Socrates, the famed Greek philosopher, once poignantly remarked that "The unexamined life is not worth living." While he probably didn't have tennis in mind when he uttered that statement, it does highlight the importance of self-examination, which is one of the essential qualities needed to become a better tennis player. Sadly, a surprising number of tennis players spend little to no time analyzing their own matches in order to learn from their mistakes and get better. If you've never videotaped and viewed your own matches or practice sessions, you could be missing out on a treasure trove of information that could help you identify critical areas of improvement. Bear in mind, however, that just viewing video footage alone won't be enough; you're going to need to take it a step further and begin charting your tennis matches in order to get the most accurate analysis of your game.
What is Charting?
Simply put, charting is the process of impartially recording what you see happening on the tennis court. When you chart your matches, you're basically playing the role of a sports statistician, where you create a log of the events that took place – e.g., winning shots, unforced errors, number of first serves, points off second serves, and basically anything else that can be quantified or counted in a tennis match.
Why Should You Chart Your Tennis Matches?
When all of this data is recorded and compiled, something interesting begins to take shape: You start noticing certain patterns and trends that can give you clues as to what worked for you (or against you) during a match. You will start to identify flaws and/or tendencies in your technique and strategy that might be counterproductive. Not only that, but you can dismiss certain assumptions about your own game in terms of what you think are your strengths, versus what the data actually says. For example, you might think that your backhand is one of your most effective shots, but if the data shows that you have more errors than winners on your backhand strokes, you might have to reevaluate your assumptions. But charting is much more than a tool you can use to identify errors; it can also provide you with some pleasant surprises as well. Through analyzing your charting data, you might discover that your power forehand is one of your highest percentage winners, and this in turn should influence your strategy going forward.
How Do You Chart a Tennis Match?
As mentioned earlier, you can quantify practically anything you want when charting a match, but it's best to go with the data points that will be the most helpful to improving your game. You can use certain "shorthand" codes or abbreviations for certain actions, such as the following:
F = Forehand
B = Backhand
FR = Forehand Return
BR = Backhand Return
FP = Forehand Pass
FA = Forehand Approach
V = Volley
A = Ace
S = Serve
S2 = Second Serve
O = Overhead
L = Lob
CC = Crosscourt
You don't have to abide by these particular abbreviations; in fact, as long as the data makes sense to you, that's really all that matters. Keep in mind that there are dozens of different ways that charting can be done. Two sample charting methods that are worth a look are Tony Severino's "Get Smart! Chart!" and the Tennis Server Turbochart by Ron Waite. If you're more tech savvy, there are several online tools and apps you can use to help you chart your matches, such as ProTracker Tennis, TennisTrakker and My Tennis Stats.
How Do You Analyze the Data?
Once you have gathered and charted your match data, you can then start drilling down to discover trends and patterns that reveal your strengths and weaknesses. For example, you might notice that one of the points where your opponent bested you with a power forehand down the line was actually the result of a poorly executed crosscourt forehand. If this particular shot seems to have landed you in trouble on more than one occasion, you now know what you need to adjust.
Whether you're an up-and-coming tennis player in high school or a well-seasoned veteran on the court, charting your matches is one of the most useful things you can do to help you improve your technique and strategy. Make the commitment to begin charting and analyzing your tennis matches, so that you can take your game to the next level.