What does it take to be a varsity tennis player? More importantly, I guess, is the question what does it take to be a successful varsity player?
I ask these questions because we're going to have a lot of new varsity players this year. We return Blake, Evan and Nate with significant varsity experience. Right now, I see 8-9 others who have a real chance at playing significant amounts of matches on the varsity this upcoming year. What will the new players need to be successful?
A plan. A plan of improvement. And the dedication to come with a seriousness about that plan every time you come to the courts.
Years ago, I developed a system of taking stock of your game. It goes as follows.
Level 1 - FORM - To be at level 1 means you hit the shot with the correct form and spin.
Level 2 - CONSISTENCY - To be a level 2 means you hit the shot consistently in the court, with the correct spin and form.
Level 3 - PLACEMENT - To be at level 3 means you can hit the spots you are aiming for, consistently, with the correct spin and form.
Level 4 - POWER - To be at level 4 means you hit the ball powerfully, often past your opponents for winners. It also means that you can place the ball where you want it, consistently, with the correct spin and form.
Okay, first thing to notice is that each level builds on the previous one. Without the previous skill, the further skill is useless. If you can place the ball where you want it, but only 1 out of 10 times, then you are still a level 1 player because you have no consistency. If you hit the serve 110 MPH, but it hits the back fence on the fly because you've got no spin on it to bring into into the service box, then you are a level 0 server. You have to have the previous skill to move forward.
Here's some examples from last year's team of people who had strokes at these different levels.
- 4 - POWER - Russell's forehand, Matt's overhead (they hit them hard, but consistently in)
- 3 - PLACEMENT - Ben and Seth's groundstrokes (they controlled points with their placement, even if they didn't kill the ball)
- 2 - CONSISTENCY - Andrew's groundstrokes (remember his long rallies, he never missed!)
- 1 - FORM - Joel's forehand, Abe's serve (good form, good potential, can't keep them in over and over and over)
So, step 1 for this year. Each of you should take stock of where your game is at. Then you need to prepare yourself, each time you go to play tennis, of what your focus should be. You should always be working on the next step, and nothing higher. If your forehand is a 1, then you need to work on consistency and NOTHING ELSE. Don't waste your time with a power shot when you can't hit the ball in! So, let's do an example. Let me use Abe, because I've seen his game a lot lately (hope you don't mind Abe!)
Forehand: Needs to establish 2, work to 3
Backhand: Needs to establish 2
Volley: Needs to establish 3, work to 4
Overhead: Needs to establish 3
First Serve: Need to establish 2, work to 3
Second Serve: Need to establish 2
So, using that analysis, Abe really needs to work on consistency. It is so tempting for him to just go out and pound the ball all the time, when he's hitting with buddies or whatever, but he needs to think consistency. "Get the ball in. Get the ball in. Get the ball in." Over and over. Once he establishes that, he can begin to work on placement. Only on his volley should he even begin to think about power.
The good news is that most of us need to work on 2-3. Most of us need consistency then placement. I say good news because to win varsity matches, you really need to just have consistency then placement.
We may not have the experience yet, but if we can have the proper focus throughout the summer and early season, we will be in good position.
Oh, and if you want a free coach's analysis of your game, leave a comment. I'll be free to send one your way!