Raise Your "Average" to Guarantee Doubles Success

In my 50 years of playing competitive tennis, and 47 as a Teaching Professional I have gained a lot of insight into what makes most players tick and the way that they undermine their own success. I would like to share some ideas today that, if implemented, will guarantee you more success as a match player.

Most players think that the best they have ever played is how good they are. They spend their entire tennis career trying to reproduce that one day when everything went right.  When they play poorly, many of these same people fear that this is how bad they are. The truth lies somewhere in the middle; you are the average off all the times you play. If the best you’ve ever played is the equivalent of a 4.0 but the worst you’ve played is like a 3.5, then you're around a 3.75. This is an oversimplification but I think you follow my meaning. Stop spending your entire life being disappointed that you're not playing well enough and stop making excuses as to why you’re playing the way you are. It reminds me of something my college coach used to say to us. “You don’t have to play great to win, you just have to play a little better than your opponents.” 

If we can’t count on hitting the best shots every day, then how can  we improve our average so we win more matches? Let’s make sure we do the things we can count on every day, the things that will not waver. Here they are:

  • Always have the right mindset. The right mindset is to be process oriented and stay present. If you keep hitting set ups, the points will take care of themselves. 
  • Always make the first two shots of every point! Those who follow our teachings know that we constantly say that the average point in doubles lasts 3.2 shots so if you always make the first two shots (serve +1 and return+1) you will be in every match you play.
  • Don’t be in a rush to end the point. The team that ends the most points always loses!
  • Once you have mastered shot selection and good decision making there is no reason to ever make bad decisions. Stay with what you’ve learned, trust the process.
  • Your positioning, like your shot selection, is something you can count on every day. 
  • Make sure to disrupt your opponents game and exploit their lack of mastery in certain areas (e.g., No one practices what to do against lob returns nor do they have a plan if it happens. You need to attack their weaknesses rather than playing into their strengths). 
  • Work with your partner at all times. You need to be able to trust each other and anticipate each other's moves and shots. No random tennis, no hero ball!
  • There are only two types of statements you need to make to your partner; I need you and I’m here for you.
  • Relax and enjoy the match! If you are doing all the things we’ve listed then just let it fly and have a blast. Every match is new and different and you want to be able to handle everything that comes at you. Good times and tough times. Remember no one becomes a great sailor by always being on calm water.

What you’re probably noticing is that the things that will make you a consistent, reliable winning player and team are all things that you can’t see. How many times have you heard someone say what great strokes an opponent has or how hard they hit? You hear it all the time. We tend to discount the intangibles, the things we can rely on on a daily basis. 

Another interesting thing about playing in a systematic way is that by consistently putting your opponents in difficult situations you will make it harder for them to play at or above their average! As you help them to play worse you won’t have to play as well to win. You will have much more consistent results because your game won’t be going up and down like a roller coaster. Your opponents will know before you even start that they’re in for a tough time. Many, if not most matches are lost before they even start. 

To sum up, in order to play above our average we need to:

  1. Limit unnecessary mistakes.
  2. Make good choices.
  3. Work with your partner tactically and by letting them know you’re  there for them no matter what.
  4. Be disruptive.
  5. Relax and enjoy the process.