Perhaps one of my absolute favourite topics, although I do confess to having many, the ability to Problem Solve is really in a tennis players DNA as they progress through the ranks whether beginner to advanced towards the top echelon of play. However, to get to this stage this ‘skill‘ needs to be developed and fine-tuned over the course of a tennis players career and this obviously starts at the beginning. Examples of use include everything from what direction the ball is coming and where the players would like it to go and why, to more trivial problems such as racket weight and string tension and why. The key in both examples is behind the why.
Knowing why you want to do something in the first place is fundamental and is applicable across the sporting spectrum. As a player develops this ability to ‘know’ becomes more and more autonomous until the nature of knowing the why becomes ingrained in a players habitual behaviours. This is what it takes to rise to the elite ranks of the sporting world and tennis is no different. However, tennis is incredibly unique in respect to the demand of problem solving ‘on the spot’ and in action. From one ball coming towards a player to then another followed by another, the player is confronted with a challenge in real-time of how to win the point against their opponent. The scenario may vary from not simply ‘winning’ the point but how and why a given decision behind this how will allow the player to end the point.
Of course there are a multitude of sports that have similarities with their own respective demands, however, I’ll argue that tennis is unique in its physical demands at the same time at this level of problem solving. The same applies for this ‘solving’ and that by all accounts it takes time and development. After all, the speed of the ball at the elite level is very different to that of the junior ranks which means TIME varies and an elite player has a lot less time to react — to make their decision of where they’ll hit the ball and/or where they’ll move after the next ball with both decisions underpinned by a resounding why in order to win a point — a problem in and of itself.
By changing the landscape of a point into a problem and to win comes down to who can solve the problem first with a variation of unknowns i.e. no one knows where the ball is going and/or coming from their opponent and as such these decisions are made incredibly quickly.
But the why is an innate behaviour developed over time. For example, a player may opt to hit the ball down the line because they notice their opponent has moved in the other direction, or a player may opt for a drop shot simply because ‘common sense’ says if their opponent is behind the baseline and struggling to recover, it is an easier shot to play. Of course, each player will react differently depending on their strengths and weaknesses and these ‘shots’ are mere examples of a decision that has been made and one of many options. Some are more commonplace than others, however the player will always (and is encouraged to) play with his or her strengths.
To get to this stage a lot of work needs to be done. These are very simple examples of singular instances and one game alone has multiple occasions that a point needs to be won — depending on the scoreline of 15-0 to 40-0 or 15-15 to Deuce also depends on how many opportunities a player has to not merely win a point, but in order to win a point to enact their problem solving skills. These are in real time and pull on a players ability to react and respond and ultimately their level of perception — what they perceive is happening and to use their why that has been ingrained in them to then work it out. From what is the next best move to then anticipate what their opponent is going to do next, both perception to anticipation can be interchanged here in milliseconds before the next ball arrives and the next decision is to be made — the next problem to be solved.
And to get to this level of autonomy conditioning is required. Work is required. Inadvertent skill development is required. Learning the why is fundamental. And as these answers become more readily known and these decisions become more and more innate, that is when the next play can be added to a players arsenal of on-hand reactions needed to respond to a given why until a players reaction : response ratio becomes well rounded — a key facet of development followed throughout I am Your Tennis Coaching Guru that allows players at all stages to follow The Long Game towards that Top 10 tennis ranking.
To learn more about Problem Solving and Sport: for Tennis Players, head on over to Beyond Top 10 Tennis and head to Episode 52. More? Catch up on our Tips over on TikTok, Twitter, Threads or Instagram for quick snippets to apply in your game, today.