I recently got an email from Stephanie saying that while she enjoyed my Episode 142 of Tennis Quick Tips, which was about how to stay tennis fit while traveling, she was wondering about another issue a lot of us may face when returning to the court after a break. Here's what Stephanie had to say:
. . . here's a topic idea for your blog. How to regain tennis mojo after a long vacation, not fitness mojo but tennis. Case in point, I just came back from a 3 week trip to Europe and am having a hard time getting back in my old groove. For example, one day I'm playing great, the next day, not so much. I think, timing, and focus can get thrown off while away that long. While it's true that running, walking keeps you in cardio shape, not hitting a ball for a long time can affect tennis in particular.
Stephanie raises a great issue – how do you quickly get back in the groove on court after you've had a long break from playing tennis? I myself frequently say, “If I'm not playing tennis two or three days a week, I can't even maintain my current level of mediocrity, let alone get any better.”
And in fact, I just did doubles drills last week where we switched around partners quite a bit. There was one lady in particular who hasn't been coming to this group all summer long. She was picking up her racket for the first time in maybe two months. She was having a lot of issues out on court because she hadn't played in so long. She kept apologizing for her bad play. I know we've all seen people like this and I kept thinking about this lady, “Hey, you haven't hit in such a long time so of course your first time back on court it's not going to go super well.”
So this could be happening to any one of us at any time. We may have to take a long break because of an injury or maybe you're lucky like Stephanie and you just got to go out to Europe for three weeks. But whatever the reason, when it's time to get back on court, there are a few things you can do that will help you mentally and physically get back into the tennis groove.
Here are my six tips for getting back into that groove as quickly as is reasonably possible:
1. Be Realistic
Being realistic is not something you can physically do. It's more a way to think, to mentally approach what is happening on court. If you've been away from the court for several weeks, several months, maybe even several years, you're not going to walk out the first time back on court and be at the level you were at previously. So be realistic about it. Don't place a lot of high expectations on yourself. Know that it will come eventually if you work on it, but right at the beginning when you're right back on court picking that tennis racket up, you are not going to be at your best level of tennis. And that's OK. Just accept that and know that, if you work at it, it will come.
2. Play with Friends
Go out and play some fun, low-pressure tennis. That will quickly get your body back into doing those actions. It'll bring back your muscle memory of how to hit your strokes. Have a good time. Get a few friends together and just play some tennis that doesn't really court for anything.
3. Go to Drills, Clinics and Lessons
Go to some drills. Go to some clinics. Take some lessons. Get yourself back in the groove by doing some things to get some real, directed practice out on court. Drills, clinics, lessons, those are all great ways to get back into hitting again without having any pressure on you to win or actually even to play out points. The nice thing to me when I go to drills, which I've been doing all summer, is that you get to hit the same shot over and over, when you're working on something. You get to try to hit that same down-the-line shot over and over if that's what you're working on. And you can miss it several times before you find the right way to hit it – and it's not a problem. So take advantage of what your club has to offer. Make an appointment with your favorite pro. And do some directed practice on your strokes.
4. Get Your Gear Ready
Go through your tennis bag, figure out what you need to have to play your best tennis. Maybe you need to restock the balls. Maybe you need to re-wrap your grip on your racket. Go through those things and make sure that when that first match comes, that you are ready with the appropriate gear.
5. Play in a Mini-Tournament
Now, I know that playing in a mini-tournament sounds like something that's not so simple to do. Those aren't just available everywhere for everyone. But it's not really that hard to put something together that perhaps if you are on a team, your teammates might be interested in. Or perhaps you have enough people that you know that would be interested in spending a day or two playing in a mini-tournament. And this is what I mean. A mini-tournament would be where you play 2 to 3 matches in the course of a day or two. You just play super sets, not complete three set matches. And super sets are where you just play one set and the winner is the first one to 11 for example. The first to win 11 games. So those are quick little tournaments that you can play in.
6. Have Fun
Just have fun. This is sort of related to the first tip about being realistic. The fact is – tennis is a game. You need to have a good time. And when you first come back after a big break, you may not be doing things as well as you'd like. You may not be winning a lot. But it's a game and you should have fun. That should be the reason why you're playing tennis in the first place. Because it's a fun sport that you really enjoy. So give yourself a break. Have a good time out there no matter what's happening. Please don't constantly be apologizing about how you're doing on court. Have a good time. It's more fun for your partner. It's more fun for the other people that you're playing with if you're having fun. And when you're not playing well and you're making it clear that you're upset about it, no one enjoys that. So always be looking to have a good time and know that you will get back into that tennis groove.
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