The Stages of Learning
1) Learning and understanding the skill:
This is the stage we all want to jump past, but it is very important. Be sure you fully understand what your coach wants you to do and how best to implement it. An example would be: you are told to swing through the ball longer, and stretch your back hip and shoulder out to your target. The goal is to achieve great contact, so you can turn that contact into control over time. You do exactly what the pro says, and you hit the back fence. Instead of cursing at the pro, be aware that you achieved long contact, and the evolution is beginning.
2) Practice, making errors, and getting the body used to the skills:
The error, hitting into the fence, is telling you something. You either need to swing more slowly or get more topspin, depending on the strengths of your game. Most players will shorten their follow through, to achieve their goal of getting the ball in; but when we lose our long contact, we lose our potential for power and control in the future. You should not ever shorten your follow through, because it is what generates your control and power.
3) Beginning to make it automatic, and mastering the skill:
It takes a while to get to the point of not thinking about a new skill. Be aware that most of your thinking should occur when it is not your turn to drill, or the point is over. Most corrections in tennis require more thinking time than you have while you are in a rally, so do your thinking after it’s over. Practice being automatic and in the moment. These are the skills that will serve you well, particularly in point play.
4) And back to stage 1 on a new skill:
Once you have taken your time going through all these stages, you are now ready for the next skill your coach wants to teach you. Remember, if correct technique can overcome the goal of always wanting to get the ball in, then learning will happen faster.
I hope to see you at the ranch real soon!
– Chris Jacques