| By Miguel Cervantes III

With the playoffs of the adult USTA Leagues approaching, it seems an appropriate time to ask ourselves, how we practice to maximize success. The people who play in the leagues are folks with jobs, families and other responsibilities. If time allows, they will practice and work on their game, but how can that small amount of time be maximized?

One way to use the small amount of time you find to work on your game is to simply play tennis. By playing tennis, I mean that you go out there and just play sets as you would a regular match. The benefit of this is that it puts you in a similar situation you will be in your league matches. When you practice the way you expect to play, you’ll find you are far less nervous during a match and can perform the way you expect. The downfall of this method though is that you are not working on any one thing specifically. If there is a large deficiency in your game, that deficiency will not really be remedied and will continue to haunt you, costing you point after point. Another negative aspect of this method is that it’s fairly hard on your body, all things considered. A match is already tough enough on your body, but to add practice time that doubles the amount of stress on your muscles and joints can be rough. You’ll soon find your need for tennis full, but your Ibuprofen bottle empty.

Another way to use your borrowed time is to just hit with a friend. This method provides little stress on your body and can be extremely relaxing. You can work on your strokes in general or focus on one or a few aspects of your game. If you want to focus on your volleys and serve, you can do that. The major negative impact of this method though is that it does not prepare you to play points. You may find yourself practicing well and full of confidence, that is, until you get to your match and then feel the pressure. If you never practice under pressure, then you will take much longer to adjust to it in a real match scenario.

I have found that the best way to utilize your practice time is threefold:

►One, choose the biggest deficiency in your game and practice it with a partner. For example, if you wanted to improve your volleys because they have been terrible as of late, plant yourself at the net while your partner hit balls to you over and over.

►Two, integrate this practice with the situation you would use it. It is rarely the case in tennis that you are already in the situations you practice, and so, it’s important to practice the associated variables that come with what you practiced. For example, after you practiced your volleys you would practice hitting an approach shot and then finish with a volley. If you were practicing your serve, you could practice your serve, followed by a recovery to the middle (for singles) or an approach to the net (for doubles).

►Finally, you would do some point play paying close attention to the things you worked on. Here is where you see if you’ve really made any improvement.

With so many things in our lives vying for our time, it is important to make the best of what we allow for tennis practice. Maximize your success by practicing smarter. Improve the best and worst aspects of your game to win more points and limit your liabilities respectively. Write to me and tell me how it is you’ve gone about practicing for success in your league.