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Taking Inventory

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Ron Waite, USPTR

The beginning of a new year always brings an opportunity to reflect upon the previous year, and to make resolutions for the coming year. Unfortunately, I suspect many people do not fulfill their New Year's resolutions. Obviously, change can be difficult and resolutions made may sometimes be unrealistic. Some goals we set for ourselves are beyond our reach... at least in the short run.
I imagine that some of my readers will make a resolution like, "I will lose weight this year." Or maybe, "I will be more frugal with respect to my spending."... etc. Some will succeed in their resolutions; many will find that their commitment to a resolution fades in time.
We, who love this game, should also make New Year's resolutions regarding our playing capabilities. Hopefully, a well-planned and viable approach to these resolutions will not fade during the year.
I am a very goal-oriented and fairly self-disciplined individual. These qualities find themselves entering my "life" as a tennis player/coach/teacher. Every January, I set forth a schedule of assessment, goals and action plans to improve my game and teaching. . But, I recognize that there are many who play this wonderful game that are not as focused as I. I use the word focused deliberately.
One senior player/coach/teacher and motivational speaker who knows about focus is Bob Litwin. Indeed, Bob has developed a system of mental, physical, stroke and tactics that is based upon focusing upon one item at a time. I came across Bob's system over a decade ago, and I find it to be a well founded and successful approach to improving one's tennis game. The reader can learn more about Bob by going to his site at http://www.focustips.com/main.html.
This month, I want to dedicate my column to helping each reader discover ways to focus upon improvement in her/his tennis game throughout 2011. As advocated by the PTR, which certifies me, we usually make the best progress by being patient and working on one aspect at a time.
Well, the first step in making 2011 a year for improvement is taking an inventory of where you are. You need an honest assessment of what are your strengths and weaknesses.
Basically, the game of tennis has some distinct aspects that affect one's ability to play and compete. If put in a question format these aspects include:

  1. Where am I with respect to physical shape and conditioning?
  2. Where am I with respect to stroke production?
  3. Where am I with respect to tactics and strategies in my game?
  4. Where am I with respect to mental competitiveness and attitude?
  5. How much time, energy and effort can I dedicate to improving my game?

Below, I am listing specific questions associated with each of these five categories. In answering each question, you need to be as honest and candid as is possible. If you regularly hit with a partner, you may want to ask him/her to evaluate your game by having them answer these same questions as they apply to your tennis game.
The scale to be used in answering each question is as follows:
1 - Strongly Disagree
2 - Disagree
3 - Agree
4 - Strongly Agree

At the end of each question put what you believe to be the honest answer by placing the appropriate number in the space provided.
You will note that I have deliberately left out the options of "don't know" or "uncertain." Like a polygraph, these questions require essentially yes/no answers... albeit I do allow for some degree of positive vs. negative response. In essence, I am forcing you to make a stand regarding each question.
So, let's begin.
  1. Regarding my body weight, I believe, that overall, I weigh what I should____
  2. Regarding my overall body strength, I perceive myself as being where I need to be____
  3. I perceive my body to be sufficiently flexible____
  4. My stamina when playing tennis is where it should be____
  5. My foot speed when playing tennis is where it should be____
  6. My movement side to side is where it should be____
  7. My movement forward and backward is where it should be____
  8. When competing or practicing, I hydrate my body frequently____
  9. I am very prone to injuries that reoccur when playing tennis (e.g. tennis elbow, etc.)_____
  10. My ability to recover physically after a match or long practice session is good____

Adding up the numbers for the above 10 questions, my total is_____/40.
If your total is 30 or greater, your overall physicality is quite good. Answers that are 1 or 2 indicate areas where you need help and are most likely to need attention.
  1. I have a good, powerful first serve____
  2. I have a good, reliable, second serve____
  3. My forehand groundstrokes are good____
  4. My backhand groundstrokes are good____
  5. My forehand volley is good____
  6. My backhand volley is good____
  7. My overhead smash is good____
  8. My backhand half volley is good____
  9. My forehand half volley is good____
  10. My backhand lob is good____
  11. My forehand lob is good____
  12. I hit topspin well____
  13. I hit slice well____
  14. My groundstrokes can be powerful____
  15. I place and control my groundstrokes well___

