You still remember it.
The way the ball struck your racket, the sound it made and the blistering power of the best serve you’ve ever taken in your life.
So why does that serve still haunt your dreams?
Because you’ve never duplicated the feat.
Every sport is defined by the same basic tenants - preparation, execution and consistency. If you’re perfect at all three then you’ll get the best out of yourself each time you step on the court.
But being consistent isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of moving parts, such as your stance, the toss, the trajectory of your racket and your eventual follow through.
Specifically, when it comes to the toss:
Do: hold the ball in the tips of your fingers
Don’t: grip the ball on the way up like it’s a baseball
Do: use your entire arm to lift the ball steadily into the air
Don’t: whip your elbow and wrist, making the height of the toss unpredictable
I like to think of the human body as a consistent grade seven science experiment. The more variables under control, the more we can learn about how our bodies react. For instance, the real reason your serves are inconsistent could be because your muscles are firing at different levels every time you play.
Why does this happen?
The meal you eat the day before a match can have a drastic impact on your strength, both positively and negatively. In a sport like tennis that’s so dependant on minuscule measurements, the slightest variation in your body’s power, energy and speed can throw everything out of whack.
If consistency were an email, power would be the attachment (with preparation being the body copy - sorry, I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately).
Power isn’t as important as it sounds if it’s not being used properly, but controlling your power and directing it properly is basically the point of the entire sport. This is where your mental state comes into play. If you’re feeling stressed or frustrated, then you might try to take that anger out during your serve and you’ll end up tossing the ball too high or blowing the serve way out of bounds.
Power should be improved away from the court, in the gym or on a rainy trail in North Vancouver. This way you can focus on your technique and beating your opponent as your power rides side-car.
I didn’t learn what this word actually meant until I became a coach. Execute! Execute! my coaches would say when I was a young’n, and I had no idea what they meant.
Consistent execution is the how, whereas power and preparation is the why.
Execution is the physical, tangible part of sports that gets overlooked by coaches who think yelling louder is the real key to success. If you can execute a skill, then you know that skill.
If you can execute that skill every single time you try, then you’ve found true consistency.
Consistency ain’t easy, otherwise sports would be boring. Plenty of factors dictate your performance on the court and trying to control all of them at once is a tall order if tennis isn’t your full time job.
Actually, it’s still a tall order even if tennis is your full time job. Every famous tennis player is proficient at tennis skills, but it’s the consistent players who win championships over and over again. Because they’re consistent.
Man, this theme writes itself.
So, the real key to consistent serves?
Consistently looking for consistency.