Can you " lose" a tennis stroke??


Yes.


Can you get it back?


Yes…in a way.


Why did you lose this stroke in the first place? It was fine yesterday- if it was your serve maybe you went from hitting 70-80% first serves to now double faulting your serve games away or if it was your forehand maybe what was a reliable defensive and offensive shot is barely making it over the net if not being shanked into the court three over from you.


The reason is simple- either your stroke wasn’t all the good after all, you were getting by on athleticism, timing and…luck…or your conscious is overtaking your subconscious


I had this happen to me several years ago. My kick serve was a force to be reckoned with, I could hit it within a millimeter of the line and usually it was kicking above my opponents head by the time they took a swing.


Then one day it was gone. Why?


Well what I didn’t tell you was that that was really the only serve I would hit except for the occasional flat serve to change things up. I really only had a kick and American twist serve. When I tried to start introducing more slice and more flat serves I “ lost” my reliable serve. Turns out my serving technique was only good as long as I hit ONE SERVE. Now this can be extrapolated to pretty much any swing- if your forehand is only reliable when 12,000 little things go right every time, eventually it will to break down- same with anything else- once you try and introduce something new/ begin playing higher level players/ etc. your muscle memory will be tested and if you’ve added just one element too many that isn’t technically correct- there goes the whole house of cards.



So are you and I doomed? Of course not.


Muscle memory is a tricky thing. You develop it over thousands of repetitions. If all factors remain the same, your neuromuscular system keeps chugging along, until something is changed. Once you lose this connection from your brain to your muscle your brain interprets this as something gone wrong- you then begin to second guess, tighten up, over think the shot, become mechanical trying to ‘ think’ your way through the stroke, and before you know it your once reliable swing is a distant memory and what you are left with is some dystopian remnant where your conscious mind is trying to force your body to do what it was once doing automatically.


There are two great ways to get back in your groove


Take your brain out of it. Muscle memory relies on the brains connection to the skeletal system. If that connection is out of whack (your conscious mind is taking over your subconscious) then sever it completely, start over. The best way to do this is to put ear phones in and play music while you hit, don’t play a match, don’t be fed balls, just hit back and fourth with someone. Don’t worry about where the ball goes, just try and swing the racquet without any conscious feedback. Listening to music give your conscious mind something to do besides second guessing every little movement of your arm/leg. Your subconscious will eventually take over and being to smoothen out your stroke. This could take time so be patient, once you are swinging freely, take the ear buds out and hit a few more times. Repeat this as many times as needed.


Ditch your stroke – if trying to groove your shot with sensory deprivation doesn’t work then your swing may just be in need of an overhaul. Use this as a positive. This can be a great excuse to get back to basics and reorganize your shot. When completely overhauling your stroke you need to throw everything out except the core stroke. If it’s a ground stroke- flat take back and then follow through, just focus on hitting the ball in front of you, turning your shoulders through the shot, and having a fluid follow through, if it’s your serve, start at the back scratch position, then slowly add in elements in pieces – the trophy position, then the takeback, then the footwork. This will set you back at first because you wont be able to get as much power as you used to and your footwork may be awkward, but once your swing is broken down to the basics, you are free to build and build on top of that with a technically correct stroke which will not breakdown as easy.


Now don’t go changing your game everytime you have a bad match or everytime you go to shanksville. Even the pros have off days. The purpose of practice is to try and make your strokes as efficient and reliable as possible. Remember if you are focused on keeping your feet moving, hitting the ball in front of you, and turning your shoulders though the shot, you already are way ahead of the game.

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