To Practice or Not?

The vast majority of my senior tennis playing friends would much rather play a match than spend time practicing.  Why is it that some players practice, and even like it, and others avoid it like the pandemic?

Yes, I am strange …

I am one of those people who LIKES to practice.  But then again, I was one of those weirdos who liked to run for miles (used to do 4-5 miles a day, back in my younger days).  But a good practice session has many, many benefits.

First of all, it is a much better work out than playing a match – especially a senior doubles match.  In an hour of solid practice, you will hit many more balls than in any regular match; and you will work up a better sweat.

OK, Keep Score

For those players who have to “keep score in order to concentrate,” you can do that with any number of practice drills, where you and your practice partner play against each other.

And when practicing, remember the roles people play… usually each drill has a “feeder” and the other player is the one working on the stroke.  And the feeder should also try to provide helpful feedback on what you are doing right and what needs to be corrected.

According to coaching legend, Vince Lombardi “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent – only perfect practice makes perfect!”.

No practice partner?  There are always two reliable options available: the ball machine and the wall.

How about YOU … are you a practicer or only a match player?

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14 thoughts on “To Practice or Not?

  1. I am a match player, mostly due to working and only getting to play a couple of times a week during the season. However, with so much free time because of Covid this summer, I practiced more than I have since college (often with you). I shouldn’t have been surprised how much it actually helped my game. For me, it’s a time issue, but practice certainly helps.

    Steve, and “time is what you make of it.” thanks, george

  2. The problem with your practicing is that you keep getting better! I’m getting tired of losing to you, so now I’d rather play with you.

    Spike, ANYTIME! thanks, george

  3. Although I love to play…….. there is nothing like practice to improve your game/strokes. If there is a particular stroke that seems to be letting you down lately, practice is the time to “practice” it. In a match you might only get the opportunity to hit that shot a handful of times while in practice you can hit dozens of them consecutively. “Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment-Zig Ziglar”
    The corollary to this is instruction. Too many of my friends never take a lesson! (And they wonder why they never get any better) You can’t watch yourself play…….. a good Pro with a good eye can spot technical and tactical errors that we would never see ourselves. The adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is just not true. It might take longer than a youngster (they are like sponges with no bad habits baked into their muscle memory) but changes for the better are definitely possible with perseverance.

    Tom, great advice … and how is this for a win-win: i practice with my teaching pro friends! thanks, george

  4. George,
    All we do is drills including points but not games. I feel it’s a much better work out and at this point it’s not important to me if I beat you or you beat me.

    Ken, that is the right attitude … and if you can carry that over into match play, even better! thanks, george

  5. George, I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to have early “hits” with Steve Contardi and the boys (occasionally a lady also) at Harpers Tennis Club in Cincinnati. We practice on all our shots and many times also play points. It is a great workout, much better than a doubles match, and if nothing else, it allows me to KNOW what I am doing wrong, especially if JP Allare is hitting with us. I always feel I improve after doing that for a couple weeks. The problem is putting that into actual use in a match, where I often revert back to my old ways.

    Larry, Viv Braden says “10,000 repetitions before you own a stroke”! thanks, george

  6. Practice is all those things above. And Phil Landauer, and SET camps have made me think in a better way. Oh………I still needs bunches of practice on those right things…..mentally for sure.

    Howie, i understand those are great practice sessions. thanks, george

  7. Top players start out with prodigious talent and then hone that into greatness though endless repetition.

    Malcolm Gladwell expounded on that theory in his book, “Outliers”. He posited the “10,000 hour rule”, whereby great practitioners of their craft often spend that amount of time practicing to become truly outstanding at what they do. A couple of his examples were the Beatles, who spend about that amount time practicing in clubs to perfect their harmony; and Bill Gates who sneaked into his high school computer lab to spend endless hours coding.

    I’ve watched Jimmy Parker practice on a hitting wall during a tournament, while many players would have been conserving their energy for the match. Jimmy would probably have won that match anyway, but I’ll bet he played better because of the practice.

