Patience. Patience. Patience.
Wait, you say, that’s only one.
Nope. It’s three because I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to reach points of frustration and you’ll start searching desperately for answers. Nine times out of ten the answer is going to be more patience. Just keep repeating it until it is deeply embedded in your mind and behavior.
The other main reason it’s three rather than one key is because it pertains to multiple dimensions of the tennis journey.
Journey #1: Technique. Typically the first journey, especially for those relatively new to the sport, is learning technique. In other words, forehand shots, backhand shots, the serve, volley and overhead. As you may know already, each main shot has a number of let’s call them sub-shots or variations of the basic shot. And, all of these have specific techniques that have to be studied, learned and practiced in order to achieve some level of proficiency or mastery. In other words, it’s complex and it’s a process that builds over time. That’s where patience comes in. It is essential to be patient with yourself and trust the process.
Journey #2: Mental. Once you’ve gotten your technique down to some extent – it goes without saying we can always get better – you’re going to discover the need for mental toughness, especially if you like to win games and matches. Even among the pros, negative thoughts are common as are losses of concentration and acts of frustration. Playing in the moment, leaving the past behind you, and not worrying about the future or specific outcomes are vital to playing well consistently. Developing mental strength requires a whole new level of patience. And, there are a wide range of specific strategies for building the mental aspects of your game. Check out my reading list for links to Brain Power Tennis, Inner Game of Tennis, Winning Ugly and more.
Journey #3: Strategy. Perhaps the most challenging of the three journeys, tennis strategy is about out-thinking your opponent. Like a chess match, success in tennis often depends on identifying your opponent’s weaknesses and quickly capitalizing on them. This is a two-fold exercise. First, you have to develop keen observation skills to determine the style of play of your opponent. For example, is she a pusher? Does he like to stay at the baseline and rally all day long? Does she have a great serve? And so on. Based on this analysis there are specific tactics you can use to attack different styles and abilities. Second, you have to be able to execute the shots needed to capitalize on your opponent’s weaknesses. That seems obvious but, in my experience, the challenge is you can’t always execute on what is in theory needed. Therefore, you have to remind yourself to play within your own capabilities and not try to execute a shot you are not skilled at or accustomed to. So execution requires a delicate balancing act in my opinion between what you should do and what you are capable of doing. If you’ve come to the conclusion that the strategy journey is a very difficult one you are right! Now, the patience part comes in again. But it’s a very different approach to patience than in the first two journeys. Here, in my experience, it’s important to recognize that strategy patience depends on playing against lots of different kinds of styles and skills. That takes time and a willingness to lose in order to learn.
As you can see, each one of the journeys requires a certain degree and type of patience. Not only that, collectively the journeys require exponential patience! That is why, in my opinion, start with Patience, Patience, Patience as the three keys to tennis success.