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UNFORCED ERRORS – CAUSES & CONSIDERATIONS©
THE SUBTLE SELF-ASSASSIN by TennisTom
A simplified definition of an unforced error is a loss-of-point error that is made without any pressure from the opponent. A key factor is that the shot is missed by the players in a neutral or aggressive situation rather than a pressured, defensive situation.
Forced Error, Example 1: If an opponent hits a winning shot by placing a shot right at one’s toes, this is a forced error because the opponent’s good shot forced the error.
Forced Error, Example 2: A fast serve hit directly at your body which you miss. This is a forced error because you lacked sufficient time and position to adequately react.
Unforced Error, Example 1: If an opponent hits a ball to you that you would normally make, and you miss it, you caused the unforced error. An unforced error only happens when the hitter is not pressured by time or position.
Unforced Error, Example 2: A service double fault, presuming no outside influence.
It has been estimated that at the pro level, about 75 percent of errors made are unforced errors and 25 percent of errors are caused by winners. The unforced error rate rises greatly at lower playing levels, which includes most players who play at a 2.5-3.5 level.
A key element in determining for yourself whether the error is forced or unforced lies in your personal playing history. Unforced errors are defined differently for each player.
CRITERION FOR DECIDING YOUR OWN UNFORCED ERRORS
Was the shot that you missed a shot that you normally would make? Everyone achieves an average playing level where they hit a particular shot IN a significant majority of the time. All players with some experience should know which of their errors are unforced. This decision should become automatic through experience.
Exception 1: Beginners. Beginners cannot make unforced errors because they have not established an average level of play through experience. So new learners can forget about identifying unforced errors; however, unforced errors will be critically involved later on after a “norm” is established.
Exception 2 (rare): Playing in the Zone. If you play tennis long enough you will experience playing “in the zone.” It happens when you are playing at the top of you physical and mental capabilities and you feel that you can do no wrong. When in the zone, the concept of unforced errors is irrelevant. The zone happens rarely.
WHY UNFORCED ERRORS ARE ESPECIALLY SIGNIFICANT
They are extremely important because, between same-level players, UNFORCED ERRORS ALMOST ALWAYS DETERMINE WHO WINS AND WHO LOSES THE MOST POINTS, GAMES, AND SETS. An ability to avoid unforced errors gives you a significant advantage over same-level opponents. Reducing your unforced errors is one of your best pathways to improving your overall tennis success.
Once past the beginner stage and basic form is established, unforced errors are usually caused by one or more momentary mental failures. Consider the following…
COMMON MENTAL MISTAKES WHICH CAUSE ENFORCED ERRORS:
Loss of focus – usually an internal issue due to distraction, but they may be caused externally also, such as a cell phone ringing. Most all internal mental distractions are within your control.
Stroke Indecision - Change of mind about how or where to hit the shot.
Psychological influences – such as accumulated frustration, anxiety, or anger. Anxiety is somewhat within your control. It depends on your athletic history in your formative years and your subsequent game experiences of winning vs losing.
Over-concern about technique – a distraction from the real task at hand, which is to hit the ball IN and place it in a target area.
Pain of any body part - which intrudes consciously or unconsciously.
Anxiety about missing the shot – a lack of confidence concerning one’s abilities to perform the shot, or worrying what your partner might think if you do not play well.
Undeveloped risk management – Almost 100 percent within your control. [See the instructional on percentage tennis in the last section.]
Our brain is the most remarkable phenomenon known to man, but despite its fantastic capabilities, brain scientists say it can only maintain one thought at a time. In tennis mental mistakes happen unavoidably, so there is no such thing as perfection, or even near perfection. The most we can expect of ourselves is to reduce our number of mental distractions. The good news is that we can eliminate most distractions by thought and concentration. Concentration is a learned skill.
Another important thing to keep in mind is “when” you make your unforced error. Some points are obviously more important than others, and Game points are the most crucial. If you don’t make a single unforced error in a game up until the game point against you, and you bungle the game point with an unforced error, then you have thrown away everything that you had worked for during the game. The tip here is that you should take especial care not to make an unforced error on important points. The only way to do this is to know the score at all times and play accordingly.
Tennis is rather complex. Most complicating factors are taken care of by the autonomous part of our minds, but we are mainly concerned here with the conscious part of our brain. The conscious part of our mental supercomputer can take care of a sufficient number of unforced errors if we learn the habit of focusing.
Two major challenges to the tennis player are:
1) Learning to focus, and,
2) Recalling and using what you have previously learned. Concerning the latter, I fairly often hear my students exclaim after they have missed a shot, “Oh, I forgot to rotate my body on that shot,” or, “I took my eye off the ball, or , “(Expletive), I got too excited!”
Miscalculations. The brain inevitably makes miscalculations, for instance in judging the speed of an incoming ball, or the trajectory of its bounce, etc. The most valuable thing is to know why you made the error so that you will not repeat the same or similar error.
