Jak Beardsworth Tennis logo
Jak Beardsworth Tennis

JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy

By Jak Beardsworth

I've often heard older players, some with high NTRP ratings, discuss this not very effective notion. Although well intentioned, and certainly at least a recognition of athletic aging and its potential negative effect on level of play, yet in principle it's seeking to only preserve one's game status quo, not a workable option for the desired result of remaining competitive on your tour.

Leif Shiras, a premier Tennis Channel announcer and former top player, recently stated during a pro tour broadcast, "If you're not improving, you're getting worse." Although remarked in reference to the professional level that day, it nonetheless resonates down to clubland as well.

If you know who Roy Emerson is you've become slower, less flexible, more injury prone, visually less acute, and often plagued with slower recovery time. I know I have.

As a heads-up to even the most gifted athletic players: Athleticism has its limits. And, with regard to the less naturally athletic among us, especially beware if you're naively thinking standing pat will keep you in the long term mix.

To offset those realities you can become a better, more efficient, effective player until you finally pass into the next dimension, or are ultimately left with no physical choice but to embrace the shuffleboard courts.

That's improvement, not actively seeking that equals being at a downward spiraling standstill, i.e. maintaining.

Hall of Famer Pete Sampras said after his retirement, "Honestly, I think the best tennis I played was when I was older (when he won one last major). I was ten times the player as I got older than when I was really dominating (when he won thirteen)." Pete just finally succumbed to the exceedingly demanding rigors of the tour on both his body and his motivation.

Another stellar example of continued improvement, that can serve to encourage the possibilities of becoming better when well past your physical prime, is Jimmy Connors. In 1998 while headlining the Senior Tour, seven years after his last hurrah at the '91 U.S. Open at age 39, he said, "I think I can strike the ball better now than I could fifteen years ago (at age 31). And I think I anticipate better than I did in the past" (further development of his shot reading skills).

It follows that an older 3.0 can indeed become a 3.5. That a 3.5 can become a 4.0 without having to surrender to Father Time. And yes, even a 4.0 can become a 4.5 too - actually the least demanding learning curve of the three. It's all doable. It happens. Making even small improvements in ball striking, court defending tactics, mental toughness skills, ball tracking, agility training, and in visualization tools along with actually practicing - versus playing endless, mindless match after match after match after match sadly paired with the game undermining warm-up habits exhibited by so many - can indeed more than compensate for normal physical deterioration and get you to another level.

Believing that just maintaining your game's status quo, in the face of the physical realities of growing older, without working on your game, is not going to achieve the desired result. In fact, it's absolutely just a matter of time before your 3.5 game becomes a 3.0 game, et cetera, if that's your strategy!

I witness that all too frequently. Is that what you want? I think not.

This is not wishful thinking, fake news, or the alternative facts that now occupy much of our current discourse, but, instead, universally accepted by those in the know in all sports, both at the professional and recreational level.

As an example, baseball pitching shares mechanical components with tennis serving. Jim Kaat, a master pitching guru on the recent severe muscle tear to New York Mets injury prone fire balling ace, Noah Syndergaard, noted that his misguided obsession with an off-season of heavy weight training - aimed at maintaining his blinding 98+ mph fastball average, versus, instead, specificity throwing training to enhance arm flexibility along with accompanying endurance - was, to Kaat, a predictable disaster in the making.

"I want to set goals, not necessarily throwing harder, but just making the game [physically] easier," he said in spring training, "Just never become complacent and try to maintain anything, because once you start maintaining, you ultimately lose."

In tennis this "make the game easier" approach can become reality by making the effort to become increasingly more efficient by further developing both your above and below the neck on-court skills. Efficiency versus inefficiency. And, yes, this can be achieved without making wholesale, start over changes to your game.

Knowledge is power.

It's all about core fundamentals. It's the little things - the nuanced tweaks - that can make the big differences, particularly with long term players.

Go ahead and book an improvement session or two with your pro of choice because you will not be able to do it on your own. The tour pros get input every single day from their coaches. Why wouldn't you on occasion or periodically?

There's practice hitting with a friend. Getting on the ball machine. Drop-hitting. Going to the outdoor 3-wall racquetball courts at SW Florida State College which serve as perfect tennis backboards - old school and still productive. And, at the very minimum, practicing your serve on a regular basis – 2 to 3 times a week for 15-20 minutes only with 12 new or relatively new balls.

With the help of an experienced pro you can shore up that sketchy backhand. Actually learn how to hit an effective second serve with spin that's not a liability, learn shot making spacing – especially longitudinally, and, even learn to watch the ball better. Yes, that's a skill too.

And what better time to improve your game than in the SWFL summer months when league play is diminished, tournaments are few are far between, and many of your snowbird playing partners have flown the coup.

I've never yet encountered, in over 50 years teaching and coaching the game, an older dog who couldn't learn some new tricks and become a stronger player. Qualifier: That is only if you're motivated to aspire higher and haven't thrown in the towel on your game and yourself, regrettably resigned to a declining dynamic.

Okay, starting right now, you now have 5 months to raise your level in order to have a more successful, enjoyable 2017-18 season! Isn't funny how only the more skillful players seem to always get the lucky breaks.

