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Hardscrabble Scramble
August 2000 Article

Hardscrabble Scramble Archive

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Practice For Play

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Mike Whittington

Are you a professional lesson taker? Do you take countless lessons but rarely work on your game on your own? Many players use the lesson as their only form of practice only to find out that they can't use the shots they've learned in match play. The reality is that they feel comfortable enough to do it around their teaching professional but have yet to execute those shots under match pressure.

As a teaching professional, I realize how valuable the lessons and clinics can be to a player. I've seen players that were barely able to make contact with a ball begin hitting great groundstrokes after only a few instructional tips. But there is a difference between the practice court and the actual match. The same thing happens in golf as well. You might have a player that looks like PGA material on the driving range but can't execute one shot in a real round. Believe me I know what this is like!

It is important to compliment your lessons with actual match play or point situations and USE WHAT YOU WORKED ON IN YOUR LESSONS! I know of players that often will focus an entire lesson or clinic around their favorite shot! Although this gives you a certain sense of confidence, it is more important to focus on the shots that you aren't able to execute in a match. The only way to really get those shots into your arsenal is to try them under a little pressure.

Let me give you an example. Suppose you are working on a slice serve but it has been a little slow in learning. Sometimes you can get some spin but you still feel a little uncomfortable with it. If you spend some time on it in lessons with your teaching professional it will improve, but there are things you can do to accelerate that improvement. How about going out and hitting a few serves on your own? You could take a partner that would like to work on returns. He/she could give you feedback as to how you are hitting the serve. Then you could go back to your instructor and tell him/her your progress. Most teaching professionals would like to hear some feedback and would certainly like to hear that you've attempted to practice what you've been taught. Another idea is to try that slice serve every time you are up by two points in a game. You may not want to do this in a major tournament, but it is important for you to try it sometime and a two-point cushion might allow you to hit it with a little more confidence.

The key is to just go out and do it. Find time to practice and use what you work on in your lessons. You'll be surprised how quickly you will improve when you work on your shots in the correct way and try to get them into play as quickly as possible. You'll struggle with them at first but in the long run you'll be happy you practiced the correct way for match play.

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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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