First Stage of Learning – ‘Gaining Muscle Memory’

There are three stages that players must go through when learning a new tennis concept.  First is the muscle memory stage, second is the rally stage, third is the competition stage. This tip will focus on the first stage of learning and give you an easy way to overcome the challenges that come along with it:
When first presented with a new technique, or grip change, the first feeling a player experiences is discomfort.  During this situation, we are asking our body to perform a new and often foreign movement, which at first feels awkward and uncomfortable.  A common example of this awkward feeling is when learning a new grip (i.e. continental grip). Attempting to hold this new grip can feel odd and could lead to several missed shots, which can be frustrating. The main goal of this stage is to understand and to gain muscle memory for the new concept.  Follow the next few reminders will help you work through the challenges: 

Remind yourself that the main goal is to understand and gain muscle memory for the new technique.  These new movements are supposed to feel awkward at first, and will not lead to immediate results in improvement. In fact, if it feels awkward and difficult, you are likely doing it right.  On the other hand, if it feels comfortable you are likely staying with an old habit and not allowing it to change.   

 

The second reminder to give yourself is that missing shots is part of the process. This is not a time for worrying about your shot consistency or competing.  In fact, by trying really hard to make the shot in the court, you are likely taking focus away from the appropriate new technique or grip.  Remember, this new technique or grip needs your full attention in order to start to feel more comfortable, and eventually, automatic. This is our time to gain understanding and make sure we are sticking with the appropriate concept.

 

The last reminder for this stage is to give it time and be persistent.  This process needs a significant number of practice balls fed by the instructor in a non-rally situation.  Depending on the concept, this could take a few hours or practice days to feel comfortable and gain automaticity.  Discuss with your instructor how much time this may take, and make sure you give it the necessary practice time with the task at hand. (I usually tell my students to hold a grip or technique 15 times in a row and focus on just that.  It is impressive how this specific attention can lead to a much earlier success of the stroke.) Know and trust that if you give it enough ‘deliberate practice’, it will start feeling more comfortable until eventually it is automatic.  

 

Follow these tips and reminders for a much faster improvement and transition to the ‘live ball’ or Rally stage of learning. 

 

 

 

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