    Many of us are too busy or too lazy to practice as much as we should. But there’s no substitute for practicing against a ball machine, a wall, or a hitting partner. And you’ll hit far more balls in practice than in a match. And you have the opportunity to work on a particular stroke you may only hit a few times in a match.

    Jerry, i listened to a Jimmy Parker interview where he said he spends five minutes on every different stroke during his practice sessions!

  8. Before moving down here in March from Wilmington, De. I had sporadic practice sessions with a friend and hitting partner-both working full time.
    These were always fun and provided a great work out.
    Now I have more time and would like to connect with some players who have the same interest in Bonita Springs and Naples.

    Bud, first place to check is in your club proshop! good luck, george

  9. It’s said that competition is the ultimate form of cooperation. There is no substitute for the feedback and fun of match competition. Having said that, I find nothing more enjoyable than focused practice, (some score keeping) with a talented friend willing to share insights and encouragement. I’ve had breakthroughs in tactics and strategies in matches but only in practice does my stroke production improve and evolve.

    Another thought provoking question George. Keep them coming!

    Brian, agree (but I have had some “uncooperative opponents”). Thanks. George

  10. I have practiced every Friday for 1.5-2 hrs for the past 2 years with an ex teaching pro and it has helped me get rid of a lot of bad mechanics in different strokes. He and other pros have told me if you don’t practice a shot you will never have confidence hitting it in a match. I also agree with Howie that practice at Phil Landauer’s camp along with one on one’s with Mark Vines is worth a fortune.

    Doug, keep doin’ it! Thanks. George

  11. Another famous coach, John Wooden stated
    “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. “If you prepare and train properly, you may be outscored but you will never lose”. “You always win when you make the full effort to do the best of which you are capable”. For me, I like to practice with a partner two days and matches with other people three days a week.
    Sometimes I hit against the wall or practice hitting serves. I believe one should vary what you do in practice sessions. Work on your weaknesses but don’t forget your strengths. Try to develop control, spins and touch shots.
    Don’t do drills only, and don’t rally endlessly without purpose. Play practice sets with a game plan in order to hone those techniques you learned in drills. Executing successful strokes under pressure helps develop one’s confidence needed to win matches. Above all
    enter tournaments to test your mental, emotional and physical functions. The motivation and ideal of tennis is that one should never stop learning. There is always something new to master or work on. The challenge of improving, even as we age, should entice us to work harder.

    Glenn, all good stuff! Thanks. George

  12. george. in my first 40 years of playing tennis, i ONLY played matches, never
    practicing. in the last 5 years, it seems all i ever do is practice (hit). my hitting
    partner (george loesch) and i get around 12 balls and do forehands, backhands,
    volleys, overheads, serves, returns, etc. all trying to control or win point. we go
    for around 1 hour and 15 minutes. it’s certainly a better workout than matches.

    Joe, imagine how great you would have been if you practiced for the first 40years! Thanks. George

  13. Great topic and very fun comments (as usual on your blog!). Three thoughts:

    – Before Covid I was practicing once a week in the summer months with Doug Welsh here in Naples. He NEVER misses and those practice sessions really helped me to be more consistent.

    – I also love the ball machine here at Wyndemere….can really focus on watching the ball and hitting one specific shot

    – and have to also endorse those SET Camps run by Phil, Myke, and Mark V….learned a lot and met some great people. Scoot

    Scoot, so you actually practiced TWO times a week with a ball machine… one with the mechanical one; and one with the Doug Welsh one! Congrats Falcons! george

  14. Why practice? Just play lots of matches, both singles and doubles and you’ll be sharp. So said John McEnroe back in the day. Sure worked okay for him, especially in doubles. But I wonder if he ever ponders if he had dedicated himself to practice (more) how much more successful he could have been.

    Do drills. Practice everything…as Jimmy Parker preached. And play matches.

    Alan, sure with Mac’s natural talent, he could “get by” without practicing! thanks, george

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