Your Goal Should Be to Win Playing the Style You Are Developing
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Your Goal Should Normally Be to Win Playing the Style You Are Developing

(By Larry Hodges)
Your Goal Should Be to Win Playing the Style You Are Developing
What does this mean? It doesn’t mean you should blow big matches because you stubbornly refuse to play a smart tactic that’s not how you normally play. What it means is that if you are trying to improve your game, then except in “big matches,” you should focus on winning using the playing the style you are striving to develop. In other words, if it’s not a big match, then it’s somewhat of a practice match, and so you should be practicing your playing style.

What is a big match? It’s whatever you define it to be, but you should define it for yourself. For some, it’s any tournament match or league match. For others, it’s only a championship match. For still others, it’s nearly every match they play – and that’s a mistake. The large majority of matches you play should not be considered big matches.

This doesn’t mean you don’t fight hard to win every match – you should. It means that, except in those big matches (where you should tactically do whatever you can to win), you should fight hard to win with the style you are trying to develop. (Note that sometimes, even in non-big matches, you might practice the tactics that win for that match rather than your playing style, but that’s to develop tactical flexibility skills. Tactical rigidity is a recipe for poor tactics and poor play.)

As an example, I’ve seen many players who are loopers who are afraid to loop many deep serves because they miss too often, and they are afraid of losing. So they instead return them passively, and are moderately successful at it at the level they are playing – and since tactically it’s the right thing to do at the time to win, they keep doing it. But it’s a trap – they are dramatically limiting their looping style and their improvement by not looping these serves. Instead, except for a big match where tactically it might be better (at that time) to return them passively, they should be looping those deep serves. That’s how you become better at looping those deep serves, and become a better player in the long run!

Another example are players who do not consistently try to follow up their serve with an attack, unless they get an easy ball. It might make tactical sense at the time, but it’s a great hindrance to improvement. The primary purpose of the serve is to get the initiative, which almost always means by following it up with an attack. (If you want to improve, you should almost always follow your serve with an attack, unless the opponent returns your serve in such a way as to take away your attack. How you should attack depends on your playing style.

So what shots should you be developing that you shy away from because you are afraid of losing? How much better will you be later on if you start using those shots, even if you temporarily lose some winnable matches?

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