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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

Older Dogs and New Tricks: Still Improving at Any Age

By Jak Beardsworth

To all those in self-imposed denial: Starting now consider refraining from the all too often tired, trite resignations that are heard in club tennis, "I'm too old to learn anything new," or, "It's too late to change my game."

Not so. Any neuroscientist will tell you that it's important in life to persist in challenging yourself mentally, and physically as well, in order to stave off the inevitable downside of Father Time while continuing to grow your existing Self, on and off the court.

Both Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras, legends of our sport and credible tennis spokesmen, had reinforcing takes on the subject as it relates to your game.

Connors had that crazy, last hurrah run to the U.S. Open semis back in 1991 at age 39. How? Because he had actually improved his always formidable back court game, and his fitness, to the point where he could stand toe to toe with the 20-something youngsters; that is, until he ultimately ran out of gas against a supremely fit, too young Jim Courier (now U.S. Davis Cup Captain and ESPN analyst).

"I think I can strike the ball better now than I could 15 years ago. And I think I anticipate [read] better than I did in the past," Jimmy noted later on when he finally retired from the main tour and moved onto senior's events.

Pistol Pete shared similar sentiments on tennis aging. Unlike the brash Connors, he was quiet and unassuming – why, on Earth, he suffered the "boring" criticism back then remains a curiosity today. Physically blessed, many agree that he saved his best all-around performance for his final U.S. Open in 2002 when, well beyond his physical prime, he won his record breaking 14th major - he won his first major at 19 years old in 1990.

He too understood the unique cumulativeness of the tennis game with this offering in retirement, "Honestly, I think the best tennis I played was when I was older. I was ten times the player as I got older than when I was really dominating."

Beyond the courts, in a violent, physically brutal sport like pro football, the trend further reinforces the premise that, of course you can improve with age, particularly at the quarterback position. The NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers have enjoyed an early season resurgence this year with - would you believe - a Harvard graduate over center and leading the way. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 35 year old journeyman, explains his "sudden" success, "I'm better now than at any point in my career. A lot of that is mentally. Some things are ingrained over time. I truly feel like the older I've gotten, the better I've become."

My own experience, covering 6 decades in the game, might be a chronologically better-fit (for those who know who Rod Laver is) for club players to relate to. Sure, I'm now slow, inflexible, lacking in physical explosiveness, visually impaired, and on occasion, tweaked with a nagging injury compared to my peak long ago when I was a collegiate champion with tour experience. Nonetheless, I know that I'm a better tennis player and ball striker today than I was then. No doubt about it.

And what about Federer, Nadal, Djokovic on the men's side, and Serena and Venus on the women's tour? All are still achieving great success late in their careers. Are they not playing at an even higher level than ever before? I hope clubbers are listening when someone like Nadal, not so unusually, once again explains to the Press that he goes out every day "trying to improve, no?"

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a motivated and committed-to-improve, local 50+ male club player to dial-in a reliable, penetrating topspin forehand compared to his previous error prone, feast or famine, flat stroke - in only a couple of coaching sessions! - in preparation of the upcoming 2018-19 league season. Bravo!

It's the constant, day-in and day-out, aspiring-higher attitude that, through commitment and courage and perseverance, that will enable you to continue to improve both your ball striking and your match play game management skills for as long as you're playing the game…that is, if you want to.

How else can you hope to neutralize the steadily intruding adverse effects on your physicality inevitably imposed by Father Time?

And by the way, match play, match play, and more match play, which only reinforces any existing flaws in your game, is not going to get you there. You'll actually be backsliding. But, if you get some help from a qualified, experienced Pro cleaning up your game and practice a little as well, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The ball is always in your court. It's so doable. The iconic James Taylor lyric is so fittingly apropos, "If you only will."

Copyright© 2018 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

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Past Essays

  • March 2023 - Classic finish line failure
    [read more]
  • February 2023 - Defending the lob over your net partner – The "Switch"
    [read more]
  • December 2022 - E. I. D. - Extended Impact Duration
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  • 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]

Essay Archives

Click a year to view more essays


  • 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.