Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Practice Makes Perfect

Photo by Wayne Clark: Players practicing and improving their dinking skills.

Photo by Wayne Clark: Players practicing and improving their dinking skills.

Coach Wayne’s Corner

Wayne Clark

As someone who is a full time/year round resident, who continues to play and compete in the sports of tennis and pickleball during the off season, I find that my game tends to get in a bit of a rut, simply because I am playing and competing with the same handful of players day in and day out.

As summer ends, our seasonal residents and vacationing visitors arrive and new players begin to mix into the competition. We often falsely believe that these new players are better than we are, because we are not winning against them like we do when we are playing in our regular group. Actually, most of the time, when we compete against someone who is referred to as “a really good player,” it is not that they are necessarily that much better than we are, but that the fundamentals of their stroke production and their understanding of strategy are more sound than ours is.

I recently saw an interview with Roger Federer, where he stated that for his entire career, his attitude has been one of, “no matter how good I feel I may be playing, if I am not constantly working on improving my skills and adapting to changes, I am losing ground against my competition.”

In all professional sports, players practice the skills and strategies of their sport to be ready for game day.

In recreational club level tennis and pickleball, rarely do I see players drill and practice to improve their game. Yes, we must keep our competitive edge sharp by competing on a regular basis, but unfortunately, if we just play games and hope to improve, we are actually just repeatedly reinforcing bad habits.

If we want to advance our level of play, we must also commit to separate, dedicated and devoted time to improve our skills, both in regards to the quality of execution of our strokes and to the understanding and execution of strategy.

The heat of competition is not the time we want to be working on improving our skills. Competition is the time we want to be executing those skills with a high?level of confidence.

In both sports of tennis and pickleball, when players are involved in competitive pressure situations, I see that the biggest reason they are losing points is a combination of being strategically out of position, and not confidently executing proper strokes. Basically speaking, they are giving up too many unforced errors!

The only way to overcome those unforced errors is through a combination of improving our shot making skills, along with our knowledge and understanding of strategies. As we gain these skills and knowledge, we need to build our confidence through practice and drills. It’s like being a musician or stage actor, we must learn our parts and rehearse to be confident, and perform without error when the curtain goes up.

I understand that we all have busy schedules and no one likes doing homework, but we cannot improve our game by just playing more games!

As with any sport, most players want to move up to a higher level of competition. I am a big believer, that if I want to become a better player, I need to be competing against players who are better than I am! With that said, we must comprehend and accept the range of our physical abilities, as well as the limitations of our competitive performance capabilities. As we become more mature in years, the parameters of these abilities and capabilities change.

Physical adeptness and coordination limit all of us to a certain level of performance. As I said, we must comprehend and accept the range of our abilities.

For most recreational level tennis players, we accept the fact that physically, we are not going to be able to master the high level of execution of strokes required to be able to compete on a 5.0 or higher level of play.

The same holds true for golf. As much as I would like to be a scratch golfer, the cold hard fact is that I will most likely never master the skills needed to reach that level of player. However, with a lot of hard work and devotion to practice, by improving my shot making skills and my understanding of strategy, I may be able to shave a couple of more strokes off of my handicap over a period of time.

As an instructor, I am seeing an unprecedented number of people wanting to learn how to play pickleball. Some of these new players are current or ex-tennis players. Some of these new players have never competed in sports of any kind. The great thing about pickleball is that it is a very user friendly, sociable, inviting game, which can be played competitively at any level and taken to any higher level of which a player may want to challenge themselves. One of the problems associated with the camaraderie of the sport is that there is a lot of well intended, but misinformed and misdirected advice out there on the courts.

Even though the sport of pickleball has been around for some fifty years, the popularity of the game has just recently taken off over the last few years. As a lifelong tennis player, when I was first introduced to the game of pickleball, some five years ago, I found it fairly easy to become what I believed was proficient in my ability to play the game. However, when I eventually had the opportunity to play with some championship level players, aka “the big boys and girls,” I soon discovered that I was nowhere near as proficient as I thought I was! The players on this level pretty much, “ate my lunch/cleaned my clock/kicked my butt.” Whatever you want to call it, it was an eye opener for me. The reason I was losing to these players was not because they were better athletes or physically more coordinated than I was, but because they had mastered the knowledge of proper stroke production and strategies of the game.

As always, being up for the challenge, this inspired me to seek out and gain the knowledge required to be able to take my game to that level of play. It took a lot of hard work, reprograming and learning the correct methods of stroke production, along with many hours of practice and drills. But by seeking out the advice of, and drilling/training with experienced instructors, I was able conquer the comprehension and execution of proper strokes and strategies, to get myself to that advanced level of play.

This season, I will be offering pickleball clinics for beginner players. These clinics are structured to teach beginners the proper and correct fundamentals of stroke production skills and strategies of the sport, so they don’t have to reprogram and correct bad habits later on.

In addition to my beginner pickleball clinic, I am offering drill clinics in both pickleball and tennis for beginner to intermediate level play. These clinics will utilize drills and practices to help fine tune the quality and efficiency of your strokes and to improve your knowledge of strategy. These clinics are scheduled at specific times on a daily basis.

Beginner Pickleball Clinic
9:30 to 11:30 AM
Pickleball Drill Clinic
9:30 to 10:30 AM
Tennis Drill Clinic
10:30 to 11:30 AM

We all have good days and bad days, either on the golf course, on the tennis court, or on the pickleball court, but if we want the good days to outnumber the bad, we must commit to a plan to improve our game.

Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis juniors program runs year round and has classes for players from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at WClark@cityofmarcoisland.com, by phone or text at 239-450-6161.

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