As a tennis coach, I see people on a daily basis who are trying to improve their game. Over the years I have learned what actually makes people improve, and what keeps people stuck in the same place forever. I've also discovered that these same factors apply to almost every area in which we want to improve ourselves.
Learning 'the basics' - properly!
In tennis, there are some fundamental techniques which need to be learned. They are not particularly complicated, but they do need to be mastered before moving on. Many people never take the time to master the basics before moving on to the next thing. As a result, their game will always be inconsistent and prone to break down.
So how do we master the basics? Repetition!
In the early stages of learning anything, there is some boring repetition to be done. This may be over a period of a few months. It is this repetition which causes a skill to become automatic. Then you own that skill forever! Once you own the skill, you can move on and learn more, always relying on those fundamentals to take care of themselves.
As well as being a tennis player, I am also a musician, and it is clear to see how the same principles apply. In the early days of learning an instrument, there is LOTS of repetition to be done. It can be boring and frustrating at times but, again, once the basics are mastered you own this skill forever and can move on to more exciting things, playing the kind of music you want to play.
Many people look for the next quick fix, the next secret technique, missing the fact that they simply need to put the hours into mastering what they have already been taught.
Is there such thing as a quick fix or secret technique? Yes! Many times during a tennis lesson, I have pointed out something which makes an immediate improvement in the players' game. There is usually a moment of excitement at such a quick improvement - it's a nice feeling suddenly being able to do something which you didn't realize you could do. However, the player will only 'own' this skill if they then go away and do it a few hundred times - or a few thousand. Otherwise, the quick improvement may be lost and the player may be back to where they started a week later.
So, in conclusion, if you want to improve your tennis or any other skill:
1) Get some help to learn the basics
2) Put in the hours in the early stages to master those basics and 'own' the skill
3) Don't move on until you've done so
4) Never be afraid to go back and practice the basics if things are not working as they should.
Separate yourself from the average by putting in those hours and reap the rewards forevermore.