Whatever your outlook about unforced errors, the main thing is not to beat yourself up about it right after you make one. I like to say to my charges, “It is history” – meaning forget it, don’t let it negatively influence your next shot(s).
Risk. Another aspect of unforced errors is that there is a necessary element of hazard in playing good tennis. If you play a totally safe game and never take risks, this will only pay sufficient dividends at the earliest levels of play – I estimate that the cutoff level, for those of you who are familiar with USTA proficiency levels, is 2.5. As soon as one gets to the 3.0 (approaching intermediate) level, risk must be taken in order to compete successfully. At the same time, as soon as you incorporate risk into your game, more unforced errors will inevitably happen. The crux is – know what kind of shots and how much risk to take according to game circumstances. Poor decisions in the shot selection area abound – and drive some coaches to either lunacy or catatonia. :--)(.
So when you get to the level where risk is necessary, good tennis is a matter of calculating percentages. Many risks are completely unnecessary and will greatly contribute to your losses. A favorite example comes to mind: Attempting to hit a glorious winner down the alley when you do not have the directional accuracy to perform the shot with consistency. [A concise instructional on how to play Percentage Tennis, is attached below.]
Classic Form. A major cause of errors is failure to use good form. Learning good tennis form is the basis of all which will follow.
Self Awareness. If you pay close attention to your success rate for different strokes, you will be able to decide which type of shots are likely to go IN according to court situations and which types of shots you tend to miss too often. Self awareness is your best window to success here. I am reminded of the book Think to Win, by Allen Fox, who says “"Tennis strokes are virtually useless without the strategies that give them direction..." Meanwhile if you are taking lessons from a good coach, he will be helping you learn to make decisions about which of your shots flirt with disaster and which do not.
It should be your goal to reduce your number of unforced errors by whatever means are available to you. Hey, reading this instructional, printing it out, and using its information might be one such resource. Tada!
Summary - Things you should know concerning unforced errors:
1) Which of your shots are unforced errors – page 1,
2) The importance they have for winning or losing – page 1,
3) Which shots you should especially concentrate on - page 2,
4) What the major causes of unforced errors are – page 2, and
5) What the meaning of Life is. If your mind didn’t smile at number 5, then you are being way too serious.
☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻ ☻
PERCENTAGE TENNIS – INCREASING YOUR MARGIN OF ERROR
For All USTA 3.5 or Lower Level Doubles Players -- By TennisTom
When playing approximately equal opponents, take any match that you lose, reverse the outcome of 15 +/- percent of the points, and you will usually win. The best place to find that extra 15 percent of points is in the area of Unforced Errors. An excellent way to reduce your frequency of unforced errors is to play the percentages. This means that, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise on any particular shot, choose the "percentage" shot — that is, the one with the greater margin of error.
What exactly is a percentage shot? On any given shot, choose one of the following:
Topspin increases your margin of error (unless of course you try to hit shots beyond your usual capabilities). Use topspin if it is in your arsenal. Topspin will only work to your percentage advantage if you clear the net by 1 or more feet.
Choose a Safer shot, rather than one you feel might be risky. This greatly increases your margin of error and can significantly decrease your unforced errors.
Hitting Crosscourt over the center of the net area (while avoiding the opposing net player) increases your margin of error. In doubles the net is 6 inches lower in its center than at the alley. Also, in doubles, the diagonal court distance is almost 8 feet longer than down the line.
Commit to hitting 4 shots IN on every point. All you have to do is avoid the opponent net player. When playing equal players. this works unbelievably well if you can do it. Don’t go for too much too soon. This will stack the odds in your favor.
Use placement shots instead of power shots. Good placement shots will force your opponents into making errors. This also means avoid overhitting, which may mean hitting with 20 percent less pace than you usually do.
Use well timed lobs, preferably when your opponents are not expecting them. When you hit a well placed lob (meaning out of the reach of the opponent net player) you put the other team into a defensive disadvantage, however you should prepare for a return lob, just in case. As long as your volleys and overheads are serviceable, Close toward the net to just behind your service line. This will give you superior court position and will often force your opponents into making errors.
When returning a pacey shot by their baseline player, hit a crosscourt groundstroke back to the baseline opponent rather than changing the direction of your shot. This practice does not apply to hitting lobs, which you aim over their net player, and also does not apply to your return when you are avoiding their poaching net player, in which case you can place your return softer and wider.
Hit your first serve IN. Again, go for placement rather than power. If within your capabilities, hit your first serve to the opponent’s weaker side, which is usually their backhand. Getting your first serve in gives you two advantages. It gives you a real psychological advantage, and it gives your net partner more opportunities to poach.
[17-Unforced Errors – Causes & Considerations] [Rev 2-11-11]