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Be your own coach on the tennis court

1999,  Roger Haeske

Do you ever find you have a hard time correcting simple stroking errors in a match or even in practice? I've been playing tennis for 23 years and coaching it for 13 years and even I at times have a hard time correcting stroking errors during a match. I'll give you an example of how I recently used a technique in a match. I have been teaching this technique during lessons but I hadn't actually applied it that much during my own play.

I was experimenting hitting slice backhand service returns. This is not my strongest return but I wanted to learn how to do it better. After my first game of returning serves I noticed that my returns were all going in the net and I lost the game quickly. So I decided to logically analyze myself as if I was giving myself a lesson. This is a key point, in the past I might have just continued making the same errors and not have found an effective way to correct them. I became more objective about my situation, as if I stepped outside of myself and could watch myself play and I could easily analyze what was going wrong.

The first principle I used was to notice specifically what kind of errors I was making. Then I asked myself, what is causing the error. The cause of most errors in tennis is a very basic principle. It all has to do with where your racquet head is pointing at impact with the tennis ball.  This is an extremely simple point but 99% of all players never realize that something so simple is causing their problems. (This is referred to by the famous tennis instructor Peter Burwash as the contact point.) Since all my shots were going low and in the net the answer was to hit the ball higher or to open up my racquet face a bit more.

So I set out to do just that but my returns were still going in the net. Then I realized I had to use another principle to rectify this problem. I had to use the Opposites or Overcompensation Technique. This is an invaluable technique for rapid learning of sports that I learned from Dan Millman in his book "The Inner Athlete." This means if you are hitting low balls then you should do the opposite and hit overly high balls. I did this by aiming much higher than I wanted the balls to go, and my returns went in every time after that. What happened is that I thought I was hitting the ball higher but in actuality I may have made only a minor adjustment. My sense of feel was off and so I became mystified as to why my shots were not going in. I've found this to be true with all of my students. They learn so much more quickly when I have them overcompensate. If I tell them to do the opposite motion 99% of the time they end up doing what I intended them to be doing before I told them to use the opposites technique.

The key here is to look at the results of your strokes and not simply what you may feel you are doing. If your constantly making the same error use the law of the opposites and try to produce the opposite result of what you are currently getting. This can be used in almost any situation on the court. You'll be correcting errors quickly and easily with this technique.

The problem is that your internal calibration is set wrong. Your sense of feel is now misguiding you. So you have to recalibrate your sense of feel. The human calibration device is this Overcompensation Technique. Make sure you try this technique right away. It is invaluable. I teach this technique to all of my students but when I ask some of them if they use it in a match they usually will say no. So go ahead and use it during a match. 

Summary of the techniques:
bulletNotice that you are making errors and where they are going.
bulletRealize that most errors have to do with an improper contact point.
bulletUse the Law of Opposites: Ex) If your hitting balls long aim for the service line, if your serves are going in the net aim 3' over the net..

Use it or Lose it

In order for you to get the most use out of these techniques you have to put them into practice. Set aside the next time you play to practice these self coaching techniques. Find a problem area in your game and experiment with trying the opposite extreme. Ex: If your volleys are going in the net just try to hit them exceptionally high for a while. Once you have no problem hitting them high try to get closer to your ideal shot. Please don't be one of those people who read information that can improve their games but never gets around to actually trying it. Just a little guilt to help motivate you. If that doesn't work just imagine yourself playing better than ever because of these self coaching techniques.





Copyright 1999-2005 Roger Haeske 
Last modified: March 07, 2005
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