Saturday, June 14, 2014

CREATING RITUALS THAT HELP YOUR TENNIS




THE BEST PLAYERS IN OUR GAME HAVE CREATED RITUALS
OF EXCELLENCE THAT ENHANCE PERFORMANCE AND
ELIMINATE WEAK AREAS OF THEIR GAME 


DESCRIPTION
Everyone responds to events in different ways. Dropping a glass of water can make us angry, shocked and frustrated or could even become a catalyst for laughter. It all depends on the person and how dropping that glass of water makes them feel.  Like thousands of events throughout your day, dropping that glass of water is a CUE that creates an action. In his bestselling book “The Power of Habit” author Charles Duhigg calls the action that follows a Cue a Routine. He states that while the Cue is the same for everyone, it’s in the routine that you see the differences in people.

Watch a game of tennis and you will see all the same cues. You will observe a player who is fatigued, some matches are more important than others, poor line calls occur, a player will go down a break of serve and another will go up a break of serve. These are all cues that evoke a routine. Many of these routines are destructive and lead to negative behavior. Develop enough of these destructive routines and your game becomes a mess of negativity.

CUE → ROUTINE

The reality however is that we have choices, the player who becomes fatigued can either give up, or fight harder despite the fatigue. Important matches can either stimulate a player to rise to the occasion or to suffer from nerves and under-perform. We can choose to get over poor line calls quickly or let them frustrate us so that we lose the match. A break of serve can either inspire us, or make us feel so deflated that we lose the match without putting up a fight.

Go through in your mind all the recent matches you have played and analyze the destructive routines you have had that followed a particular cue. You may be lucky enough to have just a few to worry about but if you have several very destructive routines that follow particular cues you may need the help of rituals. Positive rituals are positioned just after the Cue so that our responses’ are ones that help us rather than hinder us. If you place these improved, more positive rituals throughout your game at the important times you are creating a shield of protection for yourself.

People often comment on the unusual habits of Rafael Nadal during matches. The obvious one is his water bottle routine in which he must place and position the bottle in the same pre-determined position after every change of ends. In a recent article it was found that he had 19 other routines that he always followed during his matches. Andy Murray has a large whiteboard covering an entire wall of his apartment in Miami that details a host of topics such as diet, fitness, and training schedules for weeks ahead. This acts as a road map for Andy’s routines throughout the days, weeks and months ahead.

It is clear that rituals are critical to your pursuit of excellence and can also help buffer you from those things during matches that conspire to hurt your performance.

DRILL
The first step in creating rituals is to analyze your game and come up with a list of things that are hurting your result at present. I recommend building two lists; the first list should involve the on-court routines that are hurting your game. These could include:

·       Being overwhelmed by the occasion
·       Playing against an opponent’s reputation
·       Response to fatigue during a match
·       Going a break up or down
·       Starting the deciding set of a match
·       Poor line-calls etc.

The second list should cover personal routines off-court. To reach your full potential you need to look at everything that could help and hurt your performance in matches. This list could include topics related to the following:

·       Sleep habits
·       Diet habits
·       Rest habits
·       Mental training habits
·       Match & Practice habits 

Your task is to choose just a few weak areas in your on-court and personal lists to start with (this can be added to in time) and to replace those weak habits with routines of excellence that will contribute to excellence in competition. Once you have established the areas to target, both replace poor habits with better ones and create good habits where there were none.


Just a few new or improved habits in your day will create a ripple effect in the way you prepare and later perform during matches.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

CHANGING DIRECTION DOWN-THE-LINE (GULP)!


RE-DIRECTING THE BALL DOWN THE LINE IS DIFFICULT
BUT CAN HAVE HUGE REWARDS 


DESCRIPTION
One of the scariest things you do in tennis is to change the direction of the ball and hit down the line off a ball coming from cross-court. You are attempting to re-direct the ball to another angle which requires considerable skill. It’s much easier going back cross-court because you are hitting through the same line.

If you can execute the down the line shot well during the rally it’s a big plus to your game because it stops your opponent getting too comfortable with your shot selection, they will now have to worry about the unexpected change of direction – something few players can do that well.

Here are the key things to focus on when going down the line (backhand and forehand).

1.       The position of your feet:
o   The best way to change direction, either down the line or cross-court, is to change your contact point. Many players try to change their swing to alter the direct of the ball but the best way is to take the ball earlier (cross-court) or later (down the line). 

    Anticipate where you want to contact the ball and set your feet in a position of balance and strength. Make sure that the late contact point is supported by footwork that will allow you to make the change of direction in a balanced position throughout the stroke, particularly the finish of the shot.

THIS PLAYER HAS ESTABLISHED A SOLID BASE AND HAS PREPARED
TO TAKE THE BALL LATE IN THE CONTACT ZONE

2.       Keep the swing the same:
o   Now that you have created the best possible base for the down the line change, keep your swing the same as if you were hitting any other backhand or forehand, it’s only the contact point that is changing.

3.       Select the correct ball to change on:
o   Always attempt to change direction when your opponent has hit a weaker shot in the rally. That weaker shot is a signal that it’s time to attack and take advantage of the situation. You will know it’s a weaker shot when several things happen (1) the ball lands short on your side of the net (2) the ball comes to you higher, and (3) the ball comes shorter and higher! 

    This is based on the DNO Theory which was published here in a previous article:
    http://thetenniswhisperer.blogspot.com/2012/04/dno-theory-shot-selection-template.html 

MANY PLAYERS USING TWO-HANDED BACKHANDS PREFER TO HIT
OPEN STANCE WHEN TAKING THE BALL LATE 

4.       Hit 90 degrees through the far baseline:
o   To continue our theme of changing down the line sensibly and safely, make sure you cross the far baseline at 90 degrees. By disciplining your shot in this way you will be focused on controlling the ball rather than resorting to a “hit and hope” mindset. The 90 degree angle has been the method of choice for the world’s best players for many years. 

    For more information on this shot selection theory here is the link to a previous article where I explain "The Directionals" and how to train them;
    http://thetenniswhisperer.blogspot.com/2012/08/adding-that-x-factor-to-your.html  


DRILL
To practice each of these 4 suggestions you will need to include a repetition segment to your practice and a pressure segment.

For the repetition you can return balls down the line from a cross-court feed (basket feeding) and mentally go through setting the feet in position, delaying the contact point slightly and hitting through the far baseline at 90 degrees. Repeat this until you start to feel like the 3 elements are beginning to complement each other and you start to feel comfortable changing direction.

The second phase is to introduce pressure so that this will all come together in a match without you choking. Play points with your practice partner and work on not only executing the 3 technical parts you dealt with during the feeding segment, but also the DNO shot selection element. 

Spend a week changing the ball out of a cross-court exchange and striking your opponent down the line and this newly created ability will make you a far more dangerous opponent.