By Vic Braden 2/6/2001
"All I have to do is to drill, drill, drill and I will become a much better player." We've all heard this one a thousand times, but unfortunately drills can actually kill one's chances of making major changes.
Professionals who study, and publish, tennis drills understand that a drill must simulate actual playing conditions to help a player make meaningful changes in his/her game. Drills that are designed for 'fun' are simply drills that will help people have more fun. These drills are wonderful, but they have little to do with changing motor skills needed for competitive tennis. That's not a bad thing; it's simply something we must understand when designing, directing or participating in drills.
It's not difficult for a player to determine what drills would be helpful. All one has to do is to record movements and shots needed to beat particular players and then design drills that simulate those conditions. Then, when the big match comes, the best motor program to effect a winning style is quite familiar to one's brain and central nervous system. There are no surprises.
There's nothing more dramatic than watching golfers on a driving range hitting ball after ball until their drive is 250 yards and straight down the middle. At that point, the golfer normally decides that it's time to head for the first tee and display the great shots that he has mastered on the driving range. However, the first tee is normally made for filmmakers looking for funny sound and video bites for television. Why is that so? For one thing, the brain gets a little confused on the first tee when it asks, what happened to the rubber tee and the firm mat on which I was standing on the driving range? The brain then notes that the footing is not very firm on the left foot and a little higher on the right foot. So, the brain must send down a completely new electrical package to the muscles. This often results in the weirdest shots one could imagine. I have watched golfers hit cars and neighborhood windows, even though they were king of the driving range drills.
The next time you're out there drilling on the tennis court, make certain the drills concern themselves with solving the exact problems with which you have been dealing in competitive play. Also remember that ball machines, if used to simulate actual playing conditions, can be an absolute Godsend to the serious player. Ball machines used to simply to help you become "King of the ball machine drills" can actually help you become the "King of Frills".