How Do you Get Better

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by lisaburton, May 6, 2007.

  1. lisaburton

    lisaburton Rookie

    Feb 8, 2007
    a 3.5 most of my life...I have the $ and the time since I am retired... 61...good speed, agility, conditioning...
    Do I play as much as I can with better players..take lessons....etc.
    My goal is to become a solid 4.0. Should I go to the gym and strengthen my core?

    Any suggestions would be appreciated
  2. snoopy

    snoopy Professional

    Jun 9, 2006
    If you've got the money and time the answer is easy. Find a good teaching pro and then practice what he tells you.
  3. Tikiman53

    Tikiman53 Guest

    The thing is, you can get a bunch of lessons, and you can play for hours everyday on the court, but if you don't play competitively, then progress is REALLY slow. I had that problem. I thought that if I just hit against the wall and hit serves all day, I would get a lot better. I wasted a whole year. Then I decided to participate in some youth classes at my local club, joined their Junior team, played a match every Sunday, sometimes on Fridays, too. And on Fridays, we did a bunch of drills, often playing out points. That helped me so much. That's pretty much the best way, in my opinion, to get better.
  4. goober

    goober Legend

    Jun 9, 2004
    All the above. An important question to ask yourself is what has been holding you back all these years from getting to 4.0.? Maybe start out by having a pro evaluate your overall game.

    Get into great shape, definitely work on technique with a pro. Playing/practicing 4-6 times a week with a serious desire to get better will go a long way to getting where you want to be.

    Playing with 4.0s will help alot so you know how to gauge your progress.
  5. Kaptain Karl

    Kaptain Karl Hall Of Fame

    Sep 17, 2004
    The High Country of Colorado
    Ask around and find out from players who you know improved a level or two recently who they go to for Coaching / Lessons. I'll bet you start hearing the same two or three names....

    Go to that Coach / Teaching Pro for an evaluation and an improvement plan. (Strangers on a forum cannot give you the kind of attention you need....)

    - KK
  6. Hot Sauce

    Hot Sauce Hall of Fame

    Aug 23, 2006
    Vancouver, BC
    I can't agree with that. I think lessons and playing for hours everyday are one of the best, if not the best, way to improve.
  7. lordmanji

    lordmanji Guest

    take lessons and practice EVERYTHING your coach tells you. play lots, like three times a week. and when you need to make a stroke solid, go out and hit lots of practice balls either by yourself or with a friend. always think about what you could be doing better and what you're doing wrong - then correct it. usually your instinct about what youre doing wrong is correct.
  8. Mr. Sean

    Mr. Sean Rookie

    Mar 23, 2006
    Practice practice and practice. Also it helps to understand the underlying concepts of strokes. Like understand why you have to hit with topspin and why you bend your knees and lift up etc. Also its good to hit with people who give you constructive criticism. Lessons help as well but they are so pricey. Also get as much match play as possible. Its a great way to get your bumps and bruises early even when you suck. Teaches you the mental game of tennis and how to translate what you do during practice over to matches.
  9. Duzza

    Duzza Legend

    Nov 1, 2005
    Melbourne, VIC, Australia
    Nadal plays 6-7 hours a day. He is better than you.

    Seems logical :p
  10. Trinity TC

    Trinity TC Semi-Pro

    Jul 28, 2006
    Also...find a 4.0 or better practice partner that has good rhythm and consistency...even if you have to pay them. There is nothing worse than practicing with partners that aren't up to the task.
    Last edited: May 7, 2007
  11. Oxford

    Oxford Rookie

    Aug 27, 2006
    Carlsbad California
    do all that above and get a ball machine so you can isolate what you want to work on. games are great but when your brain is trying to figure out the proper mechanics of let' say a backhand topspin -- you need some way to groove that shot. in games you will mostly likely resort to what your brain knows to do and that might not be the right thing.

    i am right where you are -- 54 and 3.5 player heading for 4.0. THE RETURN OF THE BABY BOOMERS!! getter done :)
  12. paulfreda

    paulfreda Hall of Fame

    Oct 3, 2004
    Bangkok, Thailand
    Tough one.
    Better shape sure will help.
    But here is a suggestion.
    Improve your knowledge of the game to get better results and more wins.

