It’s a phrase you’ve heard before. Practice makes perfect. If you want to be good at anything, you have to practice. And another popular theory is that to be an expert at anything it takes 10,000 hours of doing it. So for your tennis game, you already know you need to practice to get better. And it turns out, there is a better way to practice to learn more efficiently. It’s called random (interleaved) practice. Thanks to sports science, you might be able to take your game to the next level.
Practice has multiple strategies. Let’s say in your training for the upcoming week, you want to work on your serves, your backhand, and your forehand. If you worked on just serves, you’d then move on to working on your backhand. And then again you would do the same thing; once you finished practicing with backhand, the next step is working on your forehand. This is called blocked practice. But if you worked on your backhand, then a serve, then another backhand, then a forehand, then another serve, you would be doing random practice. Your development and learning would be faster doing it this way. Some findings from sports science studies can shed more light on this.
Random practice makes a player become more actively involved in the learning process and development by avoiding repetitions. Random practice gives you more significant and distinct muscle memory of the various serves, forehands, and backhands, or whatever it is you are training at that time. This increases memory strength and decreases confusion among your repetitions.
Additionally, random practice allows you to forget the quick solution (the one you know from your memory) for your movement issues after you switch to a new task. So if you switch from serves to backhand, this will force you to create new memories, for long term answers to your training. Your movements will be more seamless, and you’ll remember how to do it like that again the next time you do it. Random practice prepares you for something unexpected, and in tennis the game can change from one moment to the next.
So keep practicing, but make sure you are practicing randomly to see the best improvements.