Thursday, March 3, 2011

Off season retooling

When you’re playing in a tennis league – individual or team – it’s difficult to make adjustments in your game or you might simply be reluctant to ticker with anything because you don’t want to lose matches or let down your team etc.  Whereas at the end of a season, you might be tempted to relax and rest up, especially if you’ve had an injury, and waste valuable time you need to make changes that can help you play better once the next season begins.

Fortunately I live in a neighborhood and play on a team that loves to practice regularly, weekly, between seasons.  Because of this, last summer I was able to start practicing a stroke that I’ve always wanted but had “never had time” to implement previously.  Short of owning or renting a ball machine, which may or may not simulate ‘competitive’ conditions adequately, the best way to add shots to your game is while playing ‘fun’ matches; you keep score, but it doesn’t matter (to anyone there) who wins.  One of my teammates has a ‘killer’ drop shot, which is the stroke that I wanted to learn.  So between last summer and fall ALTA seasons, I learned by watching and then trying the shot until I was able to do it with some consistency.  Once the fall men’s season began, I continued to work on the shot during practice, but had virtually no success the few times that I tried it in a match.  However, I didn’t abandon it.  I continued to work on mastering the stroke between the fall and winter ALTA seasons during mixed doubles practice, and I’m happy to report that I was able to successfully execute the shot during several matches this past season.  Plus, I think that having a drop shot will help me tremendously if I start playing singles again.

Last season I took a risk that I normally wouldn’t take, I had my racquet restrung during the season.  I used to try to get my strings to last through the season because I feared that my unforced error count would increase until the new strings settled into my frame and their inherent slickness wore off.  As it turns out, my fears were largely unfounded.  While I did go out and hit in between matches, which isn’t always easy to do during the winter season, I primarily broke in my new strings in competitive matches, most of which resulted in wins for my partner and I.  Yes, I had to make adjustments, particularly to my serve, but it worked for me.  However, your results may vary so, at the end of the season, don’t forget to assess whether your strings will last through the end of the next season or not, and don’t forget to have your racquet restrung if they won’t.

I’m not a big workout or gym junkie kind of guy, but I do believe in keeping my cardiovascular health intact during the off season if possible.  Since we can pretty much play outdoor tennis year-round here in Atlanta, for me that means continuing to play/practice my tennis game between seasons.  As a captain, I’ve often been frustrated by those that brag about having not picked up a racquet since the end of last season, especially those guys that don’t play mixed doubles in between men’s seasons.  It usually takes them a while to get themselves and their strokes in game shape, and even longer to get their heads into competitive matches.  In the meantime, valuable team points are squandered on those earliest Saturdays of the season on the tennis court.

The best time to improve your game, add a stroke, upgrade or restring your racquet etc. is during the off season.  At the end of every season, don’t just toss your tennis bag in the closet and try to forget about your losses, think about the changes you want to make and get started on them … and stay in shape!

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