June 24, 2024 - Leave Your Comfort Zone to Develop Strategically

Let’s get right to the point – you must lose to improve. Why? Because developing your game means adding new techniques. When you add these techniques, they won’t be developed yet, so they won’t be consistent nor will you be comfortable yet in using them.

Most players have their “comfort zones.” If you stick with your comfort zone techniques, you won’t develop other ones, and so your overall game will stop advancing. Sure, you can improve the shots you already have, but you won’t be adding anything new, and so your development will be hindered and you will never reach your maximum potential.

For example, my comfort zone when I was coming up was to serve and forehand attack, and when the opponent served, to either attack the serve with my forehand (both looping and flipping) or get into a steady backhand rally, often started with a steady but relatively soft backhand flip. Notice what’s missing here? No backhand attack. So, if I could go back to my younger, developing self, I would tell myself to get out of that comfort zone and develop my backhand attack.

Since I didn’t, as I reached higher levels, players got used to my serve and forehand attack game, and I had no real fallback, such as mixing things up with a serve and backhand loop. Or they’d drop my serve short and then quick-push to my wide backhand, and I’d be stuck with either a weak backhand loop, a rushed forehand loop, or just pushing it back. Or they’d just push or flip my serve wide to my forehand and quick block my first attack to my backhand. In rallies, they’d tee off against my steady but not aggressive backhand. All because I never left my comfort zone of forehand attack/steady backhand. (In my defense, I had numerous arm problems that also hindered my backhand attack development, but that’s another story.)

The first thing to do is to think strategically about what new techniques you need to develop. Perhaps discuss it with a coach, top player, or practice partner. Once you have a good idea of what you need to develop, you know what’s coming next – practice, Practice, PRACTICE. And then comes the final part – using it in games. This means losing against players you might have beaten if you stayed in your normal comfort zone. You should look to play weaker players as you develop the new technique, and when you can win there, then use it against your peers. Ideally, do this in practice matches or perhaps in less important tournaments. But the goal is to welcome this new technique into your comfort zone.