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View Full Version : Anyone Start Tennis Later in Life? *TL;DR*


Kurte954
12-27-2011, 05:01 PM
Has anyone out there picked up tennis after 30 having never played sports before? I need to hear a success story from someone out there.

I never played sports as a kid. Never took up anything until tennis at 33 years old. I've been playing for 4 years now and must admit - I'm a little frustrated. I played 3 seasons of a local flex league at the 3.0 level, with my 3rd season going 6-1 in the round robin and 2-1 in the playoffs (had a bad day and lost in the semis to a guy I beat in the RR). I moved up to 3.5 for 2 seasons and won a grand total of 2 out of 14 RR matches. I'm dropping back down to 3.0 for the upcoming winter season because after losing a couple games I give in to the other player being better. I don't quit, but I don't believe in myself or try as hard. I know I need to be in better shape - I'm losing weight and increasing my fitness. I have awesome strokes in practice - I can hit a 90+ mph flat serve, slice serve, kick serve, with decent placement. I'm told I have excellent form for someone who has played for four years.

This morning I took a video of some match play and really saw my weaknesses. ALL my body motions are slow - it's like I am perpetually stuck in slow motion. Even when I hit a serve near 90 mph I'm moving slow - it's just that I've got a good motion that I can generate that pace. Also, I feel my read and react-to-the-ball time is very slow. But a lot of the time I am standing still for too long after my opponent has hit the ball. I attribute this to the fact that I started sports so late and never developed the "GO-GET-IT" part of my brain. My goal is to be a 4.0 player someday and this past year has left me thinking that ship has sailed. Anyone out there start late and have success???

NE1for10is?
12-27-2011, 05:44 PM
I started playing tennis at 37 and am still playing and loving it at 53. It's a lot harder to recover after a match than it used to be, but I still feeling like I'm improving every day, and I think I'm playing the best tennis right now that I ever have. It's the journey not the destination.

tlm
12-27-2011, 07:33 PM
I played a lot of sports my whole life but didn't start playing tennis until i was 46. I am now 56 and all i play is tennis, 5 days a week all year long.

Don't be hesitant go out there and play as often as you can, it is a great sport. It sounds to me like you are doing fine in your league play. Remember there are a lot of 4.0 players hiding in 3.5 leagues.

You are plenty young enough to become a good solid player. I think that fitness is the most important thing to work on if you want to make big improvements.

You must be fairly fit to be able to put in the time that it takes to make steady progress. Then it just comes down to how much time and determination you have.

The3.5Ceiling
12-27-2011, 07:40 PM
I am in an eerily similar situation. I have been playing for several months now. I played some growing up, but nothing serious at all (I am 41 now). I picked up the game about nine months back since it was cheaper than golf and filled my need for a second form of exercise thereby allowing me to eat pretty much whatever I want (the real prize in tennis for me).

Anyway, I quickly improved from being just totally terrible to standard really bad, but at least hitting some decent shots now and then. In so doing, I competed very well with my fellow 3.0 brethren and began to regularly dominate the beginners in my league. Unfortunately, they moved me up. Well, I started getting my butt kicked pretty regularly too. Although, I would say that the experience did improve my game in all likelihood. The fact is, I am probably hitting the ball better now than before. But, a malaise did kind of set in. I used to really be a grinder, but these guys were too good for that. The fact is, they did everything better than me. I didn't give up against them, but mentally I just had a hard time staying in the matches. I knew I wasn't ready to beat them, so what was the point? It kind of sucked.

Here is the interesting part. I did experience some burnout. I mean, it's not the losing. Let's face it, losing sucks (especially losing ALL THE TIME). But, come on! I am 41! It's not like I thought I was going pro here. I knew that my game would be limited. I think what burned me out was having to deal with the slowing down of my improvement. I mean I have made the significant strides that I get by simply watching a few videos and showing up and hitting the ball. In other words, I have improved but simply as an outgrowth of having fun playing. At a certain point, really improving requires some real work. But, that is a little complicated for middle aged guys like us. For example....

