The Forgetting Curve

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Cindysphinx, May 22, 2007.

  1. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

    Aug 31, 2006
    We've all heard of the learning curve. I'm starting to think there is such a thing as the Forgetting Curve.

    As soon as I improve one thing, something else I used to do well goes off. Lately, it is the serve. I used to get the occasional ace. Then that stopped, and I'd get the occasional service winner. Then that stopped, and lately I can't seem to bother anyone with my serve and doubles partners have started asking what's wrong. Extra practice with a hopper only gave me a sore shoulder.

    Ten minutes at the end of a lesson with a pro, and I think my serve is back. The problem was something I learned over a year ago: slow everything down to enable better racquet acceleration. To which I say: Oh, yeah. Right. I knew that.

    So how come it took time with a pro to get me to do what I already know how to do? What, if anything, will help me retain things I used to do well while I hone other skills? It's not lack of practice with the serve, that's for sure. How am I ever going to move forward if every new thing I learn pushes an old thing out of my head?

    Please tell me this problem is universal. I have a sick feeling it is probably just me who has this problem. I'm starting to think I will always have to have lessons because something will always be going off.
  2. dunloplayah

    dunloplayah Rookie

    May 11, 2007
    Central Arkansas
    I'm with you! I've said for a while now that once I fix one stroke, another one leaves me! that's my most immediate goal, to commit FH, BH and Serve to memory and not lose them anymore, then I can start adding slice, spin, speed and hustle.

    What's worse is warming up with a killer serve and backhand and then to start playing with a killer FH, and lose the other two for the match! ugh!!!!!!

    I think the solution is to keep hitting, hitting, and hitting some more!

    Good luck! My league got cancelled due to rain again for the 3rd week in a the wall I hit again!
  3. Brian_C

    Brian_C New User

    May 9, 2007
    South Florida
    yea i get the same problem, especially in games. Ill start off great and gradually go down... >.> its not like in tired but i just start to lose focus i guess. When my fh is great my bh sucks... when my bh is great my fh suck
  4. Andrew

    Andrew Rookie

    Jul 2, 2006
    There are times when I forget a bit how to hit a stroke and it takes me a few sessions to figure out why I'm hitting so poorly off a given wing...
  5. [K]aotic

    [K]aotic Semi-Pro

    Feb 4, 2007
    well there are times when i'm on fire and times when i stink doggy doo doo. don't feel like you're hte only one... i'd say i'm a 4.0
  6. J.W. North Tennis91

    J.W. North Tennis91 New User

    May 12, 2007
    that happens to me a lot my bh used to be really powerful but i got too focused on practicing with the fh and the bh became my weakness!
  7. Ripper

    Ripper Hall of Fame

    Nov 22, 2005
    "Where Moth & Rust Destroy"
    That's why you have to practice like crazy. After a zillion repetitions, things start to, finally, lock into your muscle memory.
  8. booky

    booky New User

    Nov 26, 2006
    no..the thing is we do the freaking different shytz everytime we play...unlike the pros, they know what they're doing!
  9. volusiano

    volusiano Hall of Fame

    Oct 22, 2006
    I agree about the practice comment. To CindySphinx, it sounds like you take lessons and play double matches a lot. I wonder how much you have left to put in for practice besides all those activities.

    The thing about playing matches is that while it's great, the fast pace doesn't allow you to slow down and groove what you learn from your lessons into muscle memory. So you react to whatever situations during the match and do whatever it takes to get the ball in play, and don't have time to think or remember to do the techniques right. Everything goes out the window during a match because of the pressure, unless you have already ingrained the right techniques you learned into muscle memory from practice sessions beforehand. That's just my guess.

    If you haven't done so already, I would make a point after a lesson to focus on practicing whatever you learn from that lesson, but from a practice environment first before a match environment.

    This might be easier said than done unless you have a good practice partner or a ball machine to practice on. But the beauty of practicing the serve is that you don't need anyone but yourself and a hopper of balls.
    Last edited: May 22, 2007
  10. Kobble

    Kobble Hall of Fame

    Feb 19, 2004
    There is such things as The Forgetting Curve. It is a good model to base your study habits on. I wonder how well it can be applied to sports.
  11. str33t

    str33t Professional

    Jan 6, 2006
    I hate that! It happened when i started learning a kick serve.
    After i got the kicker down, I lost my slice serve!
  12. zapvor

    zapvor G.O.A.T.

