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Components of Complete Practice

In order to maximize the benefits of practice, developing players should incorporate the following components into every practice:

a. Warm-up. The purpose of warm-up is to establish rhythm. In addition to limbering up the body, elevating the heart rate and expanding oxygen intake, a proper warm-up will serve to focus the eyes. Too often, players will step on the court and commence banging the ball without rhyme or reason without establishing any sort of rhythm or sense of purpose. As a rule of thumb, if the player should not move on to the next step until s/he is confident or capable of keeping 100 balls in play. A player who cannot do that is simply not ready - physically or mentally - to move on.

b. Feeding drills. Feeding drills are important because they can artificially simulate either the problem areas of the opponent's game or the patterns that the player seeks to improve. In a sense, they serve as focused repetition - much like elite warriors repeat drills over and over until they become second nature. Furthermore, they can be created to simulate actual match situations thereby enabling the player to recognize the appropriate pattern during match play. The reality is that a lot of "coaches" (or instructors) get stuck in this stage because they are either overworked, lazy or incapable of matching the player's skill and fitness. It is my belief that  practices that revolve around feeding drills exclusively serve to hold the player back in terms of development. The player becomes proficient at artificial drills (looks good on paper) but fails to improve as a tournament player. 

c. Live ball. Live ball training should be incorporated in order to simulate the patterns or problem area when the ball is not perfectly placed on the player's racket. Be it simple cross courts or more elaborate drills, live ball training serves a transition stage from feeding drills to match play. As a rule of thumb, I would never advocate moving to point-play directly from feeding drills. The player should master the live ball before playing points. 

d. Point play. Point playing is an integral part of every practice since, after all, players don't get judged for how they look but by their actual objective results. Therefore, it is important to incorporate point-playing in order to show the student why we're practicing certain things and when/how to execute. If possible (depending on time, resources and energy), the student should cycle from feeding to live-ball to point playing throughout the practice in order to further refine the particular skill.

e. Fitness. Lastly, no practice is complete without some form of fitness mixed in. Again, too many coaches leave the fitness (like the serve) to the end of practice. What kind of message does that send to the player?! That fitness and serves (or volleys) are secondary in terms of importance. If possible, the player should be encouraged to perform fitness exercises DURING the practice; be it jumping rope while the coach is collecting the balls, performing push-ups in between sets, or running sprints between various drills, exercise should be performed both when the player is "fresh" as well as when she's tired. 

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