There comes a time in every sport where we hit the wall.
We run out of gas.
We run out of passion.
Come to think of it, hitting the wall in sports sounds a lot like hitting the wall in life.
Either way, sports or life, experiencing a down-stroke in your game is a reality. For tennis players who rely so much on their mental awareness of their own skills as well as those of their opponents, the lows are particularly intense. Your serve is off, your feet won’t move as fast as they need to, you can’t return a shot to save your life…
The key, then, is to methodically work your way out of that valley.
Here’s 3 steps you can take before your next match to breathe some life back into your game.
Without a healthy set of lungs, solid core strength and a positive attitude, your tennis game is over before it begins. For example, if the serve is the most important shot in tennis, then the body behind the serve needs to be taken care of. The ball will only go as far as your shoulders, elbows and wrists will take it.
Tennis is an complete overall workout. Running back and forth, hitting the ball and delivering powerful serves is easier with a strong core, an athletic base that will let you change directions quickly. Any sport that requires independent upper and lower body movement (such as tennis, hockey, soccer and basketball) is easier if the muscles connecting the arms to the legs (the hips, back and abs) are strong and explosive.
In fact, the effort you put in in the gym will actually make your serve easier rather than harder.
What if you don’t have the time to hit the gym regularly? Well, either join a bootcamp class or use visualization to improve your performance on the court.
Visualization is a common training habit for professional athletes that works just the same for amateur ones. The next time you’re driving to a match, turn the music (or the kid) off and visualize your upcoming performance. Focus on the road as well, please.
Footwork. Specific movements that get you from point A to point B.
Forehand shot. Your favourite shot - how will you use it to your advantage today?
Backhand shot. Focus on the moment the ball hits the racquet and the position of your trunk and your arms.
With proper footwork and your forehand and backhand firing bullets in your mind, you’re more prepared to repeat your mental performance on the actual court. Visualization eliminates a great deal of the surprises you’re about to face. Sports are unpredictable (that’s why we love them), but the more you can predict in your mind, the more you’ll be prepared for in reality.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran of 1000 championship matches or you’re just having fun playing tennis once per week, your routine matters. Keeping a constant routine lets you discover problems and their fixes quickly.
For instance, try eating the same meal before every match. Do you notice that you don’t have enough energy or your stomach hurts? Maybe you need to switch it up.
Do your ankles hurt after every match? Change your shoes.
Keeping a routine consistent highlights issues with that routine. Once you find elements of your routine that do work, however, keep them. Maintaining a routine that works for you is the last key before elements of your actual game begin to improve on their own.
Here’s 4 steps in your routine to watch closely:
Clothing. Anyone who believes clothing doesn’t make a difference in your game hasn’t played enough. Right?
Gear. Like clothing, the gear you arm yourself with makes a big difference. Shoes, racquet, headbands, balls and racquets are an extension of the player. Remember this: you can’t out-perform your gear (no matter what sport you’re playing).
Pre-game meal. Chicken and pasta with vegetables 3 hours before a strenuous match? Energy. Steak and potatoes? Nap.
Rest. I know, this one is impossible to keep consistent. Right? Maybe. Although, if you can get you and your family on a consistent sleep pattern that allows you to rest properly 2 - 3 nights before playing, the extra energy will be worth that monumental task.
The minimal requirement of tennis is just showing up. However, are you satisfied with only meeting the minimal requirements? Or do you want to start winning more? The secret benefit of upping your tennis game is the natural effect it has on your overall game.*
*The game of life.
Featured image by Flickr user Keith Allison. Image cropped to fit.
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