    Jul 27, 2006
    tennis courts
    i am beginning to think....i would want to be Cindy's coach/instructor. instead of asking the pro questions, she keeps coming here for advice on tennis. so all i have to do is...nothing really. ok i am in a bad mood. dont mind me.

    edit: oh i guess i should try to help. the question i am wondering is: do you forget how to drive or bake or ride a bicycle? i thought so. so apply it to tennis. if you are really forgetting that much (to create a forgetting curve) something is possibly VERY wrong. i would be worried if after learning how to bike i wake up one day and couldnt do it.
    Last edited: May 22, 2007
  13. Solat

    Solat Professional

    Nov 19, 2006
    i am a big advocate of self learning, even as a coach, teach people to teach themselves, when you learn something for yourself you are so much more likely to remember it. You know how it felt, what you were trying to achieve etc.

    When you are told something you are never sure if you are doing it right, you may get told 4 aspects and only remember 1 or 2.
  14. Trinity TC

    Trinity TC Semi-Pro

    Jul 28, 2006
    It's universal. That's how most human beings learn. Eventually all of the tennis information you thought was lost will reemerge and fall into place.
  15. AlpineCadet

    AlpineCadet Hall of Fame

    Jul 8, 2006
    You should bring a notebook with you the next time you have a lesson. When you write down what you've learned that day, you can always go back to it when you need to freshen up on what you might be struggling with.
  16. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

    Aug 31, 2006
    Zapvor, I like to ask the people here questions I could ask my pro for several reasons.

    First, I often want the student's perspective, not the perspective of someone for whom this stuff is easy. Commiserating about how very hard tennis is isn't something I'd expect from someone who can play left-handed with one eye closed.

    Second, I only get an hour lesson, so I can't afford to do too much navel gazing in a lesson. We need to be hitting, or talking strategy, or experimenting with different stuff.

    Third, I would worry it would get awkward, or he'd get defensive if I asked questions about why he teaches the way he does, like "So how come you always stand at the T to feed to me?" It might sound like criticism, you know?

    Fourth, English is his second language, so although he's good at explaining garden-variety lesson things, he has trouble with more nuanced subjects (probably because it might be hard to find a nice way of saying "I feed to you from the T because you suck so very badly.")

    Fifth, I get the sense that I'm on the low end of the people who take private lessons from him, so I don't want to appear Not Serious About The Lesson by asking a bunch of off-topic stuff.

    That's my story! :)
  17. warneck

    warneck Rookie

    Jan 21, 2007
    Correct. The capacity of your long-therm memory is unlimited. But the brain also has disadvantages. One example is your vocabulary. You can only remember a limited number of words at an instant - To remember those you have "forgotten", you would search through the memory.

    What the OP says may be a larger problem for people taking up tennis in their later part of life. Youngster usually don't have any objections to the tennis they are learned, and usually develop all strokes equally, until at later stages learning the advantage of a weapon (!). The mayor problem for new people is consistency. Its extremly underrated.

    I think the problem may be over-focusing on ONE problem, rather than the over all play. Try to practice ALL kinds of shots each day, or adapt a certain play-style - You don't HAVE to be all arounder to beat people at lower levels. Being a simple counter-puncher may give you all the wins you want. And often newbies forget to have adept play-style, they just don't know better. :)
  18. kevhen

    kevhen Hall of Fame

    Feb 20, 2004
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Yes it happens alot that when you focus on one area you forget what you used to be good at in another area. Also if you don't pay attention little kinks can creep into your game (poor footwork, late takeback, rushed swing, etc) that it can be hard to see for yourself and make the correct adjustment without someone else pointing it out to you.

    Tennis is a difficult game to master and it takes time to improve since there are so many aspects and if neglected or any bad habits get started, can feel like you are treading water or worse.

    Pay attention to what is working and what is not and try to focus on what you know is the right thing to do and keep working at it and it will eventually start to work with time and practice.

    I worked on my forehand for the last year or two and also worked on my one hand backhand although I normally hit with two. Finally I feel comfortable in matches hitting all my different shots depending on the right situation so I am making the jump to 4.5 doubles despite getting older and a little slower but it was frustrating that when I worked on the forehand my backhand would disappear and then when I worked on the one hander it was slow to develop. But now I am gaining confidence in all my shots but it took some time and patience but is pretty cool to see what I can do now with good consistency (rip forehands, slice forehand, drive backhands, slice backhands, etc.)
    Last edited: May 23, 2007
  19. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

    Feb 21, 2007
    That used to happen to me...