    Learn the fundamental strategies about court position and shot selection.

    Then list your 5 biggest weaknesses and take lessons to improve them specifically, one at at time.

    Becoming a 4.0 or 4.5 is not easy from 3.5, but you can improve without
    actually being rated higher.
  13. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

    Feb 21, 2007
    All of the above... think about the following:

    - Why stop at 4.0? There are a lot of things I really don't like about NTRP, the biggest of which it turns out to be self-limiting in so many cases. If you can get to 4.0...which I believe you can get to 4.5 and so forth. I also think that NTRP numbers are sub-goals. What are your real goals? What happens if you get to 4.0? Then what? I'm 58, and my goals are (1) have fun (2) win matches (3) challenge myself, which is why I play down in age groups (Men's 45, Men's 50, Men's Open).

    - Yep, core strength is is leg strength, and quickness. Tennis is not an arm sport, it's a leg sport. I also think some kind of cross-training that isn't just building you up for tennis is a good idea. I pump iron in the summer, and do stretching, and Pilates, but I also swim and do a lot of hard road biking. I really like road biking, because I can focus on making a hard effort, and ignore all the other distractions...good training for a tennis match.

    - Tennis is about taking risks. Yep, I're supposed to play percentage tennis, and I believe that and do it. But starting at about the 4.0 level, if you do nothing but play consistent, percentage tennis, you're going to get beat about 50% of the time. You're going to be 30-30 in a lot of games, and you need something to separate yourself from your opponent at these critical moments in a match. Strokewise, that's a bigger or better serve, or a forcing return off a second serve, or chipping and charging, or something. Those are all strokes and strategies, but more than that, you need the fortitude to be willing to make something happen, not just trade strokes with your opponent until somebody makes an error. That takes courage, and my reservoir of that comes from Masters alpine ski racing in the winter. After racing downhill at 70 plus mph, taking what chances I have to to win a tennis match is no big thing. So find some other activity in your life that requires you to lay it on the line to'll help your tennis.

    - In that respect, what TikiMan53 says is right on the money. People think that tennis is all about working on your strokes, footwork, agility, and so forth. To be a 4.0, you have to beat 4.0 players, so you have to learn how to compete and win at that level.

    - As others have noted, however, you need to practice, and practice right. I'd be looking for a coach rather than just somebody who gives lessons. I was fortunate enough to have as my last 3 coaches Sam Winterbotham, Men's Head Coach for Colorado Tennis, Chris Garner, Men's Assistant, and Dave Hodge, Men's Assistant. They were the best coaches, any sport, I've ever had, and what they gave me went way beyond how to hit a semi-Western forehand.

    - Per the above, in general, you're going to need to raise your game, which is why you need a good coach and good hitting partners to help you get there. Here are the differences between 3.5 and 4.0...and I threw in 4.5, just for good measure. At the end of the day, ya gotta want it, and ya gotta commit to it, because it's a goal unlike "read more high-class fiction, this year"...but it's worth it. Good luck!

    You have achieved improved stroke dependability with directional control on moderate shots, but need to develop depth and variety. You exhibit more aggressive net play, have improved court coverage and are developing teamwork in doubles.

    You have dependable strokes, including directional control and depth on both forehand and backhand sides on moderate-paced shots. You can use lobs, overheads, approach shots and volleys with some success and occasionally force errors when serving. Rallies may be lost due to impatience. Teamwork in doubles is evident.

    You have developed your use of power and spin and can handle pace. You have sound footwork, can control depth of shots, and attempt to vary game plan according to your opponents. You can hit first serves with power and accuracy and place the second serve. You tend to overhit on difficult shots. Aggressive net play is common in doubles.
    Last edited: May 7, 2007
  14. skiracer55

    skiracer55 Hall of Fame

    Feb 21, 2007
    Some additonal thoughts...

    - I guess there's one more aspect I'd like to mention, which is, in my opinion, the hardest jump is from the 3.0/3.5 levels up to 4.0 and beyond. There's two ways of looking at NTRP generally, one of which is "I'm now playing in a 4.0 league" or "my strokes and strategies are 4.0 level" and they are not the same thing for a couple of reasons: (1) There used to be a 5.5 level in leagues and tournaments, but the number of NTRP events was getting to be too much for tournament directors, so 5.5 went away. What happened to all the then 5.5s? They became 5.0s, so there was a kind of downward creep. 4.0 is now a pretty difficult level, with a lot of 4.5 type strokes and strategies in evidence. (2) Having said all that good stuff, what you see, up to about the 4.0 level, is a lot of people with iffy strokes and strategies who play lots of events and compete well.

