Psychology of Tennis Transformation

Change Is Always Challenging

Whenever athletes make changes in their methods, especially when the old method is habit, it becomes a mental battle more than a physical battle. All athletes at every level, regardless of their abilities must go through the same process of change—they have to eliminate old habits and replace them with something new and improved. This requires having to think about the mechanics again as they did in the initial phases of development.

Improving your technique to improve your game in the long-term is well worth the discomfort and frustration of transformation.  However, finding the right time to make changes in your technique or method is key.

For example, learning to hit an open stance topspin forehand if you have been hitting a conventional closed stance flat forehand the week before your next league match or just prior to the start of the season is the wrong time. Transformation takes time, and the best time to allow for such alterations is during your off-season, when you can practice without the anxiety and burdensome thoughts of needing to win.

Here other some tips for keeping your mental game in check when you’re in the process of making technique and/or method changes.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Martial arts great Bruce Lee famously said, I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. You will not have the level of success you seek without putting in the time. You have to be patient for changes to take hold because you have to extinguish the old patterns and replace them with new ones—mentally and physically.

Give Change A Chance

Be aware that your confidence and trust can go down in the short term while you’re making the changes. It will sometimes appear as though you’re getting worse instead of better.

My high school tennis coach used to tell me that this phase of changing -of transforming your game- is like feeling stuck in the valley, but that when you climb out of the valley onto a mountain top, you’re always emerging as a better player.

Uncertainty is part of the process of letting go your old habits and allowing in the new habits. As one of my student’s said to me recently, I am stuck in between the old and the new stroke, and I know that I just don’t trust the new one enough to use it all the time. The changes you make in your technique will often feel good in practice, but will be hard to trust in the heat of competition.

The new motor pattern has to dominate over the old motor pattern for you to have full trust. This process can take weeks or even months, depending upon how much time you can devote to practice, your level of motivation, and how big the change is you are making.

Resistance Is Futile

It is vital to know and understand that changes will be necessary in order to move up in skill levels and player ratings. If you’re a counter-punching baseliner who only comes to the net to shake hands after the match is over, your volleys will not  improve through osmosis so you will most likely remain at the same level of play. As you play against players of higher ratings and with better skills, you will quickly realize that your old game is simply not going to be enough to compete with these players. The necessary changes will be evident, but you have to be prepared also for the consequences; short term lack of confidence and trust, not to mention missing some shots badly.

It can often feel overwhelming when you start working on changes with your tennis coach. Depending upon your coach’s philosophy and methodology, he or she may point out a myriad of things deficient in your technique or playing style. Don’t take it personally, you simple didn’t have the correct information to properly make the transformation by yourself—which is the initial reason you sought out a coach. Bad habits are hard to correct, but given time and committed practice, and focusing on just one change at a time, you will begin to see your tennis game transforming right before your eyes and when that happens, it is immensely satisfying. Let’s get to work!


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