    ...but last year I was conceited, and this year, I'm perfect! Just kidding! I think what you're experiencing is pretty universal in all sports. We have a saying in ski racing that you're only as good as your last if it stunk, don't get down, and if it was wonderful, well, don't get a swelled head.

    Lots and lots of good advice from the other posters on this one. Lemme add a couple of thoughts that are common threads in this discussion:

    - You never "have" a stroke. Nobody ever does, including Roger Federer. Last year, he basically lost his chance at winning the 2006 French Open because he banged two easy forehands into the net, which I didn't think was possible, because Roger Federer has one of the best forehands of all time! So he didn't come unhinged, and guess what? His forehand was its usual great self in his recent Hamburg win over Nadal. However, I believe that between working with a pro and, as other posters have noted, conscientious practice and hitting sessions, you can develop a reliable base stroke, and you need to do that first before you start worrying about what happens on a given day.

    My serve's been much, much better this year because of some stuff my coaches had me working on mid-summer last year through late fall....yes, it took that long. In my last 10 practice sessions, I've had good serving days on 8 or 9 of them. That doesn't mean, however, that a good serve is now my birthright...I have to go out there every day and make sure my timing, rhythm, balance, toss, mental prep, and so forth, are spot on, because the ball doesn't know who's serving it, and will only go where I hit it. And so I'm not learning or relearning my serve, but what I am doing is making sure all the pieces and parts are in place, and when it goes off, I have to stop, diagnose what's wrong, and go fix it. After my last bad serving day, for example, I got off by myself with a big bucket of balls, and it became obvious: My rhythm was too rushed, and I was tossing too low...which are the usual suspects when my serve goes off...but I couldn't figure that out, or fix it, if I was out hitting with one of my running buddies.

    So the moral is, I believe it's going to take you a while to develop a solid arsenal of strokes, so I wouldn't get too concerned if you have some temporary malfunctions...just figure out what it is, and go fix it.

    - Number 2, and I think this is the most important thing I have to say to you, is that, from your collective posts this year, I'd say it's obvious that you're serious about your game and about improving, and are willing to put in the miles...which I think is really commendable. You know how it is: everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

    There's a million players out there who suffer from the "If only..." syndrome. "If only I had two more rackets, I'd be a 4.5..." "If only I had started when I was 8, I'd be winning on the WTA right now!' "If only I had more time, fewer kids, more money, and a tennis brain like Roger Federer, why, I'd be beating Roger Federer right now!" You know the drill, and to an extent, we all fall into this trap at one time or another (Yours Truly's Favorite: "If only I were taller than 5' 7", even by 3 inches, I'd have won Wimbledon at least 5 times by now!").

    Getting Better at Tennis is a hard road...but it's worth it, and since none of us are depending on it for our bread and butter, we can be a little more relaxed about it then, say, this year's FO finalists...My philosophy? Yep, you need good coaching, and you have to apply signficant amounts of blood, sweat and tears...but try playing the game, instead of working at it like a galley slave, and things'll get better faster, probably, and they'll definitely be more fun...

    - Closely related to #2, getting better at something involves changing behavior, sometimes radically, usually painfully...and I can tell you from 7 years of teaching skiing and coaching a lot of my tennis buddies (I'm not a certified tennis professional, as I am in ski teaching and ski race coaching...but I'm sure I could be)...change is very difficult for most adult human beings. Back in 2003, my then coach Dave Hodge, who was then Men's Assistant at CU Boulder, convinced me that, among other things, it was time to change from a closed stance, Continental/Eastern forehand to an Open Stance, Semi-Western forehand. And that wasn't the only stroke; I basically had to commit to relearning my topspin backhand, volley on both sides, serve, service return, overhead...did I mention court movement and tactics? Dave left to become Men's Assistant at Stanford in 2004, in 2005 I trained under Chris Garner, who formerly had an ATP ranking of about 120, and wins over Kafelnikov and Todd Martin, among others, when Chris become CU Men's Assistant. You'll never guessed what we worked on...that's right! More of the same, picking up where Dave and I left off. In 2006, I trained under Sam Winterbotham, then Head Men's Coach at CU, and I know you'll find this hard to believe, but we were still working on my spiffy new, semi-Western forehand, among other things! In about June of last year, I finally felt like, most days, I could hit the damned forehand with some amount of pace, spin, and direction, and more would go in than were going out.

