JAK'S MONTHLY ESSAY SERIES: Achieving Your Personal Best
LEARNING NEW SKILLS: First the Process, Then the Results
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.
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.
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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