I can DEFINITELY improve my footwork....it is, in a word, abysmal. However, I am a 41 year old guy who hasn't been playing for very long. When one factors in my natural inexperience in picking up the ball off of my opponents racquet, along with the fact that agility reaches its peak in ones late teens, not early 40's, it becomes a pretty tough task to improve that area of my game beyond a certain point.....not impossible, but not easy. I am sure my footwork has improved in this "fun" stage I have been in. But, improvement tends to be logarithmic. Eventually, my natural limitations rein in my potential. Not offering a sob story here, just saying there is a stage we reach where improvement slows down and it's going to be less fun.

Basically, I can get better (good lord, what 3.0 can't??) But, now it takes a commitment, and even then, my 5'6 inch, 41 year old frame will limit me a little even with the work. I hope I don't get flamed a little here. After all, I am well aware that there are 5'4 inch women that can smoke most, if not all, of this forum, but then again she probably didn't pick up the game in her 30's, so who knows.

I just wanted to offer my thoughts on my experience in picking up the game later in life. Winning a majority of the time isn't necessary to enjoy the game, but when you feel improvement...when you feel like you are playing better tennis each time out....then the game is a ton of fun. When you plateau a little, any game is a little less fun (unless you are awesome I suppose).

My advice to you (and me) would be, stay focused on your game. Keep thinking about what you can work on, one thing at a time. Just keep trying to play better. In the end, it's all you can do. I know there are a lot of really good players on here who can give you good advice. But, I heard your story and thought I would share mine since it had some similar dynamics. Sorry about the book. Best of luck.

Jeff

The3.5Ceiling
12-27-2011, 07:47 PM
It does occur to me that you might be in a little bit of a plateau, but that you ARE in fact improving. Perhaps when you keep on playing it will just click at some point and things will fall into place on the court. I feel pretty terrible about my game (since I am losing regularly), but everyone I play keeps telling me I am playing better. You very likely are getting to your goals, it's just hard to see sometimes when the results take a little dip.....but I'll bet it is happening...

Kurte954
12-27-2011, 09:20 PM
Thanks for the replies. I love the game and don't think I'll ever be able to quit playing or following the tour. I'm just one of those "I thought I'd be better than I am by now" people and it's tough to accept. I've always been a fast learner, but never with sports. I've seen a couple guys start from scratch 18 months ago that are winning at 3.5 and another guy already playing in the 4.5 leagues. After playing for 3 years I got my butt handed to me by a guy that'd been playing for 6 months, which made me feel like a total loser. Also, I get the "You're getting so much better" stuff sometimes too. Although I say "Thank you" what I'm thinking to myself is "Then why am I still losing all the f-n time???" lol I guess I'm just whining a rant here...

equinox
12-27-2011, 09:34 PM
Hmm.

Your attitude is very poor and negative. That needs to change before you'll see improvements. Fair bit of tennis success is mental once the fundamentals 3.5+ have been mastered. A will to win.

My suggestion is to give the game a break.

Perhaps try indoor soccer or anything were the individual aspect is deemphasised. Wins and defeats can be shared equally.

Don't worry about how long someone has been playing.

NE1for10is?
12-28-2011, 05:08 AM
I agree with Equinox that a good attitude is essential in order to improve and start winning. Also, when my students are struggling I tell them that everyone almost always hits a plateau in the learning process. Sometimes the plateaus can be frustrating and last a long time. This is the point where they either give up or try even harder till there's a breakthrough, and usually the breakthrough is monumental. And in order to get past that plateau, attitude is everything.

syc23
12-28-2011, 05:29 AM
I picked up the game 33 this past August. I've played soccer and basketball nearly all my life young/adult life so have always kept myself fit but as i've watched tennis all my life I decided why not play it too?

Took some tennis lessons in August and absolutely loved it. I have since joined a club and have been playing at least 2-3 times a week and my game have come on really nicely.

