That new slice backhand you’ve been working on may be sizzling on the practice court yet in a match, it tends to sail out of control. Often, when you learn a new shot, you'll find it fairly easy to hit in practice, but almost impossible to use in a match.
You're not alone. This was a huge challenge for many of the top college tennis players I worked with. Tension and anxiety can cause even the top players to revert to old habits.
So it's not enough to work on a new shot only in a lesson, workout or on the practice court. You have to be able to count on the shot in matches. Great advice coach, yet how do I do that? Let’s look at step-by-step process.
Instead, have your coach or a teammate feed balls to you. Then, as you get more and more comfortable, slowly turn up the intensity. Begin playing points without keeping score and move on to playing games later. Eventually, you should try to incorporate the new stroke into practice sets and, ultimately, matches.
This learning process is the same for all players regardless of skill level. On average it took our D-1 players about three months of hard, daily practice for them to make a major stroke change and to be able to use it under pressure. As a league player, you should adjust your expectations accordingly. Remember:
Once you’re comfortable with the basics of your new shot, now you want to make practices feel as much like matches as possible. Gradually, get to the point where your practice intensity matches or exceeds match intensity. Build intensity by playing tiebreakers, point games to 21, and practice sets where you play for something — coffee, lunch or a nice bottle of wine!
As you build your confidence on the practice court, you should see a corresponding willingness and ability to hit the new shot in a match. In a match, your nervous and your muscles will begin to tighten up; the key is to take your time and breath through it. In time, you’ll be more comfortable using your new shot when things get tough.
Caution — you still have to think about technique on your new shot and it’s not automatic for you, it probably isn't match ready. Only when you feel comfortable and have a sense of confidence in your new shot will you want to start testing it out during match play.
If you get too wrapped up in winning at any cost, you won't want to risk hitting a shot you're not 100 percent sure you can make, and an attitude like that will slow your development. As much as you want to win any one match, remind yourself of your long-term goals and know that you may have to go through some tough matches and practices to become the player you want to be.