There are times when students of the game of tennis doubt they will ever reach a satisfactory level of proficiency. This is particularly true for those who picked up a racket for the first time as adults.
I’ve steadfastly professed to many an ear that tennis is the hardest of the individual sports to learn. In fact I feel its the hardest of all sports to learn.
To hit a “good ball,” a tennis player is required to make solid contact with a round object moving into his side of the court at different velocities, heights, angles, spins and trajectories while running, jumping, bending, lunging, etc. And it must be done consistently, often to win just a single point. It ain’t easy! Having said that, I’ve never discouraged anyone who wanted to learn from trying.
While a ten year old can often learn to hit topspin in short order, it may take an adult a considerable amount of both time and effort just to see ball rotation let alone try to generate it. Why? Because of the conceptualization facet of the learning curve. The adult brain must have explanation, conceptualization and demonstration. The kid needs only explanation and demonstration after which he’ll do the rest by imitation.
Everyone knows that kids are “the great imitators.”
How many parents have inadvertently uttered a curse word around a very young child only to have the child absorb it and run around for the next 24 hours saying nothing but that? Mommy’s busy sewing, pricks her finger, “Damn it!” she exclaims. The kid’s sponge like brain soaks it up. Daddy’s late for work, spills coffee on his shirt, “shit!” he says. The little head slurps up the new word and blurts it out at a most inopportune moment.
Kids can learn tennis strokes just as easily as bad words. Their learning curve is steep. They’re blank little slates ready and willing to be imprinted upon. All that’s needed is a competent teacher to show them the technical aspects, demonstrate a little while they watch and then feed them balls while they mimic what they just saw.
Adults need the same instruction methods plus a lot of reinforcement, explanation, conceptualization, information processing etc. On top of all that, they have to go to work the next day. The brain circuitry is just a bit more jammed. But with PPPR, (patience, practice, persistence and relaxation), learning does occur.
Once a player develops reasonably consistent stroke production, the really hard part begins, producing those strokes in a competitive setting. Students constantly say to me, “I hit so well with you during our lessons but it all falls apart when I play. I just don’t get it.” Well I do get it. It’s not a mystery. It’s a simple change in mindset. Once involved in a set, a player feels pressure. There’s no getting around it.
Whether pressure is real or perceived, the body responds in the same way, tensely. Tension is a far greater enemy than any opponent. Tennis requires fluidity of movement. The motor skills involved require players to be relaxed to achieve optimal results. Tense muscles simply do not function smoothly. Consequently, strokes break down and shots go awry.
Tennis presents an interesting conundrum for adult students. After learning all the fundamentals, including good footwork that moves you with purpose and intensity to the ball, you finally wind up to put it all together. But there you are with your racket back and ready to pounce when suddenly you here me scream, “Relax!”
The millisecond before you unleash your stroke, you must be in a Zen place. Think, “Ohmmm,” and then let it rip! Undoubtedly, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the positive outcome.