Do you find yourself having fantastic “breakthroughs” in practice that don’t translate into your matches? You seemingly solve a problem during drills and casual play, but when you’re keeping score, those bad habits creep in again.
I asked Burlingame, CA teaching pro Scott Perlstein: Just what does it take to make the discoveries we make in practice TRANSLATE into match play?
“As you add a new skill you must have a THREE prong understanding of the steps needed to master the skill.
1. Learning the skill.
This is the stage when the player is introduced to a new concept and will initially struggle with and even resist changing their habits. There are 3 tactics to help develop a more open mind to change:
New strokes become permanent when you learn to trust them.
a. Define specific terms for the new skill. I will often ask the student to explain to me what they are trying to do. If a player tells me he is looking for more depth from his two hand backhand, for example, simply having him repeat the word “extend” “extend” “extend” in his mind as he sets up the shot works as a mental cue to use a new way.
b. Encourage body awareness. A: an awareness of what your body is doing, and B: a comfort level. If the shot is not comfortable you will never use it. I often tell the student that they are not trying to make me, the instructor, happy. We are trying to make the student happy. So if you’re not using your new skill in a match, it’s because you’re not comfortable with it yet. Let your instructor know this! You haven’t corrected the behavior until it feels good doing it.
c. Visualization. The student must have a video in his mind of what he is trying to look like, and what the result of his shots look like.
During your work with your coach you need to be patient with yourself. Until you have a high comfort and trust level you need to have a “more please “ attitude.
2. Locking in the skill
Locking in the skill takes practice both on and off the court. I tell the students…off court I want them swinging in front of a mirror so they can get an instant video feed back of what the shot looks like. On the court in drills and practice matches you introduce the shot with some degree of stress. Trusting the shot will take time. The more it works for you the more you will want to use it. Introduce score keeping in practice to simulate the tension of match play. It’s nerves that cause tennis players to be defensive and react with trusted, proven instincts.
3. Owning the skill
Finally, ready for prime time. One of my tour coach friends, Dean Goldfine, told one of his pros not to use a certain shot during the match as it was not mastered enough to be productive. In matches you should only use shots that you have developed a trust for. Trust doesn’t mean making the shot 100% of the time, but that it works enough that you would use it when it counts.
Ultimately, it’s through repetition that we learn, but following the above tips can help to accelerate the process.”
From my recent blog article: