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Mike Owens, USPTA is the Tennis Operations Manager at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, California.

The Mental Side of the Game.

We have all heard of the importance of having the ability to focus our emotions and deal with our fears as we play.  However; let me ask: When was the last time you practiced your focusing skills? Enough said, here we go.

One of the most damaging emotions to your competitive tennis play is that of "surrender", more commonly called tanking. It surfaces at times where it seems easier to give up rather than deal with the challenge in front of you. You trick yourself into not caring. Not caring actually reduces some of the pain and nervousness of playing. You don't perform well, because you don't perform at all -- you've given up!" Another form of tanking is "excuse making". You tell yourself your poor performance was due to the weather conditions, your coach or others. Since you convince yourself  your loss was not really your fault, emotionally you don't care as much and you don't feel as bad about your performance.  

The second most damaging emotion to performance is anger. Your temper flares and your muscles become focused on the perceived threat. Anger can actually "fire you up", arouse and stimulate you to compete. But anger is a negative emotion and sports psychologists have proven that peak performance is generated by positive emotions.

Here are a few tips to practice in learning to deal with the many emotions created during a competitive tennis match:

Establish Rituals. You probably already have rituals, but are unaware they exist. The important aspect here is to know what they are and to consciously perform them when you are feeling threatened. If you every have the opportunity to watch someone choke a match away, pay attention to their rituals. I'll bet they are probably being very inconsistent between points. If you watch Pete Sampras while he is on a roll, his rituals are virtually the same between each and every point. For example: if you usually bounce the ball three times before you serve, be sure to do it every time. Just watch a player choking, just watch! They will be all over the map.

Stay In The Here And Now. Remember the point at hand is more important than the point just ended. Often times players will focus on the previous point and not be ready for the point at hand. Players might also start thinking ahead to winning the game, set or match. The challenge here is not to remove your thoughts from the task at hand. Stay in the here and now and you will definitely be taking care of business. Most often when a player begins to tank or give up, he has left the here and now and is dealing with the emotions of loosing the match.

Love The Battle. As I think back on some of my more competitive matches, I remember actually smiling during certain instances where the heat was on.  You feel the need to either fight back or go home early. To enjoy the competition and love the battle is one of the steps needed to enter the "zone" where everything just clicks.

Think As A Winner. If you feel confident, you will show it. Your walk, body language, and presence will give your opponents the feeling that you know what you are doing and know what you want. Be positive! Prior to serving, look toward the service box (and opponent) with confidence. Let them know you are going to win! Visualize.

The mental side of tennis is what makes the difference in more matches than we would ever like to admit. Specific steps can be learned to improve your ability to perform well in challenging situations. Start with the four listed above and you will be on your way.

Good luck and have fun.  

Itís a lifting game, right?

Years ago I was discussing with a junior player about the concept of the conventional ďlow to highĒ swing.  The idea that we should swing up to hit a ball with an arc the travels over the net and into the opponentís court was confusing to him.  You see, he thought better players hit the ball lower over the net.  I had my work cut out for me on this one.

I explained that better players hit the ball OVER then net.  What I meant by this is that many players believe they should be aiming just over the net.  There are a number of reasons why this is not a good strategy.  Letís look at playing singles for example.  If you aim low, the possibility exists that your ball will end up in the net.  Wouldnít you want to give your opponent a chance to miss it!  In fact, they may even play a ball going out as long as they were given a chance to do so.  Secondly; if you aim low, your ball will probably land short in your opponentís court, giving them the green light to dictate play.  And thatís no fun because youíre going to run!

The net used in tennis tricks us into thinking we should aim low.  Let me explain.  If the net were not transparent, wouldnít you feel like you needed to swing up more to create the necessary arc?  Here is a little test I ask my students to try.  Stand on the baseline and look over the net.  What do you see?  Unless you are quite tall, you probably see the back fence and maybe a little of the area behind the baseline.  You probably donít see any of the court!  That, however; is the direction the ball must travel once itís been struck From the baseline, every time you see one of your shots land in your opponents court, you are looking through the net.  Think about it.

