Over on LinkedIn, I wrote recently about tactics for improving a specific skill, something that may be moving to the top of your to-do list for 2016. Specifically, I discussed my desire to improve my backhand in tennis, and the wider lessons of this process.
Several readers asked if I could add more detail about how I will strive to improve this particular skill. Even if you aren’t a tennis enthusiast, hopefully the process could be interesting for you. I have always used a single-handed backhand, which can be used as both a drive and a slice. Often, players can use their slice backhand too often – including yours truly. The slice backhand can be an effective shot, especially on fast surfaces, but is mostly considered a defensive shot.
My coach Josh Gilmour believes that I should be driving with my backhand 80 per cent of the time and slicing 20 per cent of the time - but those figures are often the other way around. In order to change this, we will be focusing on four key areas:
I don’t always naturally return to a neutral grip between shots, so I find myself retaining my forehand grip. Because of this, when the ball is coming to my backhand side I am not always prepared and my only option is to hit a slice backhand. Like most skills, getting prepared well in advance is crucial.
2) Early Preparation:
As soon as I realise my opponent’s shot is going to my backhand, the first thing I should do is turn my feet and change my grip. The earlier I do this, the better. It will give more time to concentrate on positioning and taking the racket back.
We all tend to do more of what we are comfortable with. This includes making choices in tennis, where it is easier to focus on keeping the ball in play than going for winners. This mindset is easy to slip into because it feels safe and consistent. However, you are less likely to win points. As a big believer in taking calculated risks, I should have the courage to drive backhands and go for winners, forcing errors from my opponent.
Don’t worry about it being a cliché, practice makes perfect. The more I get onto the courts and hit backhand after backhand, the more prepared I will be for any situation in a match. This goes for all aspects of life – you can never have too much practice. Instead of making a few mistakes and resorting to slicing the ball or tentative pushing, it’s important to be patient and continue practising the drive backhand, because the improved product will be better.
What skill would you like to improve this year, and how are you going to achieve it?