For a couple of sessions, lately, my tennis coach Iris has had me play a game in which the court area is halved and the body is also constrained by disallowing shots from either the backhand or forehand side. This game directly addresses the second 33% of the tennis game.
In the diagram below, only the green zones are "in", hitting everywhere else is an error. In this example, if both players are right-handed, only forehands are allowed. Groundstrokes and volleys are acceptable, but both must be hit on the forehand side.
The game makes my brain sweat. The benefits, however, are enormous. Several mental skills are sharpened:
The limited court real estate and removal of half of my arsenal (in this example: no backhands) forces me to appreciate the nuances of a tennis point, for instance:
- Ball height
- Ball depth
- Ball speed variations
- Ball spin variations
- Maximizing court geometry
By recognizing the nuances mentioned above, I can develop an eye for what the opponent is doing. In his book Winning Ugly, Brad Gilbert emphasizes the importance of knowing "who is doing what to whom". Without this skill, it is virtually impossible to turn around a match.
Similar to awareness, once I understand the nuances of a point, I begin to see how every single shot should have a purpose, and also that every shot does not have to be equal in speed, depth, height, and spin as the previous shot. Every ball element can be combined with a smart use of court geometry (e.g., short balls, angles, high ball down the line) to get to the net and finish with a volley.
"Finish with a volley"... haha sounds so simple! ;-)
One additional characteristic is that, in the absence of unforced errors, limited tools and limited court surface result in each point lasting much longer than a regular one. The reason is that having your opponent "on the run" is way more difficult. So you must learn to be patient, there is no alternative.
I'm hoping that combining patience with observation, awareness, and intention will make tennis less of a nightmare.
A note on chess: King Pawn vs King Endgame
It was either on a Tim Ferriss or James Altucher podcast where I heard about the importance of learning how to checkmate or defend when there are only three pieces on a chessboard: a king and a pawn on one side, a lonely king on the other. (Wikipedia link here).
They said that this exercise teaches fundamental knowledge about the entire game of chess.
If you notice, it is exactly the same technique: by removing tools or adding constraints, we are forced to apply ourselves harder and ultimately see things more clearly.