Now letís look at serving.  Stand at the baseline and look at your target.  You are looking through the net!  Thatís my point.  You must drive the ball up to create an arc, so the ball may then come down into the service box.  Although you may swear you are hitting the ball down, to be successful, you need to drive it up.  The only exception here that I am aware of is very tall players who can hit the ball very fast.  Imagine Shaquille OíNeil shooting free throws.  If there was just more arc, the ball might hit the target more often.

Tennis is a lifting game.  Lift the ball on your groundstrokes and serve and have more fun.

Enjoy your tennis.  Any questions please let me know.

My focus in this article is how to hit better volleys.  

The ability to volley adds a great deal to any playerís game.  It allows them to attack with confidence and pressure their opponent(s) at the same time.  A considerable advantage exists to the player(s) who can attack and pressure their opponents.  Letís first review the position on the volley.

There are three positions everyone should be aware of.  The defensive volley position, DVP, is on or around the service line.  The ideal volley position, IVP, is near the center of the service boxes, and the offensive volley position, OVP, is close to the net.  Understanding the difference between these three positions can immediately make you stronger player, as you will make better decisions based on your current volley position.  For example: Many players will attempt to do too much with their first volley while they are in the DVP, thus forcing errors and making life easier for their opponents.  Conversely, if a player is lucky enough to be in the OVP, they had better angle the ball away for a winner because they are totally susceptible to the lob if they donít.

Once a player has worked their way into the IVP, either through a good approach shot or a solid transition volley from the DVP, they are now ready to win the point.  What is required here is the ability to move to the oncoming ball and close in towards the OVP.  Most players donít move much from the IVP or in fact, play many of their volleys from the DVP!  There is also a group of players that are big time lob bait due to their insistence of standing too close to the net.

The technique necessary for consistent volleys is where contact is in front of your body, with very little backswing and an open racquet face.  Volleying is generally easier for those that have learned to use the Continental grip compared to the many that use forehand grips.  The advantage of this grip is that in generally opens the racquet face allowing you to hit through the ball better and not down too much.  Please see your local USPTA teaching professional for tips on whether you are ready for the Continental grip.  Then is simply a matter of elbows in, racquet head up, and through the ball.

 An excellent practice tip is to lock in your Continental grip and practice hitting first forehand then backhand volleys against a wall.  It is impossible to do without an open racquet face.  Remember that a volley is hit before it bounces so you will be attempting to keep the ball going in the air.  A challenging, yet practical way to learn how the racquet head needs to be positioned on the volley.

Good luck, play more tennis, and have a little fun along the way.


Why Don't I Win More Often?

Let's face it; players enjoy tennis more when they win. Often times individuals will say that it doesn't matter whether they win or lose, however; I'd be willing to bet they would feel better having won a match and not played well, as compared to losing a match. If you lose a match and played well, does that mean your opponent is better, or could it be your strategy was wrong?>

A concept not discussed often enough within the tennis community is the idea of execution and strategy. Obviously execution is how you hit the ball, your strokes, your serve; it's how you look! Strategy is a much broader area where we delve into how you play. As many of you know who have lost to players who looked bad, it's not how you hit, it's how you play that counts. Better players win more often, right?

It is important to review the difference between execution and strategy. For example; Player A hits a great crosscourt backhand to Player B in a singles match. B is now in trouble and must push the ball back and buy recovery time. A, recognizing they have punished B, moves in to take the anticipated floater out of the air. The point is set up perfectly by A but the high volley goes straight in to the net. A is now totally upset, as the court was so open. A says to him/herself "that's the last time I'm going to try that stupid play".

What we need to learn from the lesson above is that "A" did the right thing strategically, but had an execution problem along the way. The strategy was sound. It would be a mistake to change the strategy unless the player didn't own the skills to execute the stroke or shot. Many times players will abandon a sound strategy or style of play due to poor execution. Don't let an error or two force you into a situation where you give away the best strategy.

There is a big difference between learning how to hit and knowing how to play. While it is true that the better players start to look more and more the same, the biggest difference really is how they play. Learning the difference between execution and strategy is the first step. Executing a sound strategy will help you win more matches.



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