Tennis practice is hard without having goals. You can distinguish general goals, meant for the entire group, and personal goals, meant for a specific player of you.
When you ask a typical tennis player about their goals, often they will respond by detailing their dreams, I want to be number 1 in the world.
Dreams are important; they give us a direction to move towards, but it’s important to note that they are not the same as goals.
Goals (when written well), like dreams, are aspirational, but they are also more specific. While a dream may be the roof of the building, goals are the steps and landings of the stairwell.
For example, if your dream is to be a professional tennis player, first arrange regular tennis and physical practice during your high school years. Play national tournaments in your age group and try to qualify for nationals. Afterwards, play international junior tournaments in order to gain international experience and to compare yourself with international players.
After finishing high school, you can choose for playing full-time tennis on the ATP or WTA tour. Also, you can take one step in between, by first playing College Tennis in the United States. Afterwards you're even more prepared for the professional circuit.
The thing is, most people aren’t very good at setting goals either. While the goals laid out above are better at giving direction to someone’s career, they could be stronger. How? By making them SMART.
SMART stands for:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound
For making goals, use the "SMART" principle. Let's assume your goal is that your player can hit a topspin serve.
A specific goal is a goal that has a bit of depth to it. It isn’t saying “I want to hit my serve in the service box,” it’s saying “I want to hit a topspin serve to my opponent's backhand, and give him a high contact point.”
You must define what specific things you want to work on. For example, a closer toss, almost above the head. Also, the contact point must be lower than a flat serve, and the grip must be continental. Your player knows the specific goal now, and can practice this outside of your practice as well.
Specificity is important, so that you know exactly what needs to be done in order for the goal to be deemed a success.
A measurable goal is one that is based on some sort of metric. Instead of saying ”I want to have a good topspin serve”, a measurable goal would be: “I want to have a topspin serve that kicks up at least 1,5 meter.“
You must define how you want to measure whether you achieve the goal. For example, you place a garbage container with a height of 1,5 meter between the service box and the baseline. With a topspin serve, the ball will go more upwards after the bounce, so the ball must jump over the garbage container. When this happens, there must be enough topspin in the serve.
A goal that is attainable is a goal that you can accomplish. People have a tendency to get overzealous in their goals when they are excited. However, setting goals you cannot accomplish makes little sense for anyone. It’s more important to be realistic than too aspirational here. Break down larger goals into pieces if you need to, in order to accomplish them. For example: If your big goal is to hit a good topspin serve, but you don't have the right grip, first start with serving a flat serve with a continental grip.
When you're used to this grip and you have control over your toss and your racket head, you can practice the topspin serve.
Relevant goals are goals that help you progress to your dream.
If you are trying to be the next tennis star at any cost, it makes little sense to waste your precious time learning to be an outstanding singer. Sure, it might be super useful to you personally, but in this case, it doesn’t help you reach your dream or goals.
The best goals are also time-bound. Adding this constraint is important so that you can keep yourself accountable. Setting goals is sort of like creating a to-do list. You have on your list what you want to do today, what you want to do tomorrow, etc. With goals you may have daily goals, monthly goals, yearly goals, etc. Be very specific with the dates you choose, and make sure that you could it without unreasonable stress.
Learning a topspin serve is not easy, and it takes more time than one or two lessons. Setting a certain deadline challenges your player to achieve this goal. When they make a lot of mistakes with the topspin serve in the beginning, they accept this easier, because they know that in for example 2 months, their topspin serve will be good enough.
Specific and measured goals are the key to success, no matter what you’re looking to achieve. Regardless of whether your ultimate aims are financial, personal, or even based solely on metrics, using a structure such as the SMART formula can help you succeed in what you set out to do.
By making sure the goals you set are aligned with the five SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound), you have an anchor on which to base all of your focus and decision-making. Once you’ve achieved a SMART goal, you can scale up and start again, safe in the knowledge there’s a solid backbone to your strategy.