Finding Gold in Tennis Drills and Practices, Part 1: Framing The Challenge

Recently a friend of mine did a tennis drill at a well-known tennis facility in town and shared, “I had a good drill in the morning. It was exhausting and refreshing”. I assumed that it was exhausting because it was a physically intense session, and a great workout. It was refreshing because …, maybe the early morning aerobics increased the neurotransmitters in the brain! But I wondered, what about the learning aspect of tennis…

Was there a piece of gold that you could make your own from the session?


I thought about the typical ‘Amateur’ or ‘Adult’ Tennis Athletes (ATA) practice session – hours spent trying to build the muscle memory on the same ‘old’ forehand and backhand, followed by competitive match play.

During the competitive play, old habits and patterns of play overpower the nuggets from the last drill or coaching session.

The latter getting filed away inevitably in the archives for a later date which in large probability may never materialize!


Image Source:

I thought about instances when I have shared my 2 cents of advise to my peer ATAs in practice. For example, something like, “I think shortening your swing and swinging slower on that approach is better” has evoked a response such as, “I know what to do, my execution is not there today… my forehand is just not working”. So ATAs seem to “know what to do”, have a sense of what works for them and their goals, but do repeat old mistakes and revert to deeply ingrained patterns of play and shot selection in competitive match situations.

ATAs face challenges with converting the nuggets of learning/insights assimilated from various sources into long term ‘muscle memory’ due to various reasons.

They also won’t take advise from just about anyone and rightfully so.

They are selective about who they will listen to based on various factors.


Image Source: Business Insider

Applying ‘Design Thinking’ to Frame the Challenge:

To help frame and articulate the challenge faced by ATAs based on these thoughts , I drew inspiration from my ‘design thinking’ ( skills to do a session at one of my team’s practices along with 3 of my ‘lead user’ team members, in order to understand the needs of the ATAs better. Here is the drill session’s blueprint I had put together with focus on doubles and one of the most important tactic of ‘Poaching at the Net’ with intent to finish the point with one lethal shot.Drill

There were some interesting feedback from my peer ATAs at the end of this session, such as,

“Superb method. Just a simple ritual of chatting for a few mins after 20 mins of game was so helpful… and planning out every point with your partner is also a good idea.”

“Very good session. Enjoyed it. Our constructive critiques helpful.”

I also made my own personal observations through this session and framed the challenge statement as,

The ATAs need a new pro-active and intentional approach to practice sessions to change ‘old habits’ by recreating common competitive match situations in adult USTA league and tournament matches (3.0 – 5.0 levels), and reinforcing new behaviors (mental, physical and tactical) that will lead to ‘success’ because ATAs want to maximize the ROI of time and money spent in drills and practices. 

The measure of ‘success’ varies for ATAs, but in most cases, it is characterized by qualitative measures of enjoyment/fun in the process and progress with learning and growth goals, as well as quantitative measures of win-loss ratio in competitive match play.

In addition, I also captured what I felt were some of the needed elements of a solution to solve the above problem. There is a need for,

  • Core group of ATAs with a mindset of commitment, open-mindedness, collaboration, learning and the courage and willingness to continuously disrupt their game.
  • An ATA with a Design Thinker’s mindset and skills who can lead/facilitate the session and the self introspection.
  • One or more trusted expert Coaches who can guide the group of ATAs with the appropriate drills, coaching, feedback, resolve differences in opinion and takes an active interest in the group’s improvement.
  • Definition and buy-in to a common Team Philosophy/Vision for change
  • Definition and adoption of Ground-rules for the Session (especially, when a Coach is not present)
  • Library of Proven Drills that can change mindset/behavior, build capabilities, enable ‘success’ and be fun. (Drills with match play simulation are fun.)
  • Of course, some tennis courts and the necessary tools/equipment for the job would be ‘Nice to Have’ Wink Emoji !!

Stay tuned for the next posts in this 3 part series where I discuss the solution and learnings in more detail after testing and refining the solution over a period of time.


Please leave your comments and thoughts below or reach out to me directly at to discuss more if you are interested.

This entry was posted in Drills, Practice, Tactics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Finding Gold in Tennis Drills and Practices, Part 1: Framing The Challenge

  1. Craig says:

    Very soon I will have something to help you with all of this.


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