JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
Finding the Range
There are days when you're game is firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. Everything is clicking. Not surprisingly, not much is running through your mind. Your shots are penetrating and seemingly effortless. Your placements from the back, at the net, and when serving or returning – both directionally and marginally (above the net) – are on the money and you're hitting your spots.
But, there are other times, maybe even the very next day, when your same shots are not nearly as accurate, especially in the early stages of the match, or even before in the warm-up when you're trying to be mostly cooperative, just trading, with your opponent – pre-match sportsmanship - but you're lacking control and accidentally spraying balls all around to the consternation of your opponent..
It should be reassuring to you that there are days when what your visualizing, picturing, imagining, is exactly what you're getting, give or take. Perfectly linked up. Yet on other days what you're expecting is not what you're getting. Your off.
No worries. Staying with it and remaining positive always rules in turning your game around.
You know that your shots are still there, right there on your inner player shot making, if you will, "hard drive." You're simply finding the range. Just taking a little longer than usual to get your game dialed-in.
Overcompensation is sometimes necessary to get back on track. For example, visualizing more to the right than usual when you're serve placement is inexplicably too far left. Or purposely visualizing "too high" over the net, more than what's typical for you, because you're netting too many balls from the back of the court.
In that vein, I recently suggested to a frustrated player, who knew about firearms, "to adjust his gunsight," which did the trick for his directional and marginal woes. Good analogy for him.
Keep in mind that you'll want to also create safer margins to the lines, and the net. Or, as Tennis Channel announcer Paul Annacone (former coach of both Pete Sampras and Roger Federer) says, "Give yourself bigger targets," versus threading needles.
It's just "trial and correction." Never did like "trial and error." Bad connotation.
Patience! Matches are typically not determined in the very early going (2 out of 3 sets). You have plenty of time to right yourself, even after a rough first set.
Keep the faith. If you fall victim to frustration or anger you could start subliminally expecting to miss. It becomes self-fulfilling. You get what you expect, which could snowball into a hell scape of unwelcome, unforced errors, and a no fun outing.
A key question you can always ask yourself post-match is: "Was I patient with myself today?" Another is: "Did I give my best physical effort today?" One more is: "Did I set realistic shot goals for myself?"
When playing doubles and struggling, I always reassure my partner, and myself, with, "I'm getting it. I'm getting closer," or something else positive to that effect. Eventually I'll find my groove with the right attitude and overcome, win or lose, any previous misfiring. Always getting better as the match progresses.
By the way, supporting partners respond to partners not playing well not with open frustration – denigrating comments, eye rolling, disapproving body language – but with unconditional support with comments like, "No problem, keep going for it," as they should.
In 62 years on-court I have yet to meet anyone who misses purposely.
So, next time you or your partner is struggling, you're actually not. Relax, you're just finding the range.
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