Tennis newcomer looking to improve (a lot, and quickly)

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by emac, Aug 4, 2014.

  1. emac

    emac New User

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    I'm a 37 year old athletic female who picked up a tennis racket for the first time in October. Initially my only goal was to gain enough skill to play recreationally. But then I became addicted to tennis, and competitive, and am now very motivated to improve my game. I played on a 2.5 team this spring and summer and performed in the strong-average range (compared to teammates and competition). I'm more interested in playing singles but mostly played doubles this season. I'm determined to spend the indoor season getting my skill set way up, but I'm not entirely sure how to devote my time. I can take private lessons, get on the ball machine, join another league (which would be about a 3.0), hit with other players, practice serves, read books, watch videos, cross train, and strength train. I could probably get to the court a max of 4x week. I'm not sure how to prioritize my court time, if it is getting more consistent with my strokes, perfecting the weaker strokes (serves, volleys), get match experience, etc. It's all still fun to me so that isn't an issue. I'd just love a game plan, on and off the court. Thanks for any advice!
     
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  2. Cobaine

    Cobaine Rookie

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    If you can afford private lessons, then take at least one per week. Use the three other days you play to work on what you learned in the lesson.

    Because you are a beginner, if you learn the proper technique now, it will allow to progress faster and farther than you would if you learn on your own and pick up bad/inefficient habits.


    Edit: Not to say the other things you mentioned are bad.. they are all helpful and you should try to fit them in if you can! But at your level, the most efficient way to improve is private lessons, IMO.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2014
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  3. caugas

    caugas Semi-Pro

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    Welcome to the addicted to tennis club! I've been a member for 7 years or so! You are right where you need to be. My advise,

    1. Take lessons with someone who can teach you is a way that you can understand (be selective, like dating)
    2. Try finding hitting partners in your local area via craigslist or local club, play as much as possible.
    3. Find people (women or men) who are better than you and ask them to hit with you
    4. Take it one day at a time, progress will come, just don't force it, it will be counter productive.
    5. Don't over due it or you will get tennis elbow... :)
     
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  4. emac

    emac New User

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    I guess I should add that I did start playing tennis through formal instruction with a combination of private and group lessons, as well as in my league (more strategy than technique)., I haven't had any formal instruction in some months. So lessons, which I completely agree would be extremely helpful, would be refreshers rather than new instruction.
     
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  5. Cobaine

    Cobaine Rookie

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    Tennis is an amazingly complex game, so it is impossible that your lessons covered so many aspects that any more would just be "refreshers." You could take months of lessons on just one stroke, and there would still be more learn about it when you're done.

    For example, let's say you can hit a basic forehand pretty well. Can you hit it both flat and with topspin? Can you hit both deep and short in the court? Can you hit it with power, or with a short angle? Can you do it when the ball coming to you lands 3 inches from the baseline? Et cetera, et cetera.

    I play at a 5.0 level and have been playing for almost 25 years.. and I still take lessons periodically! There's always something to learn from lessons. :)
     
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  6. cjs

    cjs Semi-Pro

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    Focus on technique.

    Focus on technique now before you learn bad habits that have to be unlearned.

    Learning technique requires coaching.

    At higher levels of tennis technique becomes a limiting factor.
     
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  7. emac

    emac New User

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    Ah, got it. point taken :) I guess I'm still so new I don't even know the potential of what I can learn!
     
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  8. Cobaine

    Cobaine Rookie

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    The more you play and learn, the more you'll realize it. I think that's what makes tennis so addictive. :) Keep at it!

    Also, you'll get more bang for your buck from individual, rather than group lessons. It may be more expensive, but all the attention is focused on your game, so you're better off if you can afford it.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2014
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  9. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    The more years I'm into this sport, the tougher it seems to become. For instance, if you start working on consistency how do you know you're not hardening bad habits along? There has to be a balance between making changes for better and sticking to same things to improve consistency. I can't decide which items for the former and which for the latter.
     
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  10. Cobaine

    Cobaine Rookie

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    That's the nature of the beast it seems. Learning new stuff makes us take a step backward, but once we learn it we go two to three steps forward. In my experience, the key is to not change too many things at once, and to make the changes in the off season so you don't have to worry about reverting to the old technique to help you win matches.
     
