by Wendy Donovan, Director of Tennis
Tennis is a sport that is taken up by many people, whether as a leisure activity or competitively. With the tremendous hand-eye coordination, quickness and foot speed that are a part of tennis, people often wonder what they need to do to improve as a player. Do you take private lessons? Do you go to a tennis academy? Do you only play with people that are better than you? Do you take tennis drills?
If you choose to take private lessons, select a tennis pro with whom you can build a relationship. It is important that you are both on the same page with your goals that you hope to achieve within one year. Schedule lessons so that you have time to practice in-between your private sessions; hit the ball around the court with others, participate in drills, use the wall or the ball machine, and play matches. It is also wise to work with a tennis pro to see if they can identify and correct any predisposing factors which can lead to the onset of tennis elbow. They can provide some advice with regards to your technique, grip and racket size.
So, what is the main difference among hitting the ball around with others, drilling, and playing a match? PRESSURE! If you are changing a stroke in any way, get on the ball machine and the backboard. (Use a dead ball on the wall.) If you are changing your serve, get out on the court and serve, serve, serve. Finally, go out and play points and then play a match - not just a set. Give yourself a chance to work past your doubts, and your confidence will shine through.
This leads to, “Do you improve most by playing with people who are better than you?” While everyone loves to play with people who are the same level or better than them, playing with a weaker or new player also has its advantages. By inviting a new or weaker player to play with you, you will work on improving your ball control. This is because, when playing with a player who is more advanced, you will typically strike the ball better as their hit is usually more solid. What also happens in this case is you will hit well, yet still often lose. Therefore, I suggest the rule of 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. Play with someone who is 1/3 below your level, next play with someone who is 1/3 at your level, and finally play with someone who is 1/3 better than you. When playing someone who is 1/3 below your level, you should have no fear of working on your new shots and being aggressive. When playing someone who is 1/3 your level, you’ll notice yourself getting better as you start to build your confidence and win most matches while also employing your newly learned strokes and strategies. Playing a match with players that are 1/3 better – and winning every once in a while – will let you know you are improving.
It is also a good idea to engage in singles and doubles play regularly. Both are fun and will significantly help your game. A crosscourt is a crosscourt whether it is in singles or doubles play. Your patterns of play and your patience will improve in singles play, and your volley game and your second serve will likely improve in doubles play.
Improving as a tennis player takes significant time and effort. You will have to play with the right people, play often, and play under the right learning atmosphere, but in the end, you will definitely be rewarded.