The road to success next season starts now. Here are a few thoughts and observations from my personal experience. I hope you find them of interest and they get you fired up in readiness for next season.
The battles of the summer are over. The trophy cabinet has either made way for more trophies or maybe remains gathering dust. Maybe just the participation medal from the local 10k run five years ago, trying to look more important than it is. The fact is actual tennis hardware is difficult to come by. Every tournament ends with just the one winner.
If you have set your targets which include things other than winning tournaments and shiny trophies, then you will know the progress you are making, even when the trophy cabinet is filled with everything but trophies. Don’t get me wrong. Trophies can be important and I once bought my own – that’s a different story though!
Whatever your situation, we all start from the same place. Right now, no one has won a single point next season. We all have the same opportunity to make improvements and adjustments to our games. How we use the time is our choice.
Even if you decide to carry on as before, taking a moment to take stock can really ensure that you retain your enthusiasm for tennis, or anything else for that matter.
Review the past season. Ask a well trusted friend or two. Most importantly be honest with yourself.
Here are five questions to help set you on your way;
How did I do last season?
What do I want to do next season?
What is the gap between the two?
What do I need to do to close the gap?
And importantly, what steps am I actually prepared to do to try and close the gap?
There is in fact a useful sixth question, When should I start? We will come to that later, along with the no brainer even if you cannot be bothered with the questions. Do something!
Of course if you hardly won a match last season, then setting winning the Wimbledon singles title as your goal for next season, might just be a bit unrealistic. That is not to say that big hairy audacious goals are not welcome.
Even big hairy audacious goals, or maybe especially big hairy audacious goals need some plan as a basis to their achievement.
I like to break things down into Technical, Tactical, Physical and Mental. Thinking about your game under these headings will help you achieve some balance. The order you place them in is entirely up to you.
It’s an obvious place to start. I often think if I had started with the help of a coach then I would not have so many bad habits now. Though in my defence it was few years before I actually knowingly came into contact with an actual tennis coach. Complete beginner or knarly veteran with your own unique style? A coach, an independent skilled professional can help most people with their game. It’s a natural place to start.
There is ton of stuff online. Find someone you like to watch, or browse different coaches for different approaches until you find one that suits you.
My rule of thumb. Time on court is equalled by time exercising off court. Depending on your preferences and your intentions, this could be as simple as getting out for a walk.
My suggestion however, would be to do something that will more directly help you on court. And perhaps as we age that extra something is what will keep us on court.
I think of it thus. Tennis is an asymetric sport which puts unequal strains on the body. It probably has similarities with golf in that respect. My physio said that he could spend all day treating golfers, who do nothing to counter the challenges of their sport. Tennis will be similar, and I consider the number of retirements in seniors singles matches indicates the challenges posed to our ageing bodies.
What you do physically, will be personal to how your body is holding up, what injuries you may be carrying and what you are asking it to do. Common consensus would have it that we are all carrying injuries at our age, hard to say whether this is true or not.
Absolute bottom line, if you do nothing else, make sure you warm up properly before you play, not only are you likely to play better and enjoy the game more, you will reduce you chance of injury.
Tennis is a game that can tie you in knots. That easy forehand you missed, or the lucky net cord at set point, that went against you! These things can follow you around for the rest of the day (or longer).
Tennis is often really about problem solving. What tools do I have today and how can I use them to best effect? It varies day to day, as we all have real lives in the background and sometimes they come on court with us. And who knows what fiendish shots my opponent is about to unleash? Easy to worry yourself out of things before a ball has been struck.
Many books have been written on Sports Psychology. I was talking to a renowned national player recently and he reminded me of the classic ‘The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey’. When I got home I found it, more or less forgotten on the bookshelf. The lessons as valuable today as when I bought it some years ago. It’s a great place to start.
If you are looking for improvement next tennis season, it will only happen if you start now. That is the reality. These dark uninspiring winter days and nights hold the key to putting down the foundation to next year’s victories.
Top Tip 1
Video yourself – best reality check there is, as long as your ego can cope. If like me the actual image is not quite as you imagined, then welcome to reality. That topspin forehand I ripped down the line? Well yes it had topspin, but it was a great deal slower and more gentle than I thought I hit it. Video yourself at regular intervals for the key parts of your game you are working on.
Top Tip 2
Take charge of your training, don’t outsource it. No one else cares about your game like you do! No one else has the dreams that you have! Don’t wait for someone else to sort out your backhand. Be accountable for your game and how you play it.
Ok let’s get started. Ah! Not today. I see. It’s a common problem.
Getting started can be the hardest thing. Overcoming the inertia in anything can be a difficult thing to do. Try choosing just one thing to get you started. For example if the aim is to improve something technical, book yourself a few sessions with your local club coach, agree a time and date and you will be on your way. Once you have started you can always add other things in.
Whatever you do, write it down. Track your effort and your progress on a daily basis. You will surprised at how this will start to build into something meaningful. It’s also good to refer to when you get those days when you feel a bit blah!
Make a plan and get started. And you will be in great shape come next season. What’s more it can add real purpose to these dark gloomy autumn and winter days.
I said there was a sixth question. When should I start? The answer is now! (And at the very latest before the end of November).
Hi I’m Mike Thomas a fairly average tennis player aged 63, who still has a hankering to play singles, for at least another year or two. I hope my thoughts and observations on being an older tennis player help you, if so let me know.