Showing posts with label practice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label practice. Show all posts

Practicing for the long run

[BETA post, wanted to get the content out, happy to rework and/or go into detail later if there's interest.]

As we get older, we tend to get wiser, but unfortunately also slower, less endurant, and might not be able to practice as much. So besides from staying in shape and working to overcome the downward trends, what else can we do to maintain our level of play, and maybe even evolve as a player? How to keep the game as enjoyable, or make it even more so?

To get there. I'd assume the 2 most important factors are optimizing energy input vs. output, and creating a solid base level of performance that you can count on even with little practice. Here are 5 top of mind pointers that might help you with both:

Technique: Is there any stroke you can simplify? The more complicated, the more energy is needed, and the more prone to inconsistencies, errors, and injuries. Back in 2003, I invested a winter season to change my forehand grip from close to Berasategui-style to a more neutral one like Roger's. Very glad I did. Now in 2016, I'm working on removing a step and a good chunk of back-bend from my serve and cleaning up the swing path. If you like to hit standing sideways, you might also consider practicing open-stance strokes to save a couple of steps per shot.

Timing is crucial to ensure that most of the energy you build up goes into the ball. Also, over time you might be less able to step into the ball, so practicing both stepping in and waiting for the ball might be helpful. You can practice this by repetition and also paying close attention to where along the swing bath the ball really takes off. Also, a bunch of throwing and catching should not be underestimated - alternating hands, balls, height, speed etc, and focussing on a really clean catches.

Game style: Over the decades, drop shots, slices, volleys etc will become more important than heavy topspin hitting from the baseline. Even if you have a defensive game style now, you might not enjoy being pushed around in the later stages of your tennis life. So it might be a good idea to practice how to dictate play and effectively neutralizing when you're under pressure.

Positioning: Related to a more offensive game style, you might want to move closer to the baseline so you need to move less, can dictate play, and take time away from your opponent. This is where simple technique and good timing will come in very handy as well. For example, practice playing points while standing inside the baseline and not stepping back over it.

Anticipation, the art and science of knowing where your opponent is going to hit the next ball, can save you many steps and a good deal of time. You can derive cues by figuring out patterns of play, or paying attention to stance, point of impact, or where they look etc. Boris for example used to indicate by tongue where he would serve :P You can also practice this by watching tennis, in-person or on the screen, and predicting where the next ball is going to go.

Remember, people tend to practice the most what they're already good at, so if we want to evolve, we need to work on the other things that make sense for our games and feel a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. You can find some thoughts on effective practice here.

Some fun practice points

If you could use a quick break, here's a collection of fun practice points:

Effective tennis practice

I'm sure that by now, a bunch of studies have been conducted on how frequent and how long to practice, when to take breaks etc. But for a quick start and/or inspiration, I thought I'd share my approach to practice, which you can use to start or tweak your current practice with.

First, the rough schedule. I could play all the time, but decided to stay a bit hungry for tennis, and also give my body a day or two to recover. In a perfect week, I'd probably have 3 practices, 1.5h each. When there's a match, I'd like 2 x 1.5h practices, plus 1 light hit before the match, for rhythm and feel. For most of us, 1 session per week would probably be the minimum, and 4x the max.

For those who could play every day and have enough time and energy to do so, it might be worth considering to mix in some other sport. That'll not only develop new skills, but might even take the tennis to the next level. And maybe prevent injuries from too much repetitive movement.

Once you've set your practice days, the question is how long to practice. From my personal experience, I'd say you need at least 1h 15mins (although getting on court is probably better than not playing at all). If your goal is to maximize effectiveness, I'd say the less time you have, the more purposeful and intense your practice.

If you can only get 1h, I suggest adding some off-court time before and/or after, for example to warm up and cool down. Before, you can always go for a jog or do some rope skipping. After, you could sneak in some strength training since your energy is already flowing. If there's access to a backboard, you can use that for warmup, or for practicing certain shots after your court time (e.g. overheads). Maybe you can even move the volley-volley practice with your partner off court...