Copyright© 2017 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

COMMENTS WELCOME: JB1tennis@comcast.net

Jak Beardsworth Tennis Home Page

Past Essays

  • December 2023 - The Forgotten Stop Volley
    [read more]
  • November 2023 - "You're Only as Good as Your Second Serve"
    [read more]
  • October 2023 - good misses vs bad misses
    [read more]
  • September 2023 - Why good players are good players!
    [read more]
  • August 2023 - On poaching and fake poaching: Becoming a Force at the Net in Doubles
    [read more]
  • July 2023 - The Beautiful Game is Getting Ugly
    [read more]
  • June 2023 - The Approach Dropper: Lob Killer
    [read more]
  • May 2023 - Why club players don't practice
    [read more]
  • April 2023 - DON'T FIGHT TIGHT
    [read more]
  • March 2023 - Classic finish line failure
    [read more]
  • February 2023 - Defending the lob over your net partner - The "Switch"
    [read more]

Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays


  • December 2022 - E. I. D. - Extended Impact Duration
    [read more]
  • November 2022 - Movement Enhancement to Stay Better In-Point Connected
    [read more]
  • September 2022 - Advanced Visualization 301
    [read more]
  • August 2022 - Tennis' uniqueness: warming-up the enemy
    [read more]
  • July 2022 - Extracting Double Faults Through Receiving Positions... and more
    [read more]
  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
    [read more]
  • May 2022 - How the Toss Primes the Serve Relaxation Pump
    [read more]
  • April 2022 - Ball Watching and Science
    [read more]
  • March 2022 - Caving
    [read more]
  • February 2022 - Kenny G and Emmo
    [read more]
  • January 2022 - The Knees
    [read more]


  • December 2021 - The Match is with You
    [read more]
  • November 2021 - The Backup Racket in Your Bag
    [read more]
  • October 2021 - Every Tennis Player Can and Should Have a Weapon
    [read more]
  • September 2021 - LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
    [read more]
  • August 2021 - The Challenge of Visualizing… For Some
    [read more]
  • July 2021 - Playing with both your feet and your hands
    [read more]
  • June 2021 - Finding the Range
    [read more]
  • May 2021 - The Focus
    [read more]
  • April 2021 - About Your Butt Cap
    [read more]
  • March 2021 - The Essential Forehand and Backhand
    [read more]
  • February 2021 - On Being a Doubles All-Courter
    [read more]
  • January 2021 - Same Grip Volleying Myths
    [read more]


  • December 2020 - On mechanics and style
    [read more]
  • November 2020 - THE BIG 3: The Glue That Keeps Your Best Game Together
    [read more]
  • September 2020 - Protocol and Game Tradition Revisited
    [read more]
  • August 2020 - As Good as Your 2nd Serve
    [read more]
  • July 2020 - Shot Shaping
    [read more]
  • June 2020 - Getting a Point in Jeopardy Back to Neutral
    [read more]
  • May 2020 - A Positive Mind-Set: On and Off the Court in Today's C-19 Reality
    [read more]
  • April 2020 - The Zombie Tennis Creed – Top Ten
    [read more]
  • March 2020 - A Roadmap Into "The Zone"
    [read more]
  • February 2020 - The service toss: myths and realities
    [read more]
  • January 2020 - Shot Gazing
    [read more]


  • December 2019 - The Dreaded High Bouncing Moonball Dilemma
    [read more]
  • November 2019 - Chalk Flew: Troublesome Line Calling without Hawkeye in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2019 - In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit [read more]
  • September 2019 - Old School vs New School [read more]
  • August 2019 - Getting the Ball Where You Want It [read more]
  • July 2019 - Taking Points Off…What? [read more]
  • June 2019 - Confidence Is Confidence: Take It Wherever You Can Get It [read more]
  • May 2019 - TENNIS INNOVATION IMPLODES [read more]
  • April 2019 - Defending the Court with Older Bones: A Club Player's Guide to Saying "Nice Shot" Less [read more]
  • March 2019 - Do You Have Doubles Rally Tolerance? [read more]
  • February 2019 - I Knew Jimy Van Alen: A Historical Look Back [read more]
  • January 2019 - The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste: Mental Toughness Skills [read more]


  • December 2018 - Less Bling is the Thing [read more]
  • November 2018 - Anatomy of a Doubles Serve Return…from the Inside Out [read more]
  • October 2018 - Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age [read more]
  • September 2018 - The All-Important Dynamic of Gripping [read more]
  • August 2018 - The Cinemascope Syndrome: Undermining Your Ball Watching [read more]
  • June 2018 - Serving and Returning Better with a Quiet Eye [read more]
  • May 2018 - The Man Who Breathed for Two [read more]
  • January 2018 - Rituals Anyone? [read more]


  • December 2017 - Why Serving is so Difficult in Clubland [read more]
  • October 2017 - Managing your body and mind in tennis space [read more]
  • August 2017 - Why Bother Breathing to Improve Your Game [read more]
  • May 2017 - The "Maintaining" One's Game as One Ages Fallacy [read more]
  • February 2017 - Punta Gorda Tennis Clubs: Setting the Bar [read more]
  • January 2017 - State of the Club Game: The Growing Death of Sportsmanship [read more]

Check back often for more essays.