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March 2015 Article

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Your Tennis Roadmap

Ron Waite Photo
Ron Waite, USPTR

Ask yourself the following: Would you drive your car to an unknown location without the benefit of a GPS device, specific directions and/or a roadmap? Would you try to make a new culinary dish without a recipe? Does it make sense to assemble a complex device or item without the benefit of assembly instructions/directions? Rhetorical as these questions may be, I imagine that the reader has probably attempted one of more of these!
Many of us approach the game of tennis in a very haphazard and improvised manner. Sometimes, we may move forward in our games even though we have no clear directions or game plans. So, we just continue to plod ahead in a "status quo" manner and hope that our efforts yield positive results.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same things over and over but expecting different results. Well although I am overstating the issue, simply following the same old paths with respect to our tennis games is probably not going to give us the results that we could potentially achieve. Very simply put, we become stagnated and stunted when we allow ourselves to fall into "ruts" and/or do not have short and long term goals/objectives.
March is a great time to start organizing the "tennis year." The outdoor season (which is really the way that most of us prefer to play this wonderful game) is about to begin. This is the time to re-evaluate or try any new tennis "gear." Now, and for the next couple of months, is the time to demo any new racquets. Perhaps you seek to experiment with new string technology or fine tune your string tensions? Seeking out new and better foot gear may make sense. All of these decisions, if there are changes to be made, should be put to rest as soon as is possible.
Hopefully, one's overall conditioning is such that the body is ready to withstand the rigors of the season ahead. In America, we are blessed with many public courts. Of course, the downside can be that these hard courts take their toll on the body and the joints. If you are not in shape, now is the time to rapidly get your body conditioned for the challenges ahead.
If you are a recreational player (or even a serious intermediate player), you probably are just excited that the weather is improving and that you are able to get outdoors and hit some balls. You have high hopes of having your some of your best matches in the months to come. But, I assure the reader that whether you are a rank beginner or a seasoned "pro," having a plan will enable you to advance more fully. The time to formulate your plan is here and now. In essence, you are creating the "tennis roadmap" that you need to play your best tennis.
So, this month, I want to explore with you some of the concepts that need to be addressed in formulating your individualized plan, and to offer you a "checklist" of sorts to assure that you have considered all the necessary factors in crafting such a plan.
Ultimate goals are the final result(s) we wish to achieve. We may have more than one ultimate goal, but these "final results" should be limited in number. For example, an ultimate goal may be to achieve a USTA ranking within a given range and within your local district. For some, the ultimate goal may be to win a club championship. For others, the ultimate goal may be to play well enough to secure a collegiate sponsorship. Scholastic competitors may seek to move up the "ladder" to be assigned better playing positions (e.g. number 1 singles player for a team). Still, others may have beating his/her "nemesis" opponent. Usually, ultimate goals require some time to be achieved. Yet, they are the light at the end of the tunnel that we are seeking. Right now, I encourage every reader to decide for himself/herself what ultimate goal(s) he/she seeks to achieve. Don't be shy about setting lofty ultimate goals! It has been my experience that ultimate goals are best when they truly challenge the tennis player. "You can if you think you can."
Ultimate goals should be dream goals! My guess is that, at some point in his career, Novak Djokovic "dreamed" of winning Grand Slam events, and becoming the number one ranked player in the world.
Intermediate goals are the incremental steps needed to achieve your ultimate goal(s). For example, to win the club championship, you may want to compete in several warm up tournaments to solidify your match toughness. If you seek a USTA ranking, you may have to identify four or five tournaments in which you must finish well. If you are seeking to "go up the ladder" with respect to a team, you may need to beat two or three "key" players.
As an analogy, let's say you want to go to the third floor of a building. You must decide whether the elevator or taking the stairs is the best or most desirable way to reach your destination.
Similarly, a tennis player wants to determine the "steps" that are needed or are most desirable in achieving your ultimate goal(s).
Intermediate goals need to be viable and capable of being realized. This is not to suggest that these intermediate goals should not be challenging. But, they must be capable of being achieved. Intermediate goals are not always easy to set and assess.
Don't be surprised if some of your intermediate goals are not realized! Intermediate goals may at times need to be adjusted to allow a tennis player to reach his/her ultimate goals.
I recall one year when I was seeking a USTA ranking. I ended up injuring my ankle by twisting and spraining it while competing in a clay court tournament. I ultimately did achieve the ranking that I sought, but I had to truly adjust many of my intermediate goals. I had to take a little time off from competition and arrived at a different tournament schedule. In addition, I literally had to adjust my normal manner of play to decrease the need for long, "coast to coast" rallies. Regarding this latter factor, I learned to compete by hitting lots of "moon balls" to keep my opponents deep. In addition, these "moon balls" prevented my opponents from being able to hit severely angled groundstrokes. Ultimately, the "moon ball" became a mainstay in my tennis arsenal of shots.
Short term objectives are the specific means necessary to allow a player to reach her/his intermediate and long term goals.
The key word is "specific." I always encourage players who I have coached to approach short term objectives by asking themselves the following question: "What specific actions, additions and/or changes do I need to make to move forward in achieving my intermediate and short term goals?" Essential in this self evaluation is an honest and candid assessment!
More often than not, the answers focus upon deficiencies that may exist in one of the following areas:

  1. Physical conditioning, endurance, speed, strength and flexibility.
  2. Improved stroke production.
  3. Expanded match tactics and strategies.
  4. Mental Toughness.

Once the "needs" are determined, viable solutions must be put into place to address these deficiencies.
For example, a hypothetical player may see that his/her footwork is lacking. He/she may assess frankly and honestly why this may be the case and realize that the problem is related to a lack of speed on the court. If this was the case, a specific objective may be to increase foot speed by doing more off court sprinting drills.
Another hypothetical player may see that she/he is lacking a reliable serve. She/he may decide to add a kick serve to her/his shot repertoire. Thinking from a tactical perspective, this same hypothetical player may decide to use the kick serve as a first serve that bounces into the opponent's body and "jams" her/him.
As a last example, another hypothetical opponent may see himself/herself as being a bit mentally weak when playing "key" points. To rectify this problem, the player may seek to play more tiebreakers during practice sessions.
Short term objectives always address specific needs. They can only be set when a player is objective and honest in assessing his/her tennis strengths and weaknesses. The solutions may not always be evident to the individual player. In these situations, the input from a trusted tennis colleague, a coach or a teaching pro may be necessary.
To really have a tennis road map, a player has to take the time to think things out carefully, be totally honest, and write out his/her plans!
First, I suggest that each of you keep a daily tennis journal. In this book, write down what you did that day in terms of training and/or competition. Also, include insights on what is working and what may not be working. If you are competing a lot, you may also want to include playing notes on opponents that you may see again in the future. After six months or so, review what you have written in your journal. I promise that you will have a much better understanding of what intermediate and short term goals are needed and/or requiring revision. In addition, you will better be able to determine the specific means and methods necessary to improve in each of the four aforementioned levels.
Second, have a friend or teaching pro help you write a strengths and weaknesses assessment of your game. It is really difficult to have an objective view on what we do or do not do well in competing. Thus, seeking the assessment of others allows us to better locate what priority we wish to assign to remedying our "flaws."
Lastly, every three months, do a progress assessment on your goals. Be honest and fair in making these assessments. I like to set time "deadlines" for reaching each of my goals... especially the short-term goals. Having a time framework is absolutely essential in keeping me motivated.
I always have a timetable from which I work. This timetable may have to be adjusted a bit given real world circumstances. Even pros on both tours will adjust what tournaments they will or will not play as their seasons unfold. For those of us who do not play tennis full-time, there are many factors (health issues, work demands, family matters, weather impacts, etc.) that can change our "ideal" timetable.
Still, having a written "bible" of goals and objectives that is tied to specific measures to be taken and timetables associated with these will go a long way to improving your tennis game!
As tennis players, we often times simply follow an already established pattern. We probably don't see increments or units with respect to a "tennis season." I strongly recommend that each player examine each season as a "yearly" phenomenon.
Normally, there are "conditioning periods," "preparation periods," "competitive periods" and there should definitely be "rest periods."
Tennis is really a game of control! Having a complete and organized game plan for your tennis efforts really will move your forward at the most rapid rate!
The best plans in my mind have ideal Ultimate Goals but very realistic Intermediate Goals. The Short Term Objectives are perhaps a bit difficult to discern clearly and the actions needed to achieve these objectives may force you out of your comfort zone. Timetables keep us "on schedule."
Why not take this month of March to begin a new "tennis year?"
I assure the reader that if indeed you do develop your "tennis roadmap" that you will in no time be playing your best tennis and becoming 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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