Not too long ago, tennis would only be aired on TV about 4 times a year during the Grand Slams and maybe the occasional Davis Cup or Fed Cup match.
Luckily, that trend has changed.
You can find a ton of different top-level tennis on broadcast television.
And when you throw in internet live streaming and recorded videos, you have more tennis produced each year than most would see in a lifetime.
This is great for not just those that enjoy watching tennis or sports in general, but especially those of us that want to study the pros and introduce what we learn into our own game.
It’s part fun, part work for us.
Professionals have a lot to teach us. Not only have they refined and practiced every element of the game, but they also have an entourage of supporters, including coaches, hitting partners, fitness trainers, managers, and more; with one focus: to create consistency.
The greatest strength professionals can teach us is that of consistency.
For a professional, the commitment and dedication to consistency starts the second they wake up and lasts until they fall asleep.
The professional, along with their team, work diligently to create a pattern their player will follow day in and day out.
We’ve seen it throughout all sports. Iconic baseball stances, pregame rituals of NFL superstars, and on and on.
These patterns become rituals.
While we cannot devote the same amount of time and dedication as a professional, we can learn about their rituals and adopt them into our own lives.
There are two kinds of rituals we can learn from, those that happen on the court, and those that happen off.
On Court Rituals
- Practice like you want to play – how you practice will be how you play. If you’re sloppy during practice, you’ll have sloppy mechanics in a match. Pick a level of focus and intensity and practice that way every single time.
- Serve –this is an easy thing to adopt. You’ll see the top tennis professionals perform the exact same ritual every single time they walk up to the baseline to serve. You could line up 100 different serves and play them at the same time and you’ll see everything in perfect unison. Since the serve is the most frequently hit shot in tennis, this makes sense. Once you develop your own ritual, you’ll find yourself calm and in control every time you line up to serve.
- Return of Serve – if the serve is the most hit shot in tennis, the return of serve is right behind. And yet, while the serve gets a ton of attention during practice, the return of serve gets very little. Your ritual for the return of serve might change a little, as you may want to move around depending on the type of shot you’re facing, but some things will remain the same. A great example can be found in Roger Federer’s ritual – every time he gets ready to return a serve he twirls his racquet. While this may look like a nervous habit, it’s a great technique to hone in your timing, get comfortable, and to make sure you’re not gripping the racquet too tightly.
- Second Serve – the second serve does not get as much love as the first serve, but it really should. Having more than a few double faults in a match will dramatically reduce your chances of snagging a victory. Because the pressure is up on the second serve, having a different set of rituals may help increase your accuracy and calmness, helping not to double fault.
Off Court Rituals
- You are what you eat – you’ve heard it a million times but it’s still absolutely true. Our body is an amazing energy system – one that can falter when we’re not fueling it with the right things. This isn’t just about what we eat before a match, but also after a match and even on off days. By treating your intake as a tennis-specific ritual, you can find that it’s easier to eat right if you’ve had difficulties in the past.
- You are what you drink – it works for food, and it works for drinks. While each person is different, in general you want to stay hydrated BEFORE you feel thirsty. A good rule is that if you do get thirsty, it means you’re already dehydrated. Drinking as a habit, or a ritual, will help you stay on top of it and avoid becoming dehydrated in the first place.
- Warm-up – this is a great ritual for everyone, no matter your age or level of play. Warming up has a lot of invisible benefits, which can make it seem like it’s a waste of time, but it is not. By having an intentional warm-up ritual, you’ll reduce injuries, perform better in matches, stay focused, and feel relaxed.
- After the match – we’ve all encountered stiffness a few hours after a match or practice before. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to reduce this stiffness. Each person will want to focus on different areas, but give yourself ten minutes after a match or practice to stretch each area of your body. You may want to focus on problem areas, like hips or your back, but make sure you go from head to toe at least briefly and then focus where you’re tightest. You can also reduce soreness by having a small snack and rehydrating once you’re done stretching.
You can be more active while watching your favorite tennis professionals, instead of just taking notes.
A fun exercise is to pretend you’re one of the players on the court. On most broadcasts, you’ll have a perspective that the closest player has their back to you, while the player on the far side of the court is facing you.
Pretend you’re the player closest to you. Stand up, in a stance, and pretend to hold a racquet. As the serves and shots come to you, the closest player, try to read the ball and the play and show either a forehand or a backhand.
You may be wrong a lot at first, but with time you’ll be honing your skills to recognize the small details that make the world’s best players so quick and decisive.
The explosion of the popularity of tennis and the unprecedented amounts of broadcast on TV and the internet gives us such a unique opportunity of learning from the world’s greatest players.
By adopting not just what they do, but understanding why they’re doing it, you get to experience a professional level of tennis insight that was previously only available to very few.