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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

Old Dog, New Trick

Paul’s service motion before TLC…

We say we cannot change.

I sometimes wonder whether or not this is true.

In our actions.  In our minds.  In our tennis games.

Are we not set in our ways by such and such an age that it is too late?

Are we not doomed to repeat the same mistakes in our lives and on the court that we have always done, over and over?

And then shake our heads at ourselves in disapproval, saying “You’ll never change.”

Change is difficult.

We say we cannot change.

I have long watched adult players and campers and been sometimes tempted to say, “Just let them play.  Their habits are so deeply ingrained in their muscle memory that it will only lead to frustration for them – and me – to step in and offer a tip at this point.”

Paul Simon, TLC camper unafraid of change!

But I am also a hopeless optimist when it comes to teaching.  Almost everything I have learned in tennis and in life has been because some hopeless optimist saw something in me that I didn’t believe I was capable of.

So I step in.

We say we cannot change.

And then someone like Paul comes around.  For 28 years of adult tennis he has wished his serve was better.  Faster.  More accurate.

And this is what he wrote me this winter:

“TLC instructors emphasized in serving drills to pull the racket way back behind me and drop it down. I’ve never done that, but a few months after tennis camp I started working with it. Not only does it make my serve more efficient, but it’s also considerably more effective. I have elbow issues (tendonitis, arthritis, bone spur) that have affected the velocity of my serve. I now have found that dropping the racket back (and standing tall with balanced weight) increases the movement on my service while also lessening the impact (and pain) on my elbow.

Good stuff. Thanks.”

Paul’s service motion after TLC 🙂

Steve Wilkinson used to preach over and over that the single most important part of getting power on your serve was getting the racket on edge all the way down the back (to the waist) so it can snap up, accelerate, and pronate.  Without that, there was no way to access even close to full power and not hurt your body. He would say it until TLC instructors would smile and think “Here he goes again on the racket drop and elbow snap.”  Then I saw him transform serve after serve with this simple, easily – most of the time – implemented tip.

So we teach it religiously.  And watch as eyes light up with the effortlessness of the result.  People say, “It feels like I’m hardly working!” or “It’s too easy!”  or “I’ve never had that kind of power before!”

We say we cannot change.

The way we treat others.  The way we treat ourselves.

Tennis enthusiasts Billy (left) and Pico (right) are continuously working on their tennis game.

And we would be right about one thing.  We cannot change our past.  But we can, in the only moment we have, change our present.  Which leads to a different path for the future.

We say we cannot change.

And after 28 years of the same thing over and over, the same, old, tired, discouraging mistake, we certainly can’t change.  Right?

Paul says otherwise.


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