Not being able to find a hitting partner or get outdoors due to weather or get into your health club because of current COVID-19 restrictions is certainly no fun for anyone.
Every serious tennis player I've ever known (myself included), is somewhat obsessed, meaning, that if we can't get out and practice everyday for at least an hour or so, we feel that we might be falling behind our competition.
In the bodybuilding film, "Pumping Iron," Lou Ferrigno's father and trainer used this kind of psychology to motivate his son preparing to go up against Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the 1975 Mr. Olympia contest: "If you're training hard, he (Arnold), may be training twice as hard."
By the end of that movie, I was convinced that Arnold was actually the one fearful of new competition from "Big Louie," the 6-foot-5, 290-pound future Mr. Universe winner, and then green-colored actor in the TV series "The Incredible Hulk."
This is just one example that may help us to understand the possible inner thoughts and feelings of our many athletes and weekend warriors who are not able to compete right now. Below are a few ideas to help us recreational tennis players stay active and motivated, plus some comments on the often over-looked mind connection when learning tennis and many other sports.
Most tennis instructors would tell you tennis requires good eye-hand coordination. That sounds reasonable. But, since I like to push the envelope (and keep things interesting), I say that tennis requires good eye-hand-mind coordination.
Proof of this concept can be observed by carefully watching the slow-motion Roger Federer YouTube video that I have posted on my website, www.targettennisinternational.com/about. I highly recommend that you watch this brief, eye-opening video.
This video reveals that Roger's eyes are 100% focused on the contact event between his racket strings and the tennis ball — no one can dispute that fact. Roger obviously knows where he wants the tennis ball to go, so he must be visualizing a target (in his mind), prior to the contact event, which happens in a millisecond of time.
Since your eyes cannot focus on two things at once, this is also proof that a trust factor (which happens in your mind), is also largely involved.
This awareness (or realization) applies in other sports as well. If you're attempting to hit a golf ball or take a slap-shot at a hockey puck, you are trusting in spacial awareness, meaning, your body position in relation to the golf hole, hockey goal or the lines of the tennis court.
This trust is based upon the previous feedback from all of your prior hits (or shots). You can find more detailed proof of this concept on my website.
With any tennis doubters, I simply set up two hoop targets above the net and ask them to alternate their shots to two different positions and then explain to me how they accomplished this. I can always hear crickets following this simple exercise.
As you practice some of the at-home tennis exercises listed below, try to increase your awareness of this eye-hand-mind tennis fundamental:
- Your serve toss. When you can't get on-court to practice your serve, you can practice your serve toss indoors or outdoors with a target cone or empty tennis ball can in your serving hand. Your ideal toss should be about one foot in front of you and about one foot to your serving-arm side, and high enough so that you have to really reach for the ball to catch it in the empty can or target cone. Try to catch 25 in a row without missing.
- Wall volley. Clear the room of lamps and other breakables and practice your volley against a wall with a foam tennis ball. Turn your body sideways and make sure your head follows the height of the racket face upon contact with the ball. Try to keep a rally going for 25 or more hits in a row. Use soft hands to control the rally.
- One-handed backhand. A good way to improve your one-handed backhand is with a Frisbee. You can buy regular disc-golf discs or foam discs for indoor use. Get really good at throwing a Frisbee through a hoop target and this will really improve your one-handed backhand.
- .Two-handed backhand. If you or your child is going to be a two-handed backhand player then you/they should immediately start doing more things around the house with your non-dominant hand. If your child's forehand is right-handed, then they should start doing more things with their left hand, for example: opening doors, eating, drinking from a glass, brushing teeth, brushing hair, etc. Your non-dominant hand will be doing most of the work on your two-handed backhand shots and this will build your coordination.
- Throw a football. A good tennis serving motion is synonymous with a good throwing motion. Find a friend, family member or neighbor to practice with daily if possible. Smaller footballs for smaller hands are available. You can often find them at Goodwill for a few bucks. Start closer to warm up and then gradually move apart to the length of a tennis court — 5-10 minutes a day is all you need.
- Turn the sound off. Watching tennis matches on TV or YouTube is always beneficial. But, turn the sound off and call the match in your own mind. You will more quickly become aware of good and bad shot selections that players make, without distraction from the commentators. Make your own observations and focus on a player rather than the ball.
- A ball machine, hitting wall or backboard is really your best tennis friend. The backboard should be slightly angled/tilted to return a more hittable ball so that you can get into a rhythm and long rallies. Send me an email for free plans to build your own.