Since I've taken up the game, I have developed a new found respect for pros as they make it look so easy on TV. Some days it can be incredibly frustrating but rewarding on other days.

Another bonus is that tennis is a great form of cardio to complement my gym work as it's so much more appealing than pounding the treadmill. In the last 5 months, I have reduced my bodyfat levels to 7% which is the best i've ever been in.

Tennis for me now is going to be a life sport. Basketball/soccer/motorcycling remains my other loves but at least there's a lower risk of getting a broken leg playing tennis! **KNOCK WOOD**

goober
12-28-2011, 05:41 AM
Has anyone out there picked up tennis after 30 having never played sports before? I need to hear a success story from someone out there.

I never played sports as a kid. Never took up anything until tennis at 33 years old. I've been playing for 4 years now and must admit - I'm a little frustrated. I played 3 seasons of a local flex league at the 3.0 level, with my 3rd season going 6-1 in the round robin and 2-1 in the playoffs (had a bad day and lost in the semis to a guy I beat in the RR). I moved up to 3.5 for 2 seasons and won a grand total of 2 out of 14 RR matches. I'm dropping back down to 3.0 for the upcoming winter season because after losing a couple games I give in to the other player being better. I don't quit, but I don't believe in myself or try as hard. I know I need to be in better shape - I'm losing weight and increasing my fitness. I have awesome strokes in practice - I can hit a 90+ mph flat serve, slice serve, kick serve, with decent placement. I'm told I have excellent form for someone who has played for four years.

This morning I took a video of some match play and really saw my weaknesses. ALL my body motions are slow - it's like I am perpetually stuck in slow motion. Even when I hit a serve near 90 mph I'm moving slow - it's just that I've got a good motion that I can generate that pace. Also, I feel my read and react-to-the-ball time is very slow. But a lot of the time I am standing still for too long after my opponent has hit the ball. I attribute this to the fact that I started sports so late and never developed the "GO-GET-IT" part of my brain. My goal is to be a 4.0 player someday and this past year has left me thinking that ship has sailed. Anyone out there start late and have success???

I can think of quite a few success stories.

One guy on my team started playing at age 39. He did not have a sports background (no oraganized sports growing up) although was in decent shape and was athletic. He achieved a 4.5 C rating in 2 years although he is really probably a strong 4.0. Funny thing is he got injured at the end of the season and basically hasn't come back even though he was healed up. He played all the time for two years and then just kind of gave it up.

Another guy was a former minor league baseball player and was a solid 4.5 after 3 years starting at age 37. He however is still at the same level now for about 8 years. It is really hard to move into the legit 5.0 level if you start in your 30s unless you have alot of time, are in great shape and have good coaching.

limitup
12-28-2011, 06:51 AM
It's all totally possible if you're 1) healthy 2) not totally uncoordinated and 3) you have the time and desire to practice and get better.

I started playing seriously at 36 and was regularly winning 4.0 matches within 18 months, and reached the 4.5 level shortly after the 2 year mark. It obviously gets a lot harder from there. I surfed and played baseball growing up, but am definitely not a "jock". Just healthy and relatively athletic and in pretty decent shape.

As far as tennis and training, I workout 5 days a week, I spend another 4-6 hours a week doing stretching and other related exercises (think "girly" stuff like stretching, yoga, posture and body re-alignment stuff etc), and I play an average of about 10 hours of tennis a week. Usually 2 matches, 2 practice/drill sessions, and 1 lesson with a pro each week.

I eat, drink and breathe tennis. YMMV.

Pro tip: At the "lower" levels i.e. 3.0 - 4.0 there's almost always just a few specific things that are holding a person back. You need to figure out what these things are, usually with the help of a good coach, and fix them to reach the next level. This was the case for me, and at least a dozen other people I know.

For example, I was stuck at the 3.5 level for what seemed like the longest time. Once I figured out what my biggest problem was at that time, and fixed it, I immediately jumped to playing solid 4.0 within a matter of 2 months.