Adding up the numbers for the above 15 questions, my total is _____/60.
If your total is between 40 and 50, you are probably an intermediate level player. If your score is above 50, you can assume that you are an advanced player.
Again, you definitely want to work upon those areas where you scored a 1 or a 2.
  1. I have a good groundstroke, rally game ____
  2. I have a good serve/volley game____
  3. I can chip/charge well____
  4. I generally place my first serve well____
  5. I rarely double fault____
  6. I return serve well____
  7. I anticipate my opponent's shots well____
  8. I recognize opportunities to hit winners and take advantage of these____
  9. I know if I am in a neutral, defensive or offensive position when I am hitting each shot during a match____
  10. I always have a sense of where my opponent is when I strike my shots____
  11. I recognize patterns in the way in which my opponent hits her/his shots____
  12. I know when I have momentum in my favor during a match____
  13. I am rarely wrong footed by my opponent during matches____
  14. I am flexible in my strategies and tactics, and I know when to alter my game plan when playing matches____
  15. I am aware when my opponent changes his/her game plan during matches____

Adding up the numbers for the above 15 questions, my total is _____/60.
If you scored 35 or higher, you possess a fairly broad and flexible tactical approach to competition. If you scored below 20, you are definitely in a situation where you need to expand and improve your tennis strategies and game plans.
  1. More often than not, I find myself having genuine fun when practicing tennis____
  2. I play tennis in matches as well as I do in practice sessions____
  3. When I play tennis, whether in practice or matches, I am not easily distracted____
  4. When I play competitive tennis, spectators will have a difficult time knowing whether I am winning or losing, if their perceptions are based on my facial expressions and demeanor on the court____
  5. When I play competitive tennis, I am in a relatively mindless state as I am hitting my strokes____
  6. I rarely "talk" to myself (aloud or silently) when playing competitive tennis____
  7. I rarely shake my head "no" or other negative gestures when playing tennis____
  8. I play one point at a time and stay in the present____
  9. I rarely if ever worry about double faults____
  10. If I make an errant shot, I put it behind me quickly____
  11. When I am thinking analytically, I am usually focusing upon how to attack my opponent and not upon what I am doing wrong____
  12. Even if I am way behind in the score, I am exploring ways to improve my game and win more points____
  13. When competing, I rarely allow my mind to dwell on whether I will or will not win the match___
  14. I would describe my competitive attitude as being: "I love to win" more so than "I am afraid to lose."____
  15. When I lose a match, I am able to put it in the past fairly quickly____
  16. I rarely have emotional outbursts when playing competitively____
  17. I rarely, if ever, have thrown my racquet during matches or practice____
  18. When playing in a tournament, I rarely look at the draw beyond learning who my next opponent will be____
  19. I generally can find ways to relax my muscles in between points____
  20. I generally use my breathing to calm my mind and body____

Adding up the numbers for the above 20 questions, my total is _____/80.
Obviously, the higher your score the more mentally "tough" you are. Most players on the recreational level and intermediate level have scores that range from 40 to 60. Superior competitors are likely to score 65 or higher.
If your total score falls below 40, you are probably a player who needs to spend some extra effort coming to terms with the mental and emotional components in your tennis game.
In this section there are really only several questions that need to be answered. These do not use the 1 to 4 scale utilized in the previous questions. In the following, simply answer with the appropriate values suggested by the questions.
  1. How many hours per week can you spend on average (spread out over the year) doing on-court, tennis training ____
  2. Given your answer to the question above, how many hours per week (spread out over the year) can you dedicate to off court training (both physical and mental)____
  3. Given your financial resources, how much money per week could you afford to spend on tennis (gear, court time, lessons, books, videos, etc.) __________?

