“I want to get better. I am trying to get better. I play almost everyday. In fact, unless I quit my job or set myself up for divorce, I really can’t play any more than I am playing now. But I don’t seem to be getting better. Maybe a little better, but not a lot better.”
You have no idea how often we hear this. It is a common frustration among rec-level players who play as often as time permits, but who don’t seem to be getting any better.
After rising through the levels and overcoming a variety of opponents, they hit a ceiling which they just can’t seem to break through. At some point, they run into a player or a group of players they just can’t beat. Everything comes to a stop.
The most common approach to solving their problem usually involves more of the same: more partners, more games, more matches, more tournaments. While this seems to be the right thing to do intuitively, this approach seldom solves the problem. In fact, it often leads to more losing, more failure and more frustration.
The key to breaking through these barriers is not typically more of the same, it’s usually a little bit of something else.
Going back and forth along the same pathway over and over and over again creates a high degree of familiarity and comfort to be sure. And from that familiarity, players generally develop a high degree of confidence. But at the same time, travelling the path too often without making some adjustments now and then is certain to create a rut.
Ruts trap players and make them predictable. Their patterns become habitual. They try to win every game the same way. They play the same shots in the same sequence. They end up making the same mistakes over and over again. And when things aren’t going their way, the frustration overwhelms them and their mental game breaks down.
Change allows players to break out of their ruts. It gives them new options and new things to think about. Changes in routines often result in changes on court and changes in performance. Eventually, changes to routines will lead to changes in outcomes, too.
So what should you change? Begin with simple changes. If you are accustomed to playing three times a week, trying playing twice and running 5K instead of playing the third time. By increasing your VO2 max, you will be increasing your brain’s ability to process oxygen late in matches when the chips are down. So you will be benefitting your game while you are changing your routine.
Or try taking a lesson. But ask your coach to show you something completely different. Tell him/her that you are in a rut and want to work on drills that are completely outside of your comfort zone. Ask for drills that will make you look at the court or the game or a particular situation with new eyes. Or better yet, go see a new coach who has never seen you play before.
Change keeps your mind fresh. It keeps your game from getting stale. It keeps you from being predictable. So if you think your game is in a rut, change things up. It’s the simplest trick in the world and also the most likely to work.