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  11. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    I don't know man. One thing I don't do is be super conscious of routine and familiarity and that way I end up discovering new things and changing very fast. I play very well against familiar foes. Unfortunately on the other side of the coin I play very badly in a match that requires some sort of consistency, mastery of 1 or two weapons.

    I know not to make too many changes, but I don't know if the few things I want to work on long term are really solid, correct stuffs that require no further change.
     
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  12. boramiNYC

    boramiNYC Hall of Fame

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    Even bad habits can be better than no habits or habitual randomness sometimes if your awareness becomes very sharp and methodical. Obviously bad habits are bad but there is value in consistently reproducing them with heightened awareness.

    Being afraid is problem tho.
     
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  13. ProgressoR

    ProgressoR Hall of Fame

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    The more you/I play (and observe better players) the more you/I realise how little you/I know.
     
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  14. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    I actually can't follow your logics.

    How is it that bad habits even highly aware can be better than no habits? There are tons of bad players (just bad habits) who know they are bad and losing due to it, but the habits are so entrenched that they can't change.

    Why reproducing bad habits has a value?
     
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  15. emac

    emac New User

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    Would you only focus on improving/changing one stroke at a time? I know just generally playing will improve my overall consistency of my entire game, but in terms of lessons and more focused practiced, would you tackle just one stroke, or aim for little improvements across the board with lessons and targeted practice? For example, since I haven't even played a year and wanted to compete, the only serve I could develop with consistency was a totally basic one using the wrong grip. I knew it was wrong but needed SOMETHING to get the ball in play reliably. So this off-season I was thinking of making it goal #1. I could spend a lot of my court time and lessons practicing a new serve, but then other aspects of my game will see less time for improvement. (If I could I'd spend hours a day on the court, but I think my husband and kids would disown me). So anyway, my question, pick 1-2 areas to spend heaps of time on to improve (which would be serves and volleys), or aim for overall improvement everywhere?
     
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  16. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

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    Welcome to tennis! A sport you can play an improve at your whole life. Side effects include better fitness and more self-confidence, but withdrawl can be pretty nasty. :) Here are some tips:

    1. Take privates once or twice a week with someone who has coached multiple top players. The extra money is worth it. Poor fundamentals will set you back, but many coaches don't know what they're doing.
    2. Lessons won't help much if you don't practice on your own. And practice involves focused hitting and drills of all strokes. Not just hitting back and forth.
    3. Consistency comes before power, but don't push to keep it in. Maintain good technique if you want long-term improvement.
    4. Play people your level and players better than you. But don't blow off a weaker player who wants to play. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
    5. And have the time of your life out there. Happy hitting!
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2014
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  17. caugas

    caugas Semi-Pro

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    Personally I take a comprehensive approach, you are too late in your years to be running around your BH, if you want to play competitively your opponents will look for you weaknesses, so work on your FH, BH and serve, those are the keys to tennis success.
     
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  18. esgee48

    esgee48 Hall of Fame

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    My advice? Find a coach that does small groups (3-4 people at a time.) Explain what you want, i.e. what specific areas you want to work on. Play socially trying to apply the new techniques. Make sure that you do know the difference between Good technique/form vs. Bad. Your SO may disown you, but learn to shadow swing your groundstrokes. Make sure footwork, shoulder turn and grip change happen automatically. Start this exercise slowly and do it in front of a mirror. Learn the proper motion for a serve (platform, pinpoint vs. takeback motion vs. high or low toss) also in front of mirror. Go out on court and practice serve. etc. 2 cents.
     
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  19. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

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    Learn a real serve first and foremost. Work on volkeys too. When those become your strengths (in maybe a couple months) switch back to groundstrokes. But play points in the meantime so your groundstrokes don't get worse.
     
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  20. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

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    I think a targeted approach is best, but I agree you shouldn't just work on one stroke an end up with a lopsided game. I think volleys are very important--what if she wants to play doubles?
     
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  21. emac

    emac New User

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    I definitely think volleys will be important for me. There are far more opportunities for me to play doubles, and so many of the players at my level are older and more practiced at volleys. And actually with the pace of many of the shots at this low level (and I'm fast), I could easily run around all my backhands :)
     
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  22. ProgressoR

    ProgressoR Hall of Fame

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    Focus on FH first, and serve (the one match shot you can practice on your own) and volleys. That will get you going in doubles matches and singles. As long as the BH is workable and can keep you in rallies, you can work on that afterwards in my view, if you dont want to do it all together.
     
