Thoughts about getting the most from your tennis this year by committing to realistic goals and practices.
The clock strikes twelve and welcomes in the new year. There is celebration as well as optimism for the year ahead. Intentions never brighter than on this first day of the new year in these first seconds, minutes and hours. The reality is that many of these intentions will falter, when faced with the reality of daily life. Even the simple intention to play more tennis might not make it into the second week of the new year, if the weather or court availability is against us.
There can be weariness to yet again make resolutions, that I know I may struggle to keep. Been there and done that on many occasions.
This year feels different. Firstly my intentions for the new year have been set well before Big Ben strikes midnight. Recently my resolutions have been tennis related and for 2023 they will simply build on what happened in 2022. This past year I was lucky enough to achieve my two main goals I set for the year; play at Wimbledon and break into the O60s top 50 in GB.
However they have not happened by magic, they do not stand alone. I would be the first to admit there was some good fortune involved. The basis of my new year resolution last year was the regular commitment to practice and off court training. It is important for me to think this, as if it could all have been achieved without the practice, then there would be much less pleasure in their achievement.
The singular big audacious goal, such as to win Wimbledon, might motivate you each day if it is a realistic possibility. The question for most players will be, if I set a goal to win Wimbledon will it motivate me each and every day to get out and practice? We each have to answer that in our own way.
As a younger man I set goals that I did not achieve, like to run 10 miles in under 60 minutes. Failing to achieve the goal, can leave a feeling of disappointment. You either achieve it or you do not. Succeed or fail. That is a quite brutal way to treat yourself. Maybe it sufficed when I was younger. Yes it was probably enough. In my 60s I want to be a little kinder to myself.
And now? Well winning Wimbledon is of course totally unrealistic. I would however like to improve on what I achieved last year.
If you take the running goal above to run 10 miles in under an hour. It’s a straight and easily visible succeed or fail goal. How fast you run over the 10 miles tells you how near to achieving your goal you are. Even for running though, there will need to be incremental targets, like how often to train and what distances to run at what speed and how often. The results can be closely monitored and come race day you will know more or less what to expect.
Tennis offers a different challenge. There are less objective measures that can be applied. My training diary might record “I hit my forehand well today”. It doesn’t say anything truly objective. And if I lose first round, the analysis is much more subjective, as the achievement is part determined by my opponent. It’s really easy to beat yourself up.
All is not lost. Just because we cannot be as objective as when we run, doesn’t mean we should not set ourselves goals. These are less about absolutes or objective measures and more about subjective or what I think the coaches would call process goals. The win / loss ratio may be important. It is not the only thing.
Process goals in my experience can be messy, hard to define and can be like trying to hold a cloud in your hand. My brain demands that they are ordered in some way, herded into an understandable format. I want to make some sense of them collectively and understand how they relate to each other. This interrelationship between the process goals and the win loss column feels important. I suppose what I am trying to achieve is a rounded picture of how performance is progressing.
I like to hold a main goal or maybe two in mind. All other goals for the year feed the main goals or goals. I then think of the main goal and what I think I need to do to achieve it. Collectively I think of my goal and what I need to do to achieve it as a goal pyramid. The ultimate goal at the top and the subsidiary or process goals leading up into the main goal or goals.
Let’s use the goal pyramid as an example. Main goal at the top, which might be to win my local tournament, a specific and objective goal. This is only partly in my control as it will also depend on who enters. How many times have I seen a good new player move to the area or enters and that is an unknown in advance.
For myself the first two things I always think of are to stay healthy and then practice regularly. I then break these goals down further to agree with myself what for me are achievable and enjoyable process goals to work towards. The beauty of thinking about my goals in a pyramid is it creates a picture of many small actions at the base leading to the main goal at the top.
Even if my two main goals from last year 2022 had not been achieved I could have pointed to improvement in other supportive actions within the pyramid. Examples, being regular practice drills and to do better in tie breaks. A mix of objective and subjective or process goals.
In summary, progress might happen by magic! While waiting for the magic to happen, I prefer to work at things to make them hopefully more likely. The final thing to say is that I find it helpful to have a mix of goals some totally within my control, as in how often I practice. As well as some goals that are part determined by external factors, such as winning more tie breaks.
If you find things are not working out, or indeed working out better than expected, then remain flexible, review, reset and go again.
And finally, write it all down, keep a daily record, as memory alone is an unreliable partner over time.
Oh! and make sure you enjoy the whole damn thing however you approach it.
Here’s to an exciting 2023 tennis year!