Sometimes you just need to get back to basics. No need for anything fancy or complicated just plain old hitting the ball.
This is the theory behind the training schedule for our son this summer. For the first time in four years he isn’t off to a tennis academy. Instead he is at the summer lake house with the family for one last summer before he heads away to college.
When analyzing his game and his mindset toward tennis this summer he decided he needed to be in control of his tennis himself. No coach, no academy, no fellow junior players to train with, no parent setting up a practice schedule, just him, his tennis racket and whatever he felt like brining to the table.
His first order of business was to regain some of the consistency he felt he had lost since his surgery. The knowledge of how to play tennis, set up a point, hit against different styles of tennis players never leaves you, as he puts it, it is much like riding a bike, you never really forget, you just aren’t as balanced and fluid as you used to be. In order to improve his consistency he decided to revisit his old friend the ball machine. You can’t get a better hitting partner than a ball machine. You know a ball is coming back over the net to you every time. He spent a good hour or two every day for two weeks just working with the ball machine, finding that consistent swing to put the ball where he wanted it every time. Down the line forehands, cross court forehand, cross court backhand, down the line back hand, making sure the stroke was the same every time to get that elusive consistency.
The lake house doesn’t provide a wide range of high level junior tennis players. As a matter of fact I am not sure if there are any in the area. For the past four years we have used this as the main reason to send him to a tennis academy for the summer. This year it is more important to have a summer as a family one last time before he leaves to college than to find the perfect hitting partners. It is working out okay so far. It is not the quality of the opponent you are playing as much as what you are doing with your own game when you face an opponent. He has brought an old tennis buddy with him to the lake for two weeks. It is a great balance of enjoying the lake and tennis. They water ski, wakeboard and wake skate during the day and head off to the courts in the evenings. A gentlemen down the lake heard we had a tennis player in the family and stopped by yesterday to ask if he would hit after dinner. To my son’s surprise the man was a pretty good player. As he puts it,” he keeps the ball in play and has that nasty back hand slice that dies when it hits the court”. Instead of complaining about the shot this time he decided it would be a good opportunity to learn how to do it himself.
So it appears that the local “older” players may be excited to have a “young gun” in town and my son may have found a new group of hitting partners. I see a new level of maturity in him and his game. Instead of complaining about the quality of hitting partners he has come to realize that an opportunity to hit is an opportunity to learn. It is far less about what your opponent does and more about what you do.
Perhaps it is just that his mother and coach are no longer telling him what to do, but I think I see him a little happier when he hits the court. Tennis is back to the basics and on his own terms. I think it just might be the balance that will work for him.