagues, but I'll bet most of them, over time, have never given a player basic technical advice then hit thousands of balls to him or her just to observe the homeostasis process. Well, over time, I have hit five-thousand, ten-thousand, fifty-thousand and even one-hundred-thousand balls to a player and have observed the magnificence of the body's wisdom and molding power. It's incredible! Therefore, since most coaches have NOT attempted to hit even a thousand balls without an avalanche of technical instruction, their statements (like "hitting ten thousand balls without perfect form is useless") are pure conjecture and theory and not based on the reality of application or fact. COACHES ARE JUST SPECULATING!
How have some of the top pros in the world trained? How many balls have they hit? How much excessive technique have they done? How about Andre Agassi? He was pretty good! Let's check out his early training habits.
In Agassi's link to "Born to Win" on www.andreagassi.co.uk you can read about Andre Agassi's early training by his father Mike Agassi.
"Mike's thoughts on developing a champion were way before his time. His ideas were that you needed to start training at a young age, that the child and coach needed to love the game and the coaching needed to cover all aspects of the game including techniques. He explained how important it was to hit the ball on the rise, to be inside the baseline, hit early, hit the ball as hard as you can, fearlessly - to hit out and through the ball. Generate power by timing and 'breaking' or 'snapping' the wrist, using torque generated by the whole body to get maximum speed out of the ball. And, a strong credo of his - hit many, many balls until you get it right! Mike estimated once that Andre hit more than a million balls a year between the ages of 5 and 13."
How about that technical advice? Hit the ball as hard as you can, be fearless, generate power and timing by "breaking" or "snapping" the wrist and use the body for maximum power. Okay, now let's go hit millions of tennis balls. That does not sound like any advice you have heard from your tennis coaches!
REALITY NOT THEORY: DO YOU THINK IT WAS THE MAGICAL TENNIS ADVICE GIVEN BY ANDRE'S FATHER OR THE MILLIONS OF BALLS HIT TO HIM THAT MADE ANDRE AGASSI THE PLAYER HE WAS?
A junior girl that I coached (Denissia) learned the Tennis Warrior repetition system from day one. She had very little technical advice but hit lots of balls... lots! She reached the 18-year-old Super Champs (highest level in the 18's) and number 63 in the state. Denissia at only 15 years old had been playing only three and a half years! The principles of homeostasis and repetition helped her catch up to many of the girls who have been playing for eight years and more! How can this be without much technical advice?
Champions are out there putting in the time, relentlessly practicing and hitting balls while everyone else is wasting time trying to figure out how to do it. If you would like to find your own form, your own style and your own individual play (like John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer), I suggest you do the same. Or do you think someone actually taught McEnroe those very bizarre strokes??!!