Good Errors  

Most of the successful individuals that I have met, weather in sport or in business, have attributed part of their success at some point to taking a degree of risk. This degree of risk is usually calculated and weighed up against the chances and consequences of failure. Though once the challenge was accepted, the focus was not on the failure element, rather purely on victory.

This lesson is one that can be applied to tennis. First we have to look at the facts. Statistically tennis matches, even at the highest level, have the following inherent characteristics:

  • Both players make errors.
  • Usually both players make more errors (forced and unforced) than winning shots (winners and shots your opponent has no play on). It is important to look at the difference between the two variables, not the quantity of each.

The major difference at the highest level is type of errors that the athletes are committing, namely:

  • Fewer unforced errors
  • Errors that are only just missing e.g. close to the lines, just hitting the tape etc.

Bearing this in mind, I feel, too often we ask our students to play too conservatively. The pros don’t. Why coach a sprinter with marathon runner techniques?

The first thing I say to a player is:

“You now have permission to make mistakes as long as your errors are Good Errors!!!”, and of course, not too many. These are balls that only just miss. Usually the student feels an immediate sense of relief.

Imagine your opponent has approached the net and you attempt a down the line passing shot. You middle the ball perfectly on the strings and it propels powerfully towards the target, looking like a certain winner it just hits the tape and fall back on your side.

Many players would feel dejected in this situation, though it is important to consider the effect on the opponent. For instance, the fact that you only just missed could warn him/her that next time the approach may need to be more decisive causing them to go for too much. The psychological benefits of a good error cannot be underestimated.

When the fear of failure is lifted, the quality play is increased. The drill that I have included will illustrate this concept. Getting the error to winner ratio in perspective is crucial and of course, we have to hit many more balls in than out.

What about the player who takes too many risks and is erratic? This is usually a case of poor shot selection. In other words, attempting an aggressive shot when in a defensive situation. This player must understand the relationship between the different modes of play e.g. neutral, attack and defense.

Controlled aggression is the formula for success at the highest level and the “Good Error” theory is one I have used with success with many elite players. I hope you too find it a useful tool.

Craig Miller
IQ Tennis™ P/L

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