    Up until that point...and this is what I want to stress...I had some days with my forehand where I felt like "Huh...that wasn't so hard. I'm hitting bullets off my forehand! Move over, Roger Federer!"...followed by other days where I couldn't hit a fat bull in the rear end if my life depended on it...and yes, a few rackets went over the fence on those days, and a few more Maker's Marks on the rocks got scheduled for those evenings...

    So know that tennis is not's one of the most difficult games around. And therefore, moving into the stratosphere above 3.0, which is what you're trying to do, is not a linear process. As someone said, some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you. Just crank your determination up a notch, and vow to get the last bite of that damned bear, and you'll do just fine...
  20. richw76

    richw76 Rookie

    May 10, 2007
    man at the end of that one I post I heard drums thumping, trumpets blarring ;-) Good stuff great post

    Think the most important thing you mentioned is to know what you are trying to do. If you're not doing it slow down. Take a few breaths and don't worry about what you messed up, think about what you want to do, take a practice swing and then let it go. Do it right next time.
  21. Supernatural_Serve

    Supernatural_Serve Professional

    Jul 10, 2006
    muscle memory is very deep knowledge.

    I don't think we forget it as much as we replace it with better muscle memory, but we often fall back into old habits which are readily available and we pull them out without hesitation.

    So, a lot of old habits are simply waiting there to show up. This happens especially when I get tired and stop moving my feet.

    The only thing I know of that helps is to really feel the sensation of doing things effectively and really concentrating on the feeling when drilling so that you can "feel" when you are doing things wrong or falling back on old habits and don't need to see its result (like balls spraying), you can already feel it something is "amiss"
  22. zapvor

    zapvor G.O.A.T.

    Jul 27, 2006
    tennis courts took me serious anyway. i was just being an a**hole in my post.
  23. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

    Feb 21, 2007
    Thanks much...

    ...and what you've encapsulated is a very, very valuable lesson that Sam taught me last summer. We were in a hitting session, and I was *****ing and moaning about the last 2 points I hosed and he said "Tennis is serial. Focus on the next point, not the one you just lost...or won." My way of saying this is a little more direct, and people have asked me to make this into a T-Shirt: "Shut Up and Play Tennis." .

    ..and there's a custom version coming out later that reads "Shut Up and Play Tennis [your name] You Stupid Pig Animal".
  24. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

    Oct 1, 2005

    For those who picked up tennis late, it is very difficult to get it into "muscle memory". I can completely relate to what she is saying.

    Bicycling and driving are somewhat different. The number of different moves you need to make, the importance of physical fitness, hand-eye coordination, general body coordination are not as much as serving in tennis or other shots (I am talking about the usual driving that most people do, and the occasional biking, not Formula 1 or Tour de France).
  25. zapvor

    zapvor G.O.A.T.

    Jul 27, 2006
    tennis courts
    when i say i am in a bad mood and being a jerk, you are supposed to not take me serious, and instead reply with "what a ^%$#($ he is" but you guys on here are far too kind. i am humbled, and thank you.
  26. Bagumbawalla

    Bagumbawalla Hall of Fame

    Jun 24, 2006
    Here in California they are always testing the students performance in subject matter taught in the schools.

    When a school learns that their students are low in (say) math skills, then they spare no effort to beef up the math skills in their district.

    When the next test results come out; guess what? Math scores are up, but language score are down. It is an ENDLESS cycle. They never get it.

    Same thing in tennis.

    Tennis, like many sports, is a game that requires constant practice, drilling, repetition. You can never just relax and assume your backhand (for example) is perfected and, therefore, good for all time.

    What a person needs to do is break down the various types of shots and movements in tennis and practice them ALL, weaknesses AND strengths on a regular basis.

    Having said that, I recognize that a large percentage of players out there just want to hit the ball around, play games, and have fun.

    But, for everyone else, who is interested in a program of improvement-- less "playing" more drilling.

    Good luck,

  27. paulfreda

    paulfreda Hall of Fame

    Oct 3, 2004
    Bangkok, Thailand

    Strongly agree with this point.
    I keep a notebook and write ALL observations down as I often forget a key swing thought and do not remember it for a year or more. With a notes then transfered to a simple text file on your computer, this will not happen any longer.
    And not only for lessons but for every match or practice session. I learn something every time I play; sometimes its a little thing, other times it is huge, but I always learn something.
    Last edited: May 26, 2007

Share This Page