Mix It Up
Variety is the spice of life. The standard practice session for most players is to warm up from the service line, hit a little from the baseline, do a few volleys and serves and then perhaps play some practice points. Even though this is still great training, you are simply replicating a match situation with a slightly longer warm up. It’s helpful to break down your sessions and add a little more direction. Try mixing in some of the tips from below to narrow up your focus and produce a clearer picture of what you are trying to improve. Changing it up also keeps it fresh and more exciting to attend practice.
Have a watch of the following video: Federer mic'd up at a practice session in Dubai:
Most people skip tennis if they haven't got a partner because they don't know how to train alone or how to practice at home. Luckily there's a number of ways you can get in some extra tennis. You can use shadow swings at home to get in extra reps, rally on a wall, and use a TopspinPro or some other kind of tennis training equipment. You can also never get too much serve practice! Even try some drop feeds for yourself to work on technique. Practicing alone allows you to 100% focus on you and your game so it's worthwhile scheduling in some alone time every now and then. Don't use not having a partner as an excuse to skip. If you really don't feel like playing alone then do something that will compliment your tennis such as flexibility or strength training.
Know What You Are Working On
This may seem really obvious but if you don't know what you want to work on you can't tailor your practice session around it. If you don't have anything in mind then pick something simple that can help your game such as footwork or an isolated skill like return of serve or approach shots.
Mirror Game Technique
This is one of the most common practice mistakes. It's so important to replicate in practice how you will be hitting the ball in a game. Here's an example: I often see players practicing their serve toss either with no racket or with no body movement (back swing). They perhaps perfect their toss placement by just pushing the ball up with their hand and standing perfectly still but as soon as they add in a racket, a shift in weight and a backswing, it all goes wrong! It’s very important to mirror the technique you will use in a game scenario. So practice the toss with the same backswing you will use in the game so it's realistic. Even if you break a swing down into progressions ensure each one contains the correct elements for the rest of your body as well as just your arms.
Hit From Relevant Positions
There’s no point doing all your practice from the middle of the baseline unless you intend to play there a lot. However, many players spend all their time rallying down the center. Warm up from there and then replicate some of the positions you will hit from in a real game. Keep it varied and hit in all directions.
Practice Realistic Scenarios
You should ideally have a repertoire of scenarios to choose from in your play book. It could be something simple like hitting side to side or placing the ball to your partner's weakness. Either way a handful of choices is great to be able to cycle through in a match. Add these to your practice so that they become second nature. Then you can be confident with having some choices to use in a game rather than simply hitting random shots.
If you struggle to know what to practice have a look on YouTube for some tennis drills. Here's 5 tennis drills from toptennistraining.com:
Improve Your Consistency
Consistency wins at every level so don’t underestimate this area of practice. Set some time aside for scheduled rally sessions. If you can hit a solid 10 shots in a row regularly in practice then it means you should be able to hit at least half that under pressure in a game.
Vary Your Practice Partner
You might have a favorite practice partner that you love hitting with but sometimes it's good to mix it up. It's good to expose yourself to all types of player and we've already talked about the benefits of practicing alone. Make it simple like switching up to rallying against a wall or using a ball machine. Treat yourself to a private or group lesson which can be a great way to meet new tennis friends.
Change Your Schedule
Most of us have a routine of playing at similar days and times. Try varying that if your schedule allows. Playing at a time you are not used to adds another dimension to your practice. It can also provide totally different environmental conditions, such as it being dark outside when it’s usually light or being colder than you are used to. This makes you more adaptable as a player which is important as a player.
Hit Realistic Shots
This applies to both the outgoing ball (your shot) and the incoming ball (their shot). If you like to whack the ball as hard as possible in practice but then tighten up in a game and start pushing it round then it’s not a realistic practice. You probably want to sit somewhere in between in terms of pace so that you can easily replicate in a game under pressure. This also applies to receiving a consistent incoming ball. Drop feeds and basket hand feeds are great practice for breaking down a skill but not ideal for practicing a match situation. If you are being fed balls, have them feed from the position your opponent would hit the ball to you from. That way the flightpath of the ball will be the same as a game. If you are hitting with a partner make sure they are being consistent with hitting a match type ball to you.
Try some of these tips to shake up your practice. The internet is a source of endless knowledge so if you need some ideas head to google or YouTube to find some fun drills to test out. Also trying out a different club or program can give you renewed inspiration and introduce you to other players you can practice with.
We love to hear your feedback. Let us know in the comments below if any of these tips helped.
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