It sounds like this probably applies to you as well. If you have good placement of a 90mph serve and you're dropping back down to 3.0 your game is simply unbalanced and it sounds like you're just missing some basic fundamentals.

The good news is this stuff is easier to learn and fix (once you figure out what the problem is) then getting good placement on a 90mph serve. People winning 4.5 tournaments usually can't even place 90mph serves!

Pro tip #2: For most people our age, a big key to getting "better" and winning is staying healthy and movement. I can move on the court like any 20 year old kid, which gives me a huge edge over almost anyone else my age.

Every single person I've ever played with has commented on it, and my ability to move helps compensate for other areas of my game that are lacking. The cool thing is I recently discovered something that is helping even more and my ability to move and be aggressive is getting even better!

thug the bunny
12-28-2011, 06:52 AM
Focus on the ball rather than on winning. Execute each stroke instead of thinking about the score or your opponent.

Most sports are this way. If you focus on the finish at the start of a 100 mile bike ride, you're gonna be dead meat. Focus on the process rather than the goal.

buruan
12-28-2011, 07:15 AM
I started playing at 34, but I have been doing competitive Olympic level sports when I was younger. An injury killed my Olympic dreams back then.
I picked up tennis quickly, but having had 6+ hours of athletic training for years sets you up nicely to pick up other sports later in life.

In my opinion, you should measure your success by the fun you have playing, rather than the level you are playing at.

Build a network of players you have fun hitting with and play outside the USTA leagues. Find a bunch of guys, above and below your level, and go out there and have fun.

If you have the time and money to invest in tennis training there should be no reason why you cant get to 4.0, I have seen many "nonathletic" 4.0 players, who got there by practicing loads.
Higher up (4.5 and above) the athletic ability is a weighing more and more, but i think everyone who has the time can get to 4.0

Cindysphinx
12-28-2011, 07:22 AM
I started at 44 six years ago and tennis was my first sport. I'm now a 4.0. So it is quite possible to move up.

There were two things that made the difference for me: Instruction and Practice.

Regarding instruction, it helps if you have a bottomless pit of money so you can take private lessons every week. If you don't, then you have to make smart use of the instruction you can afford.

Find a good pro. Take a private lesson on one thing (serve is a great place to start, and 30 minutes is enough for serving). Go practice what you learn until you think you are doing what you were told to do (using video to confirm if possible). Then take another lesson on that same thing.

Keep working on that shot until it is a strength. Then move on to a different shot. I would say a reasonable progression would be serve, then FH, then BH, then volleys.

I would resist the impulse to try to cover many different problems in a single lesson. The result will be that you groove nothing and wind up taking lessons and not getting better. Also resist the impulse to do things the wrong way because it works. When the pro tells you to serve in a continental grip, do it -- don't use frying pan grip just to get the serve in.

Second, practice. Ask your pro for the names of a few students at your level. Get with them and practice. "Practice" is defined as cooperative hitting where both of you are trying to hit the way the pro told you to hit. If your practice partner cannot be convinced of this (and instead wants to slam winners, wants to stop after 30 minutes, only wants to play sets) find a new practice partner.

The combination of focused instruction + focused practice made all the difference for me. I've got a steady practice partner, and we can go 4-5 hours in a session. I'll never go higher than 4.0, and even 4.0 is going to be a challenge. I don't care. I like stepping onto the court knowing that, win or lose, no one is going to dominate me and I'll have a fun match. I'm glad I worked on my game.

[edit: Whoops. I forgot you said in your OP that you can hit all the serves with good placement. If that's true, it's hard to understand why you are stuck at 3.0. But if it is true, then you probably need to start by working with your pro on doing a split step and footwork, as the ball really shouldn't be moving that fast at 3.0.]

GoSurfBoy
12-28-2011, 07:49 AM
My mom started around 38/39, and started beating her instructor within a couple years. She went on the be Nationally Ranked from her 40's, on, and at one point, was #5, Singles, in the Nation in her age division.

