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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

In the Spirit of Don't Drink and Drive… Don't Think and Hit

I'm never particularly surprised when any player, who takes their tennis seriously, becomes frustrated with the tricky demands of being a consistently solid, mostly unforced error free shot maker, especially when they're faced with correcting a reoccurring, undermining flaw in their mechanics on a particular shot.

Playing TennisRecently, a good club player – one who has improved dramatically over the past few years – experienced great annoyance during one of our coaching sessions in their repeated unsuccessful efforts to prepare their racket on the backhand wing earlier. Instead of prepping in one singular motion, there's an old habit of bringing it initially only half to three-quarters of the required way back. Then, at the very last available moment – the trigger moment - pulling it back a second time to the desired fully loaded position, resulting in a late, sudden stab at the ball, and an inability to strike the ball comfortably, and unhurriedly in front.

Not uncommon. The ball is now playing them.

This frustration then morphed into a bit of annoyed displacement, "Now you've got me thinking about it," as I continued to dutifully make this player aware of, and to monitor, this simple mechanical flaw in an otherwise really nice one-handed backhand technique. Their level then dropped a bit further, mired in overthinking vs feeling, analytically directed instead of being kinesthetically connected – as in sensory awareness - to what one's body parts are doing.

In my first book, More Than Just the Strokes, I shared a now long ago on-court moment from a lesson client, the late Paul Mader (Lake Placid, NY), who, with a wonderful cat that ate the canary sense of humor, once said, while Cheshire smiling with regard to frustration over his inability to track the ball consistently in mishit after mishit, "How can I watch the ball when there are so many other things I can be thinking about?"

Different issue. Same problem.

Although he was an older player coming back to tennis after a long absence, he had developed a decent 3.5 game, and enjoyed playing with his peers. But that day he was falling victim to himself by thinking while hitting.

That's not how it works.

Graphic with the words Visual, Auditory and KinestheticHere's how it should work: Once a point is about to begin, or is already ongoing, there are only two game components one should be focused on, or can focus on effectively – 1) tracking the ball really, really well, 2) visualizing very clearly what you intend to do with it.

That's it! Lose the conscious, paint by the numbers, overloaded multi-tasking. Not doable.

Either the shot making muscle memory is there because you've put in the practice time to hone your ball striking skills, or it isn't, and you haven't – instead playing match after match after match along with those accompanying, mostly terrible club level warm-ups – then somehow expecting better results.

Overtly thinking about your racket prep timing as my player was, or some other mechanical task in the midst of the action, puts you squarely in the left hemisphere of your brain, rendering you mostly unable to walk and chew gum at the crucial racket on ball moments.

You become the proverbial deer in the headlights, disconnected from the far more functional sensory awareness of your biomechanics – feeling your game - and you become conflicted, literally, yes literally,unable to watch the ball!

Serena WilliamsIn between points - not during - is the time to coach yourself up. That's when to think about, analyze, what's going on in your game. Although I am not a big fan of Maria Sharapova, aka The Screamer, she is second to none as a solution oriented fighter. I do love her routine of starting each point situated a few feet behind the baseline, with her back to the net, huddling up with herself, contemplating either staying the course if cruising, or tweaking what could be strategy, tactics, a shot making or defending the court issue, or whatever needs to be addressed. She then purposefully, methodically steps up to serve or return and start the point with an unencumbered, non-thinking clarity, living in her right mind/hemisphere, focused on the ball and committing to, and trusting, her shots. She's "unconscious" as we used to commonly say back in the day when someone was playing at their peak, or above their perceived normal level.

Practicing this duality of both an in-point mind set, and an out-of-point mind set, and utilizing a kinesthetic awareness of your shot making versus left brain overthinking during play, will go a long way in keeping you focused on the task at hand with far better outcomes.  


Copyright© 2019 by Jak Beardsworth Tennis. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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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
    [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]

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.