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The Role of Practice in Performance

January 23, 2007 03:09 PM

Dr.Robert Heller

There is an old joke about the an excited visitor to New York who stops a passerby on the street and asks, “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” The passerby answers, “Sure-practice, practice, practice”.

Many tennis players who seek to improve their game either fail to practice, practice incorrectly or incompletely.

Most recreational player’s practice consist of hitting a few balls at the start of a match and declaring, “First one in!” Playing is not practice! To improve, you must develop muscle memory which requires repetition of similar movements during a short period of time.

Some players use a ball machine to practice. While this is potentially an excellent approach to improving one’s game, unsupervised ball machine practice can have a negative effect on performance. I observed someone on the machine the other day consistently hitting his forehand – late, every time! He was grooving a bad habit, which will now have to be unlearned before he can move ahead.

Another common mistake is to practice strokes in isolation. Once a basic stroke is fundamentally correct, it’s critical to practice “patterns’ of strokes which simulate play and involve hitting, movement and recovery. Think about a “boxer” who sets the opponent up with a few jabs, then an uppercut before delivering the “knockout” punch.

Many players fail to practice the full range of strokes. How many of you practice your lob? Drop shot? Return of serve?

Finally, advancing players need to practice the full range of strokes from a variety of angles and positions. The forehand can be hit with topspin and slice. It can be hit down the line and crosscourt. It can be hit deep and wide. You need to be able to return it while running to the side or towards the net. You need to hit it when it’s below the net, in your strike zone and at shoulder height. As you can see, you really have a dozen different forehands and each one needs to be practiced.

If your time is limited, consider investing one third of your on-court time to practice.
So, find yourself a partner who shares your passion for improving their game- and yours and PRACTICE WITH A PURPOSE to take your game to the next level.

Dr. Robert Heller is a sports psychology consultant in Boca Raton, Florida and author of the mental conditioning CD-ROM program, TENNISMIND. For information on mental coaching, products and other services, you can reach him at (561) 451-2731, e-mail robertheller@adelphia.net or www.thewinningedge.usptapro.com




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