Improvement is Inevitable

Published: February 8, 2015

I’ve been tennis coaching for almost 40 years (I know you’re thinking that’s impossible) & I’m still learning about this extraordinary game.

The recent Australian Finals between Novak & Andy, Serena & Maria highlighted the amazing athleticism, speed & mental strength that is now required to play at the top table.

I have never coached anyone who has reached that level but I imagine it would be fascinating to observe the development of such a player from young aspiring junior to Grand Slam champ.

I am a club coach & deal in the main with kids & adults who have little or no experience of tennis or indeed any sport. Some players can make great contact at their first attempt. I’ve seen this in children as young as two but the vast majority find hitting a moving ball, challenging to say the least.

What never ceases to amaze me is how every player, over time, improves beyond recognition. Tennis is not an easy game to learn & most adults & children that I see do not have a natural aptitude for the game. They have coaching, typically in a group, once a week for an hour or forty five minutes & some put in may be an extra hour or so of practice.

That’s not a lot of time to acquire & hone the necessary anticipatory & receptive skills required to work out where the ball is being sent & develop a basic level of hand-eye co-ordination, needed to facilitate good contact. Levels of application & focus are not always what they could be & yet improvement always takes place.

Sometimes it’s so slow that it’s hard to detect but it’s there, hidden from prying eyes, waiting for its moment to announce itself to the world. Then one day when, usually when least expected it appears, making its grand entrance to a surprised yet relieved audience. That backhand topspin winner down the line doesn’t happen by accident (well not always!)

Progress is not always obvious because peers are often getting better too & it’s easy to forget how bad you were when you started! In addition people tend to look forward to new challenges & don’t focus on everything they have accomplished which is a shame as they’d be quietly impressed.

Whatever aspect of the game you’re working on, you will improve. One coached session, once a week can be enough. I’ve seen it countless times. Kids & adults who literally couldn’t hit a ball develop into good club level players & beyond playing in high junior or senior teams.

Some players have loftier ambitions & play & practise much more often. Top County standard juniors can train & play 12 hours + per week & as a consequence will normally play to a much higher level than the kids not taking it as seriously. However this volume of tennis can be counter-productive as it can induce burnout which often sees players retire from the game.

My advice is simple; start off slowly, develop a real love of the game. Children should play other sports & increase tennis training & competition gradually. If a player is going to specialize, leave it until at least 13 or 14 years of age when they will have a firm idea of a) how much they’re enjoying it & b) how good they are. Adults will ideally practise outside of their lessons for at least an hour a week.

The more you practice, the better get, with one proviso: practice makes permanent, not perfect. Practise the wrong technique & guess what, you’ll end up with poor technique! Give yourself honest feedback & if you’re not sure ask your practice partner.

Whatever your aspirations & however much or little you play, be sure to remember one thing. Your improvement will be faster & more durable if you’re enjoying what you do. Once learning becomes a chore, improvement will falter.

Happy Hitting!