If we ask what the most important skill is for any athlete, in my opinion, it’s READING!
What do I mean by reading?
Of course, a tennis player must have solid strokes, serves, volleys, and tactics.
But the ability to read the opponent and where she will be hitting the next ball, and what type of ball is coming off the racquet is crucial to greatness.
The game today is so fast and powerful if a tennis player lacks the ability to read and make quick decisions, they will not be very successful.
So how does a player get better at reading so that they can play better?
Exposure! The more a player gets reps, sees all kinds of balls being hit, sees all kinds of ball launch angles, sees various ball pace… the more information gets stored in the brain that can be quickly accessed.
The brain stores patterns, which means all the player needs to see, are similar patterns, and they can react accordingly.
Again, this only develops through large amounts of exposure to variation of strokes, serves, volleys, angles, speeds, and so on.
Tennis speed footwork is the same. The more a player experiences various balls and has to solve the footwork problem to get to the ball and properly execute a stroke, the more recognizable the pattern becomes.
The more exposure and reps performed, the brain “carves-out” an excellent pathway for the message to travel faster and faster and with less “leakage” due to poorly insulated pathways.
This is why beginners are very sporadic and inconsistent with decision making. The pathway that allows the signals to travel through the “wiring” is not very insulated yet.
Finally, a great way to speed up the learning process is to always give context to the drill and its relation to the skill. This helps the athlete understand WHY they are performing the drill the way they are.