Play Better Tennis with Rewards and Sanctions

Study Shows Basic Psychology can Pay Big Dividends in Competition

Making tennis practice resemble a competitive tennis match is a key to playing better tennis in competition. How to make practice simulate a competitive tennis match has been a matter of debate. The study featured in Medicine and Science in Tennis looked at whether using sanctions (negative reinforcement) or rewards (positive reinforcement) during practice could improve tennis tennis skills during competition.

Kangaroo Jumps vs. Milk Shakes

The 2006 study was conducted using 12 semi-professional and professional tennis players, seven who were ranked by the ATP. The goal of the study was to see if sanctions and rewards could assist in simulating competitive play, encourage consistent control of hitting and create high performance motivation in players. The sanction used was the dreaded kangaroo jump, and the rewards were the ever popular milk shakes. The players were tested using the following five tennis simulations:

  1. Hit 96 balls toward a small rectangle with a forehand, trying to get four shots in a row into the rectangle
  2. Hit 96 balls toward a small rectangle with a forehand, trying to get eight shots in a row into the rectangle
  3. Match simulation with two players where one player only uses a forehand and the other only uses a backhand and then switch strokes after each point. The only part of the court used was the backhand diagonal.
  4. Same as above, except both players started using only the backhand and once one player used a forehand the entire court was opened up for play, not just the backhand diagonal.
  5. 5 minute practice game.


In tests 2, 4 and 5, kangaroo jumps and milk shakes were added to the test. For example, in test two if a player hit eight forehand shots into a rectangle, they received a milk shake and in test 4 and 5 if a player lost a point they had to do a kangaroo jump.

In test 2, the study found when sanctions were used there was a 20% increase in ball control, however there was also a 3.7% reduction in ball velocity. In test 3, the backhand diagonal match found that when sanctions were used a 7.3% increase was seen in stroke consistency. Additionally, it was found when using sanctions the players had an elevated heart rate and high-perceived concentration, which simulates conditions found in match play.

When rewards were used in the tests, it was found the players took more chances and played a riskier and more aggressive version of tennis, which may be appropriate in some competitive situations.

Putting it into Practice

There is an endless number of sanctions tennis players could use in their own practice, whether it be doing wind sprints, putting money into a jar for an end of season league party or any horrible task. If a player is not aggressive enough during match play, employ the use of pleasing rewards. The sanctions and rewards that can be used are infinite and limited only by imagination.

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