Why do tennis players make errors? Is it all about tennis technique? The majority of those errors are forced errors, when our opponent puts us on defence and we are forced to miss. However, even in professional tennis, approximately 30 percent of all errors are unforced errors… Yes, some of us have technical weaknesses causing unforced errors. Those weaknesses should be fixed. Some of us are too slow with their footwork. Then fitness should be improved. However, many players, who regularly miss, are technically skilled and physically fit for the level they compete. What’s wrong then?
One of the reasons is that tennis players often select wrong and risky shots for particular situation. That is more tactical mistake and we will talk about in another lesson. Another very common mistake is that tennis players tend to overthink things, especially, technical things. That is very common problem in recreational tennis. However, even Novak Djokovic once said in one of his interviews that he is his own biggest opponent. What did he mean by that? As a tennis player myself I totally understand what he meant. He meant that sometimes unnecessary thoughts that go through our heads are distracting us from playing our best. Tennis players of different levels very often start thinking about stupid technical stuff in the most important moments of the competitive tennis match.
When I was a junior it happened a lot to me. For example, I once I played a match in Thailand, in Bangkok. The score was 3:3 and 15:30 in the deciding third set. I was about to hit a second serve. I traveled to another end of our planet, played for almost three hours in unbelievable heat and all of a sudden I started thinking about my service grip… Yes, ten years of daily practice, thousands of tennis serves hit, no problems with serve or its grip, but at the most inappropriate time I start to question my service grip. And I double faulted… And it is just one example. I have questioned pretty much everything including my ball toss, racket take back on backhand and the way I hold my racket in a ready position… I knew that I had to stop it but I didn’t know how!
One day (many years later) I was waiting for the bus in the bus stop in Scotland. As I was waiting, I was also chewing a gum. A gum ran out of its taste and I decided to throw it out (to spit it out to, be more precise). I saw a little garbage can a few meters away and tried to spit my gum in it. And I made it with the first attempt! Maybe it sounds weird, but it was my ”aha” moment! I though to myself: ”I didn’t practice in spitting chewing gums before. I had never thought about what shape of the chewing gum I need to create in my mouth before I spit it or how strong I need to spit. I just felt it.”
All of us have instincts and muscle memory. Especially, if we do something, for example, play tennis for many years and for uncountable amount of hours. Many recreational players and even some professional players have a feeling that all of the sudden something has happened to their technique and their technique is different than it used to be the day before. However, the difference is in that mental feeling not in actual technique. Film yourself hitting when you ”feel” your strokes and film yourself again when you don’t. I can guarantee that your strokes will look exactly the same. There are really small details making you feel different. And in most cases focus and footwork are responsible for that. Just make sure you see the ball touching your strings at the contact point and make as many adjustment steps as possible and you will be fine.
Tennis is a game. Games are supposed to be fun. Even in the very first tennis practice tennis player develops his unique style. It always stays with him and it cannot be copied or completely changed. Just like the way we walk. Our nature is to worry about things. The more we care about something, the more we worry. That is understandable! But we need to learn trusting ourselves more and be more positive. Spitting chewing gum helped me. I bet you have your own story where your instincts proved to be strong. Maybe think about driving a car? Most of the people don’t focus on actual driving technique. They watch the road, focus on traffic and think about the fastest way how to reach their destination. The same way of thinking should be applied to tennis during a match play. We should think about where to hit the tennis ball instead of thinking how to hit it. So let’s stop overthinking our technique and enjoy the game!
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