Realistically speaking, you cannot play competitive tennis without being able to spend on average 10 hours per week (spread over a year) engaged in on-court training. In addition, competitive players probably need to spend an average of 2-3 hours per week (spread over a year) engaging in off court training, like weight lifting, biking, running, etc. In aggregate, you should be spending 500 hours per year on-court and 100 to 200 hours engaged in off court training.
Those recreational players who want to show constant improvement are likely to need to spend on average 2 to 3 hours per week (spread over a year) involved with on-court activities and an additional hour per week (spread over a year) engaged in off court training. For recreational players who are eager to improve, the aggregate hours should be a minimum of 100 hours per year on court and at least 50 hours per year engaged in off court training.
Touring Pros spend about 2000 hours per year engaged in on-court training and about 400 to 500 hours of off court training (running, biking, strength training, etc.).
If you live in a climate where you can play outdoor tennis only 5 months per year, you need to realize that the on-court training is necessarily going to be more concentrated during these months... unless you can afford indoor court time.
Obviously, climate, facility and instructor accessibility, and financial limitations significantly impact how much time, energy and effort any player can dedicate to her/his game. The parameters that I describe above may or may not be feasible for a player. If they are not feasible, come up with a plan that is viable for you. Do what you can and do not fret over that which you cannot!
Hopefully, each of you has been completely honest in answering the questions listed above. Again, it would be helpful to have a hitting partner determine scores for YOU given his/her honest opinions/perceptions. If you can get such a partner to participate in this inventory, I would average your score and her/his score for each question.
The real purpose of this inventory is to give you an assessment of where your tennis game really is at. I grant you that no questionnaire can truly achieve such an assessment, but it can provide a window and a starting point.
Taking each major category, you should now be able to prioritize what areas need the most work (those with a score of 1 or 2). Take your scores and make a list starting with the most important to least important areas in need of improvement.
Then, try to address one deficiency at a time from each of these four categories: Physical Aspects, Stroke Production, Strategies and Tactics and Mental Aspects. For example, an individual player may choose to start with these four problems:
  1. Body Weight (Physical Aspect)
  2. Overhead Smash (Stroke Production)
  3. Serve/Volley (Strategies and Tactics)
  4. Using breathing to calm mind and body (Mental Aspects)

Set measurable goals for each of these variables that are realistic. The key words here are measurable and realistic. Given the example above, here might be the objective markers set by the player.
  1. Reduce my weight by 10 pounds by (a realistic date).
  2. Introduce at least of 5 minutes of overhead smash drill(s) to every hour of on court practice. Continue until you advance your rating one point (e.g. 1 to 2 given self evaluation).
  3. Play at least one point in every practice game where you execute a serve/volley strategy. Continue until you are capable of winning at least 50% of these serve/volley points.
  4. Spend 5 minutes per day working on deep breathing exercises that help relax your body and clear your mind. Continue until you increase your rating one point by self evaluation (e.g. 2 to 3).

As you reach a measurable goal, move onto the next priority on your list given the specific category. Little by little, you will find yourself moving forward in each category, although some categories may show greater progress than others.
Every time you address a new deficiency, you must ask yourself these questions:
  1. What means are viable for me to improve this deficiency? (Not everyone will have the same resources, time limitations, etc.)
  2. How will I know that I have made a desired level of improvement? (It is important to recognize that the real purpose is to improve deficiencies... not necessarily eliminate them.) Tennis improvement is a continuous and never-ending process. In part, this is why I find this wonderful game so inviting and captivating.

What has often times amazed me is how haphazardly players will approach improving their games. Sure, we would all like the "quick fix" that lasts forever. However, serious tennis improvement involves a process that is continuous, time consuming, and at times, frustrating.
You may need to take some lessons from a local pro to improve a stroke. You may want to join a gym to improve your physical attributes. Programs like Bob Litwin's Focused Tennis can help with the mental side of the game. Visualized meditation techniques such as described in my book, Perfect Tennis may be helpful.
The keys are to assess honestly, and to set realistic goals for improvement that work on one specific deficiency from each of the aforementioned categories (physical aspects, stroke production, strategies/tactics and mental aspects) at a time. Prioritize these and don't move onto a new deficiency until you have made a predetermined level of improvement (not perfection) on the present deficiency. Be patient with yourself! Recognize that there will never be a time in your "tennis life" where there isn't room for improvement. Realize that it is the journey that is the real joy associated with this wonderful game.
If each of us can remember back to that first tennis shot that we struck well and the excitement, joy and satisfaction it brought to us, then the road to improvement is never overwhelming.
Make 2011 the year that you truly organize a plan to improve your tennis game, and more important, your enjoyment of this wonderful game.
I am sure that if you do 2011 will be the year when you become a tennis overdog!

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This column is copyrighted by Ron Waite, all rights reserved. Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ron by using this form.

Ron Waite is a certified USPTR tennis instructor who took up the game of tennis at the age of 39. Frustrated with conventional tennis methods of instruction and the confusing data available on how to learn the game, Ron has sought to sift fact from fiction. In his seven years of tennis, Ron has received USTA sectional ranking four years, has successfully coached several NCAA Division III men's and women's tennis teams to post season competition, and has competed in USTA National singles tournaments. Ron has trained at a number of tennis academies and with many of the game's leading instructors.

In addition to his full-time work as a professor at Albertus Magnus College, Ron photographs ATP tour events for a variety of organizations and publications. The name of his column, TurboTennis, stems from his methods to decrease the amount of time it takes to learn and master the game of tennis.


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