    If you look at the descriptions of the 3.5 through 4.5 levels, which I quoted above, in terms of stroke production and strategy, it seems to be implying that there is a continuum from 3.5 upward. That is, a 3.5 has a pretty solid forehand, for example, just not the same pace, variety, placement that a 4.0/4.5 has...but that'll come with time and practice.

    In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of 3.0/3.5s arrive at that level just by playing a lot and getting a lot of match time...but their strokes and strategies are basically junk. That doesn't mean they are bad people, just that they never got any help getting started playing the game. I'm not making this up. When I watch a 3.0/3.5 level match...doesn't matter if it's men or women, single or doubles...I inevitably see the following problems, and these problems are holding these players back from going any higher:

    - Serving with a Western forehand grip, basically arming the ball, no leg drive, no rotational momentum from the upper body, little or no snap at the top, generally erratic toss.

    - Inconsistent return of serve, usually by taking a huge backswing and big swipe at the ball. Poor court positioning for the serve; poor reading of the direction/spin/pace of the serve.

    - Push backhand, arming the ball, not using the legs or torso, stepping back.

    - Wild swings at the forehand, occasional winners, many errors, a different forehand on every point.

    - Wild swings on the get the joke.

    - No overhead...but a very good lob (probably better than mine!).

    So what's my point? Basically, for most people, trying to get above the 3.5 level by trying harder is basically the definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. To get above these levels, it usually takes completely changing your strokes, new strategy, new physical preparation, new movement on the court, new ways of competing to win.

    Actually, this happens at all levels, but I think it's most prevalent trying to improve above 3.5. To give you a personal example (ahem)...I am now 58. I played high school team tennis, and tournament tennis all through college. In my late 20s/early 30s, I was playing the Colorado circuit, which then had no was just Men's Tennis, singles and doubles. My best year, I won a tournament in Breckenridge, and got to the last 16 in singles and last 8 in doubles at the Intermountain Championships. Then I got burned out on tennis and got into road bike racing. In my mid forties, I got back on a tennis court again...but didn't play any tournaments for the first 5 years back, just hit lots of balls and got used to the new equipment. In 2002, I was looking for a way to get back into tournaments again, but I knew my game wasn't quite there. I got some coaching from Dave Hodge, then Colorado University Men's Assistant Coach and former ATP player. Remember, I had already played tennis for a lot of years, and won tournaments. I though I had a pretty fair game...but just by hitting with me, Dave was able to show me otherwise. I had a great flat first serve...but no percentages, and no variety. Some days, I blew people off the court, other days, I couldn't get 20% of my first serves in. My second serve was a joke...a lot of mustard, but many double faults. I had a Continenal forehand...not always a bad thing, but mine was. A great wristy backand...which some days went in, others didn't. A great volley game...some days, other days, because I was taking too much swing, I couldn't hit a fat bull in the behind with a shovel. A great return...some days, others not.

    So how did I win all those matches before? Perserverance, sweat, and sheer luck. I won when I was in the zone, which wasn't very often, lost to my grandmother the rest of the time. So for the first two years with Dave, we worked on strategy and movement, but basically we worked on having me unlearn all this stuff that was getting in my way, and coming up with some solid strokes that I could put some zip on and still expect to fall in the court more than every other Wednesday.

    Dave moved on to Stanford, and for the next year I trained with CU Men's Assistant Chris Garner, former ATP player who beat Todd Martin (twice) and Evgeny Kafelnikov, among others, and once reached the last 16 at the Australian Open. Based on that resume, he should have had me trying stuff like Federer pulls off, right? Nope, more of the same...move your feet, early prep, consistent swing patterns, consistent smart tactics.

    Chris moved on to Ohio State, so for the next year...last summer...I trained with CU Head Men's Coach Sam Winterbotham. Much, much more of the same...and then after about a month, when my strokes and movement were solid enough, we moved full tilt to playing points, working on my game..."don't always try to hit the other guy off the court! have talent and variety, use it! Use the court, make the other guy work harder, play smarter, not harder" is essentially what he taught me. Four years to get to that point, but that was fine because the work and effort, the journey, turned out to be much more important than the goal. And my goal, instead of "get back into tournaments" became "get back into tennis, have fun, challenge yourself, and Aim High, because there's no ball you can't hit, and no match you can't win." I'm still working on that last one, but everything else is happening, in spades...
  15. ps60

    ps60 Professional

    Feb 27, 2007
    i am not very impressed by the NTRP ratings.
    Just beat somone that beat u always. Then find another one (everyone is different, not necessarily better). One by one, destroy and trash them ... :D
    I guess, after all the effort and matches. U 'll find u've improve a lot. Just forget about the Numbers
  16. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

    Feb 18, 2005
    The X Factor is how well you truly understand the game. If you have an innate understanding of body mechanics, you can improve quickly. Some people just don't get it. And they never will. They might accidentally stumble upon a kind of understanding, but they'll always need a teaching pro or somebody else to show them what they're doing wrong, and even then they might not understand. Whereas other people can figure out for themselves what they're doing wrong.

    For those who don't understand, improving is slow and unpredictable. They're the guys and girls you see on the court every summer, and they're never improving.

    Match play isn't always a good way to get better. Especially if you're competitive. Competitive people usually resort to what they know, so they don't really improve. If you love the game, and just love to hit, just go out and hit for hours and hours. Focus on making it simple. When you hit the ball "well" -- "well" as in you somehow generated good power with minimal effort, and the ball hit the sweet spot, producing a pleasant feeling and sound -- try to remember what you just did and try to recreate that easy feeling. Use your ears. Try to recreate that pleasing sound of ball hitting sweet spot.

    And so on...
    Last edited: May 7, 2007
  17. Tennismastery

    Tennismastery Professional

    Jun 23, 2005
    You are one of millions who stagnate at levels below your 'true potential'...I wrote my book specifically with you in mind.

    The concept of being stuck at a particular level, usually the 3.0 or 3.5 level, is not due to dedication or desire or poor athleticism. I have taught thousands of players, many of which were adults like yourself, who had learned mediocre ways to hit the ball over the net...but, in time, discovered that such methods prevented them from doing two things related to continued improvement:

    1. Hit more effective shots more consistently,
    2. Defend more effective shots from more skilled opponents more consistently.

    Many of the people who discovered tennis, that did not seek specific tennis instruction--(whether they tried to teach themselves with no specific methodology as guidance, or they recieved faulty advice), went out and figured out a way to hit a ball over the net. There are a gazzillion ways to do this...but only a few ways that skilled players execute skilled strokes.

    Thus, if your goal is to get better, (and like skiracer mentioned, why stop at the 4.0 level!) then you will want to study the game just as any 4.0 and above player usually did: they learned what skilled methods, grips and footwork was and then went out and made those methods become comfortable and familiar. It takes a player longer, usually, to over come the muscle memory of their old methods. However, it can be done.

    The most important point is that once you learn such methods, you employ them religiously in your competition...without reverting back to old, familiar methods.

    If you learn more advanced technques, you, like my top ranked juniors and adults, will be able to advance further on, with nothing stopping you other than experience, time and dedication, and athleticism. You could get to 5.0 level in a few years if you make the decision to do so.

    Good luck and God Speed in your quest!
  18. DrewRafter8

    DrewRafter8 Professional

    Jun 1, 2004
    Dave, wanted to take a moment and tell you that you have written a fantastic book. I have been reading your tennis mastery book as I prepare to go get my USPTA and PTR certification probably next spring. I coach a high school team and it has been a great resource in helping me come up with different teaching ideas. It also has been a great read as I try myself to progress my game. I am just a year back into the game and am playing 4.0 confidently. I plan to work my game to an open level so that I can be the best teacher of this game as possible. I think you have done a marvelous job and I thank you for all of your work.
  19. Tennismastery

    Tennismastery Professional

    Jun 23, 2005

    Your comments are indeed rewarding, to say the least!

    Good luck with both your own game as well as those you are--and will be--teaching in the future! Thank you for creating a passion for teaching the game...your students will benefit from your drive to