Greetings Essential Tennis blog readers. Welcome back for another article which I hope will help your tennis game. If you haven’t already, check out the Essential Tennis podcast which is available for download on the Apple iTunes Music Store. There is a link on the right side of this page leading to the .xml file.

Today I’m going to write about the importance of having a target at all times in your tennis practice and play. It’s a simple concept, but something that I find very few club level players take advantage of, and even a lot of teaching professionals.

First off, let me encourage you to have a target for each and every shot! It doesn’t matter if you’re on the practice court, taking a lesson, or competing in a match, you need to have a target for each shot. Why? Because how else are you going to be able to gauge your success? Thats the point of your finely honed strokes right? To be able to actually hit the ball somewhere. Well, having a target is the means to directing your strokes. If you’re not actually aiming someplace you’re hitting without a purpose or direction. Don’t waste your time practicing or playing without having a plan and a target for every shot.

When you aim for a target, you have a mental picture or image of where you’d like the ball to go. This means that you do NOT look at your target as you hit your shot. Refer back several articles to learn how to properly watch the ball during all of your strokes. Your visual focus needs to be on the ball at all times, all the way up until you make contact to ensure you’re hitting the ball cleanly as often as possible. However, during this process you should have a mental idea of where your stroke is being directed. Sound complicated? If you’re not doing this already get out there and start practicing, I guarantee it will improve your tennis in the long run. The place where you’re trying to hit is NOT going anywhere, the court isn’t moving and the lines and net are constant. This means taking your focus off the ball to look at your target is unnecessary. What about keeping tabs on your opponent? Use your peripheral vision to do this, and keep the only 3 degrees of sharp focused vision on the ball at all times.

Make your target as specific as possible! My gosh, if I had a dollar for every time in a lesson I ask a student “where were you aiming?” to get the reply “well somewhere over there” while they point to one corner or the other. Sorry, thats not good enough if you have the hopes of becoming a higher level player, and I assume if you’re reading this you do have that goal. When I ask that question of a student its usually because they’ve hit a pretty solid shot and their intentions and strategy was good, but their target was much too general. Aiming for one half of the court or one corner or the other is such a huge amount of court. If the ball lands 6 inches off of your target you lose the point, and 6 inches is an extremely small amount of court, after all you’re working with 80 feet if hitting from back behind the baseline. Very few people in the world are good enough to be working in 6 inch areas of the court as a target. If you’re behind the baseline trying to hit a strong penetrating shot to your opponents side you need to be leaving yourself 3 or 4 feet of room for error inside each line. Does that sound like a huge amount of space? Then I challenge you to get some rope and make a 4 foot square target and see how many times out of 10 you can hit inside of it with a ground stroke. If you’ve never attempted something like that before then trust me it’s a lot harder than you might think.

So what the above comes down to is that you need a SPECIFIC place to aim for. And the place where your target is needs to be realistic. Don’t aim for the line, or even a foot inside the line, thats just not enough room for error, you will miss it more often than you make it. Once in a while an emergency situation arises where you’re forced to try a low percentage shot when your opponent is on top of the net getting ready to put the ball away. Fine, go ahead and go for it. Just realize that most tennis points end with an error even at the professional level, so getting the ball in play is going to always be a great play over going for an impossible shot that you only make 2 or 3 times out of ten.

So next time you head out to the court for practice take some targets with you! At the club where I teach we have small plastic cones that I usually use, but anything will do including a ball hopper or making a pyramid of four balls. Set up a target on both sides of the court both in the deuce side corner 4 feet inside the sideline and baseline and get a cross court ground stroke rally going with your partner using only your outside strokes (forehand for a righty). If you’re as competitive as I am, wager 10 or 20 push ups for every time you hit your partners target over etc, make it fun. After 15 minutes switch the targets to the other side to work on your backhands. The same can be done with volleys, serves and returns, the possibilities are endless.

So remember to have a purpose for your shots! Practice with a purpose and a target, and take that practice to your matches. Hitting a specific place on the court over and over builds better technique, focus, and confidence in your tennis. Now thats essential.