She was a fighter, never quit, but extremely gracious on the courts. She hit top off both sides - even at 80, topspin serve. I remember once at a 'Fast Serve Contest', she was in her latter 50's and hit a 92mph first. She was a hoot :-)

The only limitations are those you place on yourself, but by placing too much demand on yourself for results (the clock is ticking, I need to be better, faster), you put far MORE pressure on yourself, and you game falters, reactions slow, etc. Which is probably why you pick up the ball late; Too much going on in your mind.

It's VERY HARD to clear your mind. The term 'easier said than done' doesn't even come close, as tennis' Allen Fox discovered there are 1500-2500 individual decisions to be made in each match.

And we ADD to that??..... holy crap. Tremendous burden.

There is a count-hit method Oscar Wegner uses which works extremely well to help try to narrow down your field of focus, and to clear your mind. Most people lose the ball at the bounce, and THAT is where the focus should be dialed in. Everything 'before' that should be a 'softer' focus, as he says; seeing opponent's setup, reading the racket face, etc. At their 'contact', I am slightly in the air, so that I am unweighted and can land in the split-step, with the needed direction/weight transfer to run down the ball.

At the bounce, sharpen your focus with a count of 1-2-3-4-...5 IS THE HIT. I've furthered this to 6-7 WITH MY HEAD DOWN - even though my body generally 'pulls' off the shot (yes). The counting helps focus and simplifies or nulls the 'over-thinking' process we can all fall into.

Good luck!

fuzz nation
12-28-2011, 08:24 AM
Thanks for the replies. I love the game and don't think I'll ever be able to quit playing or following the tour. I'm just one of those "I thought I'd be better than I am by now" people and it's tough to accept. I've always been a fast learner, but never with sports. I've seen a couple guys start from scratch 18 months ago that are winning at 3.5 and another guy already playing in the 4.5 leagues. After playing for 3 years I got my butt handed to me by a guy that'd been playing for 6 months, which made me feel like a total loser. Also, I get the "You're getting so much better" stuff sometimes too. Although I say "Thank you" what I'm thinking to myself is "Then why am I still losing all the f-n time???" lol I guess I'm just whining a rant here...

That's cool - hey, at least you're being honest, right? One of the things with this sport is that the progress doesn't often show from day to day or even month to month. Your long term dedication should be rewarded just as long as you're actually working on GOOD habits.

I'm loving your story!!! I grew up playing some tennis, but missed out on playing for a small college when I got injured. After several years away, including a stint with the Navy, I started playing again in a completely different context than when I was a kid. I needed to do a whole lot of rebuilding and found my way into a rather healthy tennis circle. Then I really caught fire, started coaching high school kids, learned more and more, and even certified with the USPTA.

Along the way, I've come across more than one person with a story that's like yours. Many success stories for sure, but I think that the great news for you is that you're a relative newcomer. That means that you don't need to endure the frustration of un-learning many bad habits that piled up on you over a couple of decades. It sounds like you're hungry to develop your game and aside from some solid guidance and one or two decent hitting partners, that's about all you need.

One tip to help with keeping your head in check as you continue on with your tennis "career": get a handle on your own expectations. Your "best days" will come and go, just like they will for the rest of us. Accept that and stay focused on what you want to do right instead of what you don't want to do wrong. This will even demand an occasional leap of faith where you endure a short term setback in order to learn a better component in your technique that will make you better down the road.

No it's not easy, but a little introspection can help to keep any of us more grounded in reality and thinking in a positive direction. After all, you've got like a hundred and fifty different little habits to learn; no time to dwell on the mistakes. You actually have to make those mistakes in order to progress, so get out there and MAKE A HOT MESS from time to time. That's where you'll learn the most, but remember that it's up to you to keep your own classroom open and working.

I'm 45 and still improving. Sure, I'm beyond my "warrior years", but I know way more now than I did back in my 20's. Keep on poundin' the rock, find ways to enjoy yourself along the way, and every now and then you'll scare yourself by pulling off things you didn't know you were capable of. That's a whole lot more fun than putting your progress on a clock and expecting to be "good enough to do this by now".

goober
12-28-2011, 08:53 AM
Thanks for the replies. I love the game and don't think I'll ever be able to quit playing or following the tour. I'm just one of those "I thought I'd be better than I am by now" people and it's tough to accept. I've always been a fast learner, but never with sports. I've seen a couple guys start from scratch 18 months ago that are winning at 3.5 and another guy already playing in the 4.5 leagues. After playing for 3 years I got my butt handed to me by a guy that'd been playing for 6 months, which made me feel like a total loser. Also, I get the "You're getting so much better" stuff sometimes too. Although I say "Thank you" what I'm thinking to myself is "Then why am I still losing all the f-n time???" lol I guess I'm just whining a rant here...

If you are stuck in a rut, there are a couple things you can do.

Go get your game evaluated by a teaching pro. There are probably a lot of things that are holding back technically.

You say you don't have a sports background. You can get yourself into great shape and also focus on agility drills to make up for this. At the lower levels athletic ability is not as important. But you don't want to limit yourself by being overweight or out of shape.

I think almost anybody can get to 4.0 if they are willing to put in the practice and make changes. Some may take longer than others.

sundaypunch
12-28-2011, 11:00 AM
As far as tennis and training, I workout 5 days a week, I spend another 4-6 hours a week doing stretching and other related exercises (think "girly" stuff like stretching, yoga, posture and body re-alignment stuff etc), and I play an average of about 10 hours of tennis a week. Usually 2 matches, 2 practice/drill sessions, and 1 lesson with a pro each week....



Pro tip #2: For most people our age, a big key to getting "better" and winning is staying healthy and movement. I can move on the court like any 20 year old kid, which gives me a huge edge over almost anyone else my age.


I think that this is the info. the OP should concentrate the most on. I'm going to guess that he could lose some weight and greatly benefit from working out.

misterg
12-29-2011, 09:02 AM
I started tennis at 33 now i'm 50. At age of 44 because of sore wrist I was forced to quit tennis... So I started to play with my left hand (my no-dominant) and had to start learn the game from the beginning. I enjoy every moment on the court, it doesn't matter if you are 2,0 or 5.5, it doesn't matter if you win or lose: every time you are on court you are a winner, enjoy every moment you spend on court.
PS Do never record yourself and watch on TV or PC, never! We are used to see pros, it's a different planet :)

Dadof10s
12-29-2011, 09:58 AM
People have to be realistic, tennis is an active sport. You would not expect to take up basketball at age 33 and become someone able to compete down at the YMCA with gym rats. You would not be frustrated not being able to keep getting better and raising your basketball level compared to other long term players, so not sure why in tennis anyone would expect just to keep getting better late in life.

limitup
12-29-2011, 10:09 AM
Say what? Most tennis players can "keep getting better late in life" just fine. Not sure what you're talking about. No you can't start when you're 30 and go pro, but there are a limitless number of people who started "late" at 30 and play "high level" tennis.

Dadof10s
12-29-2011, 10:26 AM
Say what? Most tennis players can "keep getting better late in life" just fine. Not sure what you're talking about. No you can't start when you're 30 and go pro, but there are a limitless number of people who started "late" at 30 and play "high level" tennis.

You missed my point. A guy who takes up basketball after 30 will also get better. But he would not go crazy that he could not compete with life long players. Guys will say things like "I started playing tennis at age 19, can I go pro?" or "I started tennis at 33 but can not get past 3.5". Would a guy who started basketball at age 19 think he could go to the NBA? Tennis is an active sport, why do we think we should be able to get to levels in tennis when we would never consider it in other sports? Getting to 4.0 is not all that easy if you start at age 35.

equinox
12-29-2011, 07:38 PM
I think almost anybody can get to 4.0 if they are willing to put in the practice and make changes. Some may take longer than others.

Agreed.

Extraordinarily gifted athletes can push upwards to 4.0 in 2/3 years.