#4: Proper Practice: Make Your Court Time Count!

Practice is crucial to the development of your game. Without practice, there is no improvement. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to practice. I watch players at the club level warming up or taking clinics and wonder why we do the same type of practice day after day. Practicing without a purpose is no practice at all.

The first thing to break down under pressure is technique so if you do not practice technique or if a certain shot has faulty technique, this is your Achilles’ heel in match conditions. If you need to change your technique, there are many options, including watching instructional videos, setting up private or semi-private lessons, or attending tennis clinics. Even during group instruction, players often receive feedback that can dramatically improve a stroke.

To reproduce what you’ve learned, particularly in a match situation, you then need to practice. Match time is no time to be thinking about your technique–this is why tennis players work on repetition. Did you see the Nike slogan for the NCAA Basketball Tournament? The word on the front of the t-shire was “Reppin.” This pertains to tennis also. Muscle memory (correct muscle memory) is critical to success, and developing muscle memory is determined by how often and how well you practice.

The USTA provides colleges and universities with court time limits for their tennis players. This means that Division I players can be on the courts for 144 days of practice, 20 hours per week, from September to April. In the book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell asserts that that “what distinguishes one performer from another how hard she or he works. That’s it…. In fact,” he adds, when it comes to practice “researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” You can equate this to 20 hours a week for 10 years. Most of us can and do live with much less. The key here is that to play your best in a match situation requires good (and fun!) practice.

Get the Most Out of Your Practice Time

1. During warm-up and practice, push yourself to get the ball in one bounce.

2. Practice keeping the ball out of the net. If you are going to make an error, make it by hitting the ball long.

3. Practice proper breathing technique.

4. Practice from different areas of the court: The UMass team begins practice by warming up volleys by starting on the service line and moving forward. When there is a miss, we back up to the service line and repeat. This transition volley is much more likely to occur under match conditions than the stationery volley, so practice it!

5. Since doubles is a game played on a diagonal, practice hitting crosscourt.

6. Practice proper position. So many times in doubles I see players stuck between the baseline and the service line. Practice coming forward, then going back to the baseline. Then practice coming forward and continuing to the net.

7. Practice both deep and angle overheads.

8. Practice proper serving and returning. This is the most repeated situation in tennis. Proper serving is crucial to playing well. Do you practice your second serve as often as your first serve? A high first-serve percentage is important in holding serve. To see how important the first serve is, try playing a set using just one serve, instead of two. Serve to all locations.
For doubles, from the Deuce side, serve the 1st serve predominantly to locations 3 & 4. Location 1 is excellent as a surprise and if done well, it will stretch the court. The 2nd serve should go almost always to 3 & 4. In the Ad court, mix up the first serves but serve the 2nd serve to 7 or 8.
For singles, the new favorite serve from the Deuce side in women’s tennis is the 1st serve to area 1, drawing the opponent off-court, then hitting to the opening, and from the Ad side, serving to 5 and then hitting behind the player.

9. Practice all tactical zones of the court.

image for practice time
10. Mental toughness. Practice is the best time to work on letting go of mistakes, concentration, refocusing, and breathing.

And finally, practice should be fun. Begin practice with your most difficult shot, the one that requires the most attention. Do this when you are fresh. Never forget to practice your strength. Your strength is what got you to your level, so pay attention to it. Add fun and pressure to your practices by playing competitive games or playing points under specific tactical situations.
* Play games where only the server is able to win points. If the server loses the point, then the other side gets to serve.
* Play games beginning at 30-all to put extra pressure on each point.
* After the server serves for a game, have her serve one more point. This helps with refocusing.

Be creative with your practice. Remember, we may not have 10,000 hours but we all have the ability to improve.

– Judy Dixon

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