Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Don't Sacrifice Your Tennis Game Being an Athlete

I was asked to play on my high school tennis team, but either I was so committed to soccer at the time or I wanted some time to myself because I definitely wasn't running short on extracurricular activities. Being an avid runner (soccer lends itself toward such) and probably faster than anyone on my high school track team in the two mile, I let that opportunity go to the wayside as well.

Tennis, I loved and still do, but at the time, it didn't work for me as for playing on an organized level.

So, I never really got the hardcore coaching and instruction, although I was fortunate to acquire enough real court-time instruction and advice from those I thought knew the game. Later in my adult life I would watch videos by the top pro teachers and attend clinics and group drills, but I had never had a personal lesson with a teaching pro.

One day, I finally asked the head pro at our country club, who I truly admired for his on-court instruction, to give me an hour's worth of instruction. We basically hit cross-court from both sides for about 40 minutes, simply working on ground strokes from the baseline - no approach shots, lobs, etc. - I love that intense repetition.

For the last 20 minutes he suggested we hit in singles court, as we had been, but anything goes. Five minutes into this he handed one of my shots, stopped play and said, "Quit being such an athlete. Stop hitting the ball to me. Tennis is a game of keep-away.", as if angered.

I got it. Why did it take until my mid-thirties to realize this? I'm no idiot, according to most people, but that one statement had more impact on my future tennis play than any other words uttered by anyone in the game. Wow!

I was in great physical shape and I simply loved covering the court and playing the game, literally trying to beat (down) my opponents. Why? This takes a greater toll on one's body and doesn't do much toward winning matches. Some of the younger top pros still do this before they realize that the mental side of the match and shot accuracy can lead to more match wins, better sustained physical condition and longer play at their best.

Not long after this I played in a fund raising tournament hosted by a high school and my draw was against the high school's number one player. I was probably in as good or better physical shape than he was, but for some reason I tried to play his power game in the first set instead of my game and by the time I decided to change my game in the second set, it was too late. He had the momentum and my personal excuse was, "Well it's all for charity." Yeah, right.

The words kept coming back to me, "It's a game of keep-away." I was trying to overpower him at the baseline, never coming to net, nor hitting well placed angled shallow shots or taking him out of his comfort zone. Perhaps this was part ego and ignoring a simple piece of advice offered by one who had spent time watching my play.

This is what good or great teaching tennis pros do, particularly at more advance levels, or perhaps even the lower or beginning levels of play - they find a deficiency and help you overcome it or find a positive part of your game and help you capitalize on it.

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