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JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best

LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results

September 2021

Do I ever get frustrated with my own game – 63 years and counting on-court – when, on occasion, I’m embarrassingly misfiring while warming-up or sparring with lesson clients? Not often, and then only for a fleeting moment. That’s because I’m always committed to being solution oriented versus any non-effective, soft ego generated emotional venting. Being unconditionally dedicated to righting your ship, instead of throwing your tennis tea overboard in unproductive anger, is a necessity in performing well for an entire match that of course has its ups and downs, and in integrating new skills into your game .

Developing and maintaining a solid game is a process, not simply wins and losses, or only whether a shot is in or out – after all there is such a thing as a "good miss." There are no instantaneous fixes in tennis, especially when replacing old, stubborn, inefficient muscle memories with new, maybe more sophisticated, efficient ones. There are many bricks in the wall that must first be understood, then experienced tactilely, developed, layered, mortared, and finally synced-up to both learn and ultimately own a new or improved shot.

However, I do indeed experience considerable frustration as a teacher/coach when any individual I’m working with experiences an impressive ball striking breakthrough moment – let’s say an improved technique such as being able to execute an actual bending spin second serve – but then poo poos that very first new skill success because it wasn’t, simultaneously, right on target. Then, responding negatively to my positive congrats with, always the same: "But it didn’t go in."

Really? Ugh. This when I try to not look at my watch to see when the session is going to be over.

So maybe you’ve been hitting those flat only serves exclusively for years. Claim you want to improve. But then, embrace totally unrealistic improvement expectations that totally undermine the possibilities. Not unusual. Revealing.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Becket

Immediate gratification on the tennis court? I think not. Let’s revisit – brought to your attention in a previous game improvement essay - fitness guru George Leonard’s time tested take on the subject: “The greatest gains are made on the plane.” You may have experienced this in your own game development, when you’ve seemingly plateaued, then, suddenly (perception) you experience a definite breakthrough improvement.

It’s cumulative.  

And how about factoring in Dr. Anders Ericson’s well- traveled “10,000 Hours of Practice Rule,” one claiming that 10,000 repetitions are necessary to truly possess a new skill (by the way that theory has lately, incorrectly, been media credited to renown author, Malcolm Gladwell, as the originator).

How dedicated are you to practice? In any event, relax, 10,000 reps is a stretch.

“Process first. Not results. Then buy in,” that’s according to Tennis Channel commentator par excellence, Paul Annacone, former coach of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in their prime years. Annacone’s succinct message refers to trial and correction - not fretting about the failures along the way - and then committing to that approach to realize your goal(s).

Renee Stubbs, arguably one of the very best women’s doubles players all-time, now a Tennis Channel commentator, has a related take: “Commit to the shot. Trust it. Let it go.”

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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
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  • June 2022 - Consider Serve and Volley
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  • 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
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  • 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.