At some point, too much time per session might also hurt your practices. Having some sort of limit can be a good forcing function to use that time wisely (and stay hungry for more). I usually wouldn't go for more than 2h per session. An exception may be going for a full practice match, or wanting to complete a set.

Quick note on balls: If you want to swing freely and try stuff, bring a bunch of decent balls so that you can keep hitting as opposed to picking up balls. I'd say 6 is the absolute minimum, 150 the max. This winter, I've been practicing with 80 balls or so, and really enjoyed that. Remember to always get them out of your way though to prevent injury!

Once on court, my routine would be 5 mins for mini-tennis, 10 mins for baseline (including cross court), 5 mins at the net, 5 mins for serves and returns. That's already 25 mins! I would suggest to add some dynamic to this part too, for example moving each other from side to side or front to back while keeping the ball in play. You can then use the service warm-up to get your pulse back to normal, in order to jump straight into a drill after.

Spend 5-10 mins on your first drill, and then change something to keep things interesting. Either tweak the drill, build on the drill, or do something different. I know some folks like to hit forehands and backhands for hours, but I like to mix things up a bit.

Couple of interesting insights for me:

* If you practice practicing, that's what you'll become better at :) Meaning, that being able to hit the same forehand 20 times in a row might actually not help you that much in matchplay... So it again depends on what your goal is, and for example where in the season you are.

* Assuming you want to evolve as a player, you need to practice at the edge of your abilities. So once you got the basic strokes covered, try some shot variations that usually don't get a lot of attention,  and/or build a challenge for yourself that you're slightly struggling with at first.

* Almost everyone under-practices the 2 most important shots, serve and return. I've tried to better remember this when back on court and do something about it, e.g. start to mix in overhead feeds early in practice (=> maybe ~50 additional "serves" and "returns" per session), and kick off more drills and points with serve and return.

In any case, create targets and/or goals for your drills. Tennis comes down to placing the ball, so that's probably what we should practice! Unless you want to focus exclusively on technique, aim for something on the other side of the net. That could be a cone, a ball pyramid, a bag, a shoe, your partner's feet, or part of the court. You can count together towards a common goal, or play points against each other - whatever brings out the better in your pairing.

As a coach, I tend to analyze each shot I hit, so re-prioritizing targets over the mechanics of a shot that I have dialed for over 3+ decades has become very helpful...

During the drill part of practice, take 2-5 minute breaks every 15 to 20 minutes. That'll help you catch your breath, refuel, and relax. But also make sure you don't cool off and risk an injury, a cold etc.

Depending on the respective drill's intensity, you can choose to take mini-breaks similar to downtime between points in a match, so 20-30 seconds.

After about 1h of warm-up and drills, practice might be at risk of becoming a bit dull. At that point, it's probably time for some points or matchplay - or some alternative fun stuff.

With all that structure and purpose, it's probably worth noting that most of us enjoy tennis because it's a game to *play*. So make time for fun too: try trick shots, bring fun gear, change some rules, play music - whatever lightens things up. Just make sure your partner is down with that too :)

Now how about some tennis, anyone? Enjoy!

Put it away now!

Playing a lot of balls back and forth in practice gives you confidence, feel, and muscle memory, all important when it counts in a big match. However, there are not a lot of players who practice winning shots together. And I think you should - you'll need them to finish off your well-earned points in matchplay!

If you consider practicing winners with your partner, just make sure to give them a heads-up, and return the favor if they are interested. Also play with at least 6 balls so that you're spending more time practicing than picking up balls :)

Here are a few examples of giving your partner a few good hits, and then practicing put-aways when the right moment comes:

Backhand volley put-away:

Forehand volley put-away:

Forehand volley drop shot put-away:

Kneeling overhead put-away - take advantage of mishits, too!