I just recently sat down with two parents and a young man to discuss moving into the world of tournament tennis. In that conversation I compared climbing a mountain to developing a tennis player and I am going to share the same analogy with you.
At first climbing a mountain is easy, the slope is not very great and you can cover a lot of ground quickly. The same is true in tennis, when you first begin your journey the concept is simple, play a lot of tennis. The more balls you hit, lesson you take, clinics do, and matches you play the better you become. There is a direct relationship between the time invested and rate improvement. Tennis is a repetition sport and you cannot skip past putting in the time no matter how good the instruction. Quantity is important but I should make a point to say in moderation. If a 7-year-old is playing 80 hours of tennis a week that is not good for their long-term development.
As a climber makes his way further up the mountain it becomes more and more difficult to make progress. The same is true for tennis players. Eventually there comes a point where hitting more and more tennis balls has a rate of diminishing returns. This is a big sticking point in a player’s development. At this point in time the level of instruction a player is getting is of paramount importance. In order to continue to climb and improve mental and emotional skills must be developed.
Mental skills are concepts like shot-selection, routines between points, and momentum management. Emotional skills revolve around understanding match-ups, balancing respect for an opponent, and overcoming the pecking order. Players at this level must work both incredibly hard and smart. Working hard alone is not enough to continue climbing the mountain of improvement. At this stage progress is slow and as Coach Chuck Kriese says, “The work a player does here pays off 6 months or a year from now.”
If a player makes it this far up the mountain they are better than 80% of the people in the world who play tennis and continued improvement is just as difficult as getting past an overhanging ledge right before you reach the summit of the mountain.
When someone climbs Mt.Everest they hire a guide because the guide has been to the summit and know the best path to get there. The same is true for a tennis player in the last leg of his or her development, they need a guide. Getting past that overhang is incredibly difficult and it takes good coaching, mentoring, and role-models who know the way. Certainly a player could go out and make it on their own with no guidance just as someone could summit Everest without a guide. However, having a knowledgeable mentor at this difficult to navigate pass saves a tremendous amount of time and costly mistakes.
Let me know what you think about this analogy in the comments below and if you are looking for a place to get in the repetitions early in your journey or develop mental and emotional skills to continue your progress consider my Summer Tennis Camp. If you are at the overhang send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with a world-class mentor.