By Darren Woodford – USPTA Elite Professional and Instructor
Rather, the lack of consistency is consistently (see what I did there) one of the most frequently discussed issues amongst club tennis players. As such, in this article, we will give you tools to improve your ability to execute your strokes reliably.
When most recreational players mention consistency, they are referring to making the ball in the court. Therefore, if they make the ball in the court, then they believe that they are consistent. However, we are going to change that definition. We are going to define consistency as an individual’s ability to perform the same series of movements, also known as complex motor patterns, repeatedly.
The reason for the more specific definition is due to the fact that there are a multitude of ways to make the ball land inside the lines of a tennis court. Nevertheless, most of the methods used to place the ball inside of the court are not biomechanically optimal. Consequently, we would like to create a motor pattern that is both biomechanically efficient and can make the ball in the designated area. After all, who does not want to crush the ball and have it land in the court on a regular basis?
Another phrase for repeating the same pattern is behavior design. When it comes to practicing your tennis, it is best to think of it as designing a behavior. Every time that you take a swing, you are building a behavior or a habit. You can either build a good habit or a bad habit. Specific stroke techniques are beyond the scope of our current discourse. For individual stroke mechanics, be sure to find a qualified tennis professional for proper instruction.
Since you have had a lesson with your local, trained tennis professional, and you understand effective and efficient tennis stroke procedures. How do you build consistency, or good habits quickly?
Since I do not play a scientist on television, I will defer to BJ Fogg, PhD, to help you create consistent strokes faster. He is the founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University. You know how addicted you are to your phone and your social media? The major technology companies used his research to make their products more addictive.
According to Doctor Fogg, in his book, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything, to design successful habits you should “stop judging yourself, take your aspirations and break them into tony behaviors, and embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.” Once you have established this perspective, we can get into the construction of solid tennis strokes.
To build a habit quickly, you must accomplish three tasks. Firstly, you must create an anchor moment. Simply put, you must have a cue to trigger the behavior. For a forehand, that anchor would be the moment that the ball comes off of your opponent’s strings. Secondly, you perform a simple version of the new behavior immediately after the anchor moment. For example, after the ball comes off of your opponent’s strings, you start your forehand motion. Thirdly, you celebrate immediately after doing the new behavior. As such, after you start your forehand motion with the proper technique, you give yourself a little mental high five. That is all there is to it.
Therefore, if you want to improve your consistency on the tennis court, do not focus on making the ball in the court and beating yourself up, emotionally, when the ball lands out. Work with your coach to break down the stroke into its essential technical components and make those behaviors habitual by celebrating your successful execution.