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  23. Bendex

    Bendex Professional

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    Here's the formula that I used. Find an old court that you can use for free. Take the ball machine and practice specific shots. When the machine runs out of batteries, practice serves and feed mid-court put away shots for yourself. Watch lots of Youtube instruction videos and watch footage of yourself. Find a wall and hit for hours, focusing on keeping your feet moving.
     
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  24. eelhc

    eelhc Hall of Fame

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    NO!

    If you think you'll stick with the game...
    • Start with singles. It's the best way to develop the basic strokes. Play/practice singles whenever possible.
    • Don't run around your backhands. Unless you're in a USTA or other competitive match where you need to do it to win, do not make the habit of running around your backhands.
     
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  25. RetroSpin

    RetroSpin Hall of Fame

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    There's no right or wrong way, but I agree with what HotCarl suggested.

    For max improvement, find a good coach and work with him as many times a week as you can. Ideally, you would get coaching a couple of days a week and practice what you learned with a decent hitting partner, ie someone a lot better than you, a couple of days.

    I would avoid group lessons. Waste of time. I would also avoid playing a lot, ok any, low level league doubles etc. You admitted you already used a poor serve because of competitive pressure. It's easier to learn a correct stroke than to unlearn incorrect technique.

    Finding a coach can be a challenge. It's not necessarily the head pro at your club who is best for you. If you are financially constrained, going with someone who charges half that might mean twice as many lessons, which would probably be better. Older coaches tend to teach old-school technique, although not all do. Why would you pay to learn something obsolete? If a prospective coach can't explain the difference in an ATP versus WTA forehand or can't explain the difference in a linear FH versus a rotational one, keep looking.

    It helps to have definite goals. There is a big difference in going to a coach and saying "help me" versus telling him " My goal is to play 4.0 within 18 months."
     
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  26. mawashi

    mawashi Hall of Fame

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    Yup agree with most that has been said. Get a coach, work on your fitness and lots of stretching to avoid injury, work on techinques that suit your body don't follow the pros just cos they can do it.
    Get good footwear that's comfortable, a decent soft comfortable racquet and enjoy yourself.
     
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  27. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    Just work on the serve.
     
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  28. President

    President Legend

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    Start with lots of mini tennis and learn the proper grips on the forehand, serve, and backhand. You don't want to be like those hackers in the club who have been playing for 3 years and still don't have anything resembling good technique. Learning the proper grips and swing paths EARLY will save you tons of time later, and make the game a lot more fun for you as well.
     
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  29. Maximagq

    Maximagq Banned

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    Have a coach teach you fundamentals, but drill them until you can hit these shots in your sleep. I am a big proponent of the Spanish style drop feed drills that Jose Higueras does because it lets you develop the racket head speed needed for great ground strokes.
     
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  30. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

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    Bingo...

    ...lots of good info here:

    - You want a coach, not a tennis pro. I was lucky enough to have the CU Boulder Men's head and assistant coaches work with me in addition to coaching their team...good because I also got to hit with the guys on the team. Unfortunately, CU canned Men's Tennis (let's not even go there today...), but there's still a women's program, and their coaches and athletes are excellent. I coach a bunch of 4.0/4.5 players myself, but I'm always looking for someone with a good eye to take a close look at what I'm doing. The CU coaches and athletes put on a two day clinic two or three times a summer, and it's been invaluable.

    - I agree with having a clear goal. I always try to work with my athletes based on what their goals...short or long term...are, rather than what stuff I might pull out of the auto cassette. Be straight about your goals. I have a lot of folks who say "Well, I just want to get better", but when I apply the sodium pentothal, what they admit to is "Well, what I really want to do is get good enough so I can beat that so-and-so Mary Jane Beets in the next ladder match.

    And winning matches or moving up in class isn't necessarily the only way to live on a tennis court. One of my athletes is a 4.5 woman who is moving up with a bullet. She was a 4.0, and in two summers has significantly improved her groundstrokes, volley, serve, and tactics. She and I play Mixed Open Doubles when we have the time. She's currently between jobs, as they say, and all she currently wants to do is train with me or some of her other like-minded hitting partners. No leagues, no tournaments, just hitting the ball as a refreshing counter balancing to the fun and games of finding another job...

    - It ain't just strokes, which you've already started figuring out. I am coaching another woman who won everything in Women's 4.0 this year, and wants to move up. Likely to happen, and we're working on jacking up her serve (already big) and making her forehand not just heavy but consistent, too. But she's a great athlete (former soccer player), moves really well, has good strength, quickness and flexibility...and knows how to compete. If she gets behind, she doesn't get flustered, just plays her way back into the match. If she gets ahead, doesn't choke, just keeps playing percentage tennis until she can close out the match.

    - Back to strokes, however. What everyone above says is right on the money. Learn to play well, and you'll move up in the course of ramping up your game. I coach all levels, 3.0 and above. The single biggest program with most 3.0/3.5 players is that they are serving with a SW or Western forehand grip. I take some time to explain why that's suboptimal, and why a Conti grip allows you to serve with power, spin, placement, and consistency. Once someone's got a movement pattern ingrained, however, it's hard to break it. To get away from serving with the wrong grip, for example, you can't just elide to the right grip. You first have to understand why your grip is wrong, commit to dumping the bad stuff...and commit to the often painful process of learning a whole new way of doing business, which will take a while to worm into your muscle memory. I had a flat Eastern forehand (not surprising, because that's where I'm from), but when I move to the Rockies and started hitting at 5280 feet above sea level, all I could find with my forehand was the back fence. It took me two summers, working with my coach 3 times a week, and drilling with hitting partners the rest of the time, to change to a SW loop forehand. So get it right the first time, or, if you didn't, dig in and make the change...

    - On that subject, the two most important shots in tennis are the serve and the return, in that order. I've had people say "but not really in 3.0/3.5", and there's some truth to that. If you're a 3.0 and have a helium ball for a serve...but can get the ball back over the net 3 times, you will probably be, as Vic Braden once noted, "famous by Friday." Which is great, as long as you want to be a 3.0 forever. From 4.0 on up, however, if you can't take control of the point with your serve and your return, you're not going anywhere, no matter how big your forehand is. If you look at the description of the NTRP levels, they don't say much about the serve...until you get to 4.5. Then, all of a sudden, you've supposed to have an accurate, powerful, consistent first serve that you can back up with a bomb proof second serve.

    My advice Don't wait to get to 4.5 to come up with a forcing serve. Know the best way to separate yourself from the 3.5/4.0 crowd? That's right, come up with the biggest serve on the block...
     
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  31. tennis_ocd

    tennis_ocd Hall of Fame

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    Be very careful of this thinking. Courts are full of 3.0/3.5 level players that have played for 20+ years.... they simply love the social/excercise aspect of it. Nothing at all wrong with this but if wanting improvement, it requires some coaching and drills.
     
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  32. RetroSpin

    RetroSpin Hall of Fame

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    I always thought that drop feed stuff was nonsense. Then I worked with a coach who did it and wow, now I get it. Just like you say, you have to develop racquet head speed on your own. No blocking it back.
     
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  33. emac

    emac New User

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    Thanks for everyone taking the time to give me some tips! I really appreciate it. Great advice here!
     
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  34. West Coast Ace

    West Coast Ace G.O.A.T.

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    You don't need lessons (at least until you plateau - and I'm taking you at your word that you're a good athlete - hopefully you played softball and can throw a ball - you'll already have a better serve than most ladies) - you've got YouTube. Watch videos. Tennis strokes are much easier than golf (that I'd say go to a pro if you're starting so late in life). Go somewhere with a ball machine. Go nuts emulate what you see. Start with groundies but hit plenty of volleys too (good way to cool down (1 hr of groundies, then 20 min of volleys to end the session).
     
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  35. ProgressoR

    ProgressoR Hall of Fame

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    Beware of not taking lessons and developing a personal funky style that will become more ingrained with muscle memory, meaning when you have later lessons you have to work 10 times harder to overcome that bad muscle memory.....just bear it in mind.
     
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  36. mawashi

    mawashi Hall of Fame

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