How To Ace a New Sport

Think you might like tennis, or golf, or running – but not sure you’ll be any good at it? Use these simple expert tricks and you’ll be a natural in no time.
Published September 6, 2016


The intimidation factor of trying a new sport can be a real deal­breaker. If only there were a way to lessen the learning curve.... Oh wait, there is! Experts agree that a surefire way to minimize your new-fitness awkward stage is to use visualization. By relying on relatable mental images (such as likening a tennis racket to a hand mirror) to guide your form and mindset, you'll quickly grasp the feel for the sport.

“Visualization can help eliminate some of the overthinking and frustration that beginners may encounter,” says PGA professional Suzy Whaley. “Instead of getting caught up in a checklist of, ‘Okay, I have to bend my knees, bend my elbows at this height, make sure my hands are together,’ novices can remember a simple image, such as sweeping your golf club like a broom when putting.” Here, sporty experts share the clever mental pictures they plant in their students’ heads. Think of them as fitness shortcuts for beginners!

How to ace: Swimming
Visualize this: During the freestyle stroke,a long, streamlined body battles the least water resistance: Picture yourself swimming through the smallest tube you can fit through (arms and legs close to the body). Likewise, to make the stroke as smooth and easy as possible, hold your head in a neutral, eyes­straight­down position as if a laser beam was projected from the top of your head and pointed just below the surface of the water, says John Fitzpatrick, owner and head coach of Chicago Blue Dolphins, an aquatics center in Chicago. When your head swivels to breathe, make sure the beam remains aimed underneath the surface. (If it faces up, your legs drop and you’ll be working harder.)

How to ace: Golf
Visualize this: Use alphabet­derived images to set up your swing: Stand like an “A” that’s bowing (your feet are shoulder­width apart and you’re leaning forward slightly from the hips) and form a relaxed “Y” with your arms and club (your arms come together in a “V” and the club is the tail), says Whaley. When swinging, think of yourself as a clock, with your head at 12 and your feet at six, says Whaley. For a small beginner put, move your club from the 5 o’clock position to 7 o’clock (the face of the club should move as if you’re sweeping crumbs into a dustpan, rather than upward; a more advanced full swing at the driving range starts at 10 o’clock and finishes around 2 o’clock.

How to ace: Yoga
Visualize this: To create the sense of upward­moving energy and lengthening that you’re constantly working toward in yoga, press your feet down firmly in the basic standing pose, Mountain Pose or Tadasana, while reaching the crown of your head up; imagine that you’re creating space between each vertebrae, says Shari Goldstein, owner of YogaFlex, a yoga studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. When you’re in a challenging pose, envision your breath as a white, warm swirl of light and send it to soften the area of tension, says Goldstein. Lying in Shavasana, with arms and legs outstretched, imagine you’re melting into the warm, soft, wet sand on a beach.

How to ace: Tennis
Visualize this: Hold your racquet as if you are shaking hands with the handle, says Kirk R. Anderson, Director of Coach Education and Development at the United States Tennis 

Association. To help aim your forehand shot, pretend that the face of your racquet is a hand mirror; when you hit the ball, the reflection in that mirror should be your target, whether that means over the net, either corner, or right down the middle, says Anderson. For a great serve, reach your hitting arm straight up as if nailing a tack into the wall as high as you can to hang a picture.

How to ace: Running
Visualize this: A beginner’s tendency to tense up can tighten muscles and breathing. Relax while running by envisioning yourself as a smooth flowing bicycle with your legs rolling in a wheel­like motion, Randy Accetta, Ph.D., director of coaching education for the Road Runners Club of America. To avoid scrunching your neck and shoulders, think “hands brushing my waistband,” rather than raising your hands to chest height. Your fists should be lightly cupped so you could palm a potato chip without breaking it, says Dr. Accetta.

How to ace: Skiing
Visualize this: To be in command on skis, you need a go­to solid stance. Position yourself as if you’re preparing to jump really high or spring up to shoot a basketball, says Herb Davis, Snowsports Director at Moonlight Basin Resort in Big Sky, Montana, who adds that you should lean forward and feel pressure between your shins and boots. Glide off the ski lift as if you’re driving and looking over the hood of your car at an object in front of you. Looking down at your equipment can throw off your balance, says Davis. For the all­important slow down or stop, push your skis into the shape of a pizza slice (the wider the wedge, the better the brakes).