“Aim Small, Miss Small…”
“…Aim big, miss big.” It’s from Clint Eastwood’s latest film, American Sniper, referring to the main character aiming at a button on his target’s jacket, rather than aiming for the entire body.
In tennis, when people warm up, they are just happy to get some balls in and loosen up their joints and muscles. When a practice match begins or you engage in a heated practice session, the stakes should rise. You want to get better, then demand more from your matches and your practice by aiming small.
When you practice, you can do many things to create the mentality “aim small.” Divide up the tennis court, either literally or in your mind. First split the court into halves, then into quarters. This creates urgency and purpose to your shots. I’m not hitting anything to his forehand side is one strategy. A more profound strategy is, I’m not hitting anything to his forehand or in front of the service line on his backhand side. To take it even further, you can place throw-down lines between the service line and the baseline and demand that you hit past that line on the backhand side.
Forcing yourself to improve your placement by limiting your space on the court makes it feel like you have acres to work with when you return to a full-sized court in a regular match. Your placement will improve, as will your ability to carry out any strategy.
If you are on a ball machine and have cones set up, don’t just aim for the cone. Aim for the left side, top corner of the cone, then if you hit the bottom right, it still means that your placement once in a match will be amazing and will very likely create havoc for your opponent.
If any of this sounds crazy, try it. What have you got to lose, except your temper? Just be prepared to be unhappy with anything less than perfection ahead of time. You might never hit the cone, but you will create a vastly more accurate shot.
Once in a match, you should be happy with getting the ball within a foot of the line and should not demand the same exacting placement or your errors might mount because of the advent of pressure that does not exist in practice sessions. But, when you practice, demand more exacting aim and you will see that the space you have in a match feels like an entire universe.