| By Lisa Dodson

If you wanted to take the most comprehensive tennis lesson possible, what would it include? First, you’d have to think outside of that rectangular court and venture into areas of the game that you’re really not good at. You’ll need to set some priorities, but you’re not sure what those are. You’re pretty good at hitting most shots although those could always use some work. You’re really not good at staying balanced and hitting every ball cleanly with a fear of getting ahead. Hmmm … what should you work on, where should you start? Maybe you should just hit more balls.

Recently, I collaborated with two experts in their field, Lenny Schloss (www.howtoplaytennis.net) and Dr. Jay Granat (www.stayinthezone.com) to develop what we call “The world’s best tennis lesson.” We had some fun explaining our parts in this epic lesson, and we all know we would need each other in order to build our best player. It would be a team effort and we would have a heck of a great time doing it. What we know and agree upon is that Sight, Thought ,and Emotion Management and Feel would be the building blocks for this great time together. Let’s explain this a little.

Lenny Schloss is a leader in his field in understanding how the eyes and brain rule us on the tennis court. Lenny is a wealth of scientific proof about the eye at point of contact and head shift. Think about this: Our head shifts eight out of 10 times on a hit. Wow! If POC (Point of Contact) is the moment that the ball is on the strings–only four milliseconds per shot–then the average player has a really slim chance of a clean hit and being balanced without some serious training on the subject. It only makes sense that strengthening this part of the game comes first. It doesn’t matter what our strokes are like if we don’t see the ball.

Seeing the ball at the point of contact and focusing on that spot is fundamental to balance and … well, everything that you are attempting to accomplish on the court.

Dr. Jay Granat, psychotherapist and sports psychologist, is a renowned expert on many brain-related subjects. He has been instrumental in helping me discover what holds so many players back from overcoming common, but complex problems such as losing to players you should beat, pressure-point choking or nerves bringing you to ruin. These behaviors and many others are not ones to be solved with more ball hitting. These issues need to be acknowledged, discussed and a plan of action taken in order to change the outcome.

Emotional management and stress reduction (our psychological perspective) is also, obviously, an above the neck function. The better we can manage our thoughts and emotions, the sooner we can shed any negative patterns on and off the court. The good news and the bad news is that problems begin and (hopefully) end with us but we generally need some help to figure them out.

Feeling (the technical aspects of striking a ball and movement) is where I come in. This is all the stuff that happens below the neck. Feeling what is correct, even if it feels wrong, is central to productive and accelerated learning. Your body is smart and it learns best by feeling physical cues and actions through repetition. I’m a big believer in tools, so I’d pull out a couple of my secret weapons and eliminate excessive talking and explanations to accelerate your learning by feel.

When you feel an action your body acts instinctively.  It is then able to string together a natural pattern of movement. Many of you know this as “muscle memory.” We are going to call this “body intelligence” instead. The power of this body intelligence cannot be underestimated.

So, the answer to our question: How many pros does it take to give the ideal tennis lesson? It takes three professionals with distinctly different skill sets and focuses on some really effective physical and mental tools. One coach trains vision and brain perception skills, one trains technical skills and movement, and one examines our mental/emotional development and stress management. If we all do our jobs well, you’ll be one heck of a player!

Of course, the purpose of this information is to get you to open your eyes and consider taking a deeper look into what you need to be a better player. Realistically, the average player isn’t going to hire a staff of pros to work with them. What I’m attempting to do is to get you to look closely at your choices and to start thinking about what you can do now to become a better player and find out what options you have available to you.

Here is a list of things that would be required (but not limited to) for this epic, three-pro tennis lesson. Take a look and see if you can choose two or three things that you think might really help you make a game-changing breakthrough:

►Technical evaluation with detailed video analysis (technical/visual)

►Shadow, dead ball and live ball evaluations (technical/visual)

►Mental toughness evaluation (mental/emotional)

►Vision analysis through a three-step process: Still ball, moving ball, ball moving away (visual)

►EPOC (Eye at Point of Contact) strengthening (visual)

►Strategy evaluation (mental/emotional/technical)

►Personality profile (mental/emotional)

►Training in hypnosis, meditation and visualization (mental/emotional)

►Match planning (mental/emotional & technical)

►Training in stress management (mental/emotional)

►Error/winner analysis (mental/emotional/technical/visual)

►Confidence building techniques (mental/emotional & technical/visual)

►Focus building techniques (mental/emotional/technical/visual)

►Goal-setting (mental/emotional & technical)

►Development of between point and between game strategies (mental/emotional)

►Strategies and techniques for avoiding choking and fear (mental/emotional & technical)

I bet this list includes ideas most of us wouldn’t even think of as something that we need to work on. As players, we tend to go heavy on the technical (if I hit enough balls, I will be KING!) and light on the mental/visual training. What we are probably most unaware of is how weak our vision and ball-watching skills are as well as our ability to cope under stress. We wonder why our concentration shifts or our mood swings at the drop of a hat and why we sometimes fall into patterns of failure.

Let’s take a little quiz … for the statements below, decide whether this problem can be best remedied with a visual, technical or emotional/mental improvement. There really is no right or wrong answer, but it will be worth your time to take a look. It may teach you something about how you perceive yourself and your game and how you attempt to improve. You just might begin to understand what is holding you back and open your mind to the things that will lead to real improvement.

►I make too many unforced errors so cannot sustain a rally

►I’m tired of losing to players that I should beat

►I’m great in practice, but struggle in competition

►I get so nervous before I compete

►I’m sick of choking on pressure points

►My approach shot is all over the place

►I need to hit more topspin to keep my ball in the court

►I always do better coming from behind

►My hit doesn’t feel solid

Typically, players will try to fix these problems by hitting more balls. If I make too many unforced errors, then I need to hit more balls so that I don’t hit unforced errors. If my hit doesn’t feel solid then I need to hit more balls to make it better. If I’m choking on pressure points, I need to hit more balls so I’m confident. You get the point. 

We know that hitting more balls really isn’t the answer, but it’s comfortable and secure and makes you feel like you’re doing something good. But, there are so many other things that need to be incorporated into the lesson that you may never even think of. Your poor tennis pro is good but she/he cannot wear as many hats as you demand. So, start thinking, be open-minded about what you need and start asking some really good questions.

Lisa Dodson

Lisa Dodson is the developer and owner of Servemaster, a USPTA Elite Professional and a former WTA world-ranked player. She is currently the director of tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y. She may be reached by e-mail at Lisa@TheTotalServe.com or visit TheTotalServe.com.