4 Reasons Why Your Ground Strokes Suck and What to Do About It
The 4 most common reasons why your groundstrokes suck and what to do next to get improved groundstroke consistency, control, and confidence
If you are anything like the majority of tennis players your game is groundstroke heavy. Very few people serve and volley anymore and even if you do, you have to hit at least a few groundstrokes each match as you can’t volley a return of serve.
Yet all the time when I am evaluating players, the biggest thing that I notice is that the groundstrokes are terrible! How can you rely so heavily on something that would best be described as unreliable?
Unless you are a professional player or a junior on your way to a top division 1 scholarship chances are you fall into this boat and you need better groundstrokes ASAP. The following are the 4 most common reasons that I see for terrible groundstrokes and what to do next to improve consistency, control, and get more confidence.
Reason 1: you have a major mechanical flaw-
This is the one where most people spend the majority of their time in lessons. The search for better and better technique will make some people obsessive. What I am going to tell you is that this is probably the least important of the 4 reasons. Don’t nitpick over every little aspect of your strokes. Just get rid of the worst of it. But if you do have a major flaw, you will constantly be fighting the natural flow of the body and can’t achieve any resemblance of consistency.
What to do next-
Well if you really have a major flaw then duh, fix it! How do you know if you have a major flaw? First attempt hitting to targets. If you cannot get within 10 ft. of the target consistently when being fed the ball you probably have a major flaw. Make sure to hit at playing pace so that it is realistic. So what if you can’t do it? Get a pro to identify the major areas of concern. Remember not to nitpick, but just get rid of the major problems.
Reason 2: You are a mental midget-
So you are being fed tennis balls and everything is fine. You play practice matches and all is good. But then you get into a match and everything falls apart. There might be absolutely nothing wrong with you physically, but clearly there is an issue here. Mental midgets have a hard time concentrating for a number of reasons. One might be bad emotional control, or it might be that you get distracted by the score, your opponents, or the elements too easily. Whatever the reason, if you cannot concentrate while playing then your strokes are theoretical in nature.
What to do next-
As I talked about in a previous article on sport psychology, mental skills are just like physical skills in that they can be identified, worked on, and changed for the better. First you need to identify the problem (again, a trained pro might be a good person to have watch you play a match). Then, you need to figure out a path to fixing the issue. Fast strokes mean nothing with a slow brain.
Reason number 3: You have lowsy footwork-
Very similar to the mental midgets, someone with lowsy footwork might be perfectly capable of hitting their targets when being fed the ball. Normally someone with lowsy footwork warms-up great but then can’t stay in a rally for long before breaking down. And good footwork does not necessarily mean quick or fast. Good footwork means getting yourself in good position to hit over and over again. There is a real connection between how well the lower body is set up and what the upper body is able to produce mechanically. If you are off, even by just a little bit, you can kiss your groundstrokes goodbye!
What to do next-
Most people do not know what it truly means to be in position. You need to experience a perfectly balanced position before, during, and after hitting to fully understand it and to therefore reproduce it. The test of balance for an athletic action is whether or not you can maintain your posture without teetering or falling over for 3 seconds after having hit. Try hitting a forehand at normal speeds on a fed ball, and then holding your finish and counting to 3. Did you feel balanced? Did you have to take an extra step or two to catch yourself from falling over? Or could you stand up normally? Once you know what it feels like to finish in a balanced position, you can apply that feeling to all of your shots and to more and more difficult shots.
Reason number 4: You make crappy decisions-
Even professional tennis players fall into this category and so for that reason I am going to call this the most important reason of all. Have you ever played someone who had absolutely terrible strokes but never missed? I know I have and it is frustrating to think that I have more skill than them and yet am doing less with it. The biggest asset that these players have going for them is that they do not hit harder or closer to the lines than they are capable of doing. Bad decision making is the biggest downfall to good groundstrokes. Stretched out wide and go for a winner down the line? STUPID! Pushed back behind the baseline and go for a drop-shot? MORON! Opponent hits a hard shot and you try to fight fire with fire? Prepare to get BURNED!
What to do next-
Learn how to play defense. When stretched out wide learn to hit a high floating slice or a topspin moon ball to give yourself time to get back into the middle of the court. If your opponent hits it hard use some spin to take some of that power away and hit it back safely. If you feel yourself off balance don’t try to hit it as hard and even if your opponent doesn’t make an error, they probably won’t hit a winner either which means you get another chance at it. Those players who have bad strokes but never miss? They know their limits and they stay within them. That is one of the best things for your groundstrokes. Hitting it softly doesn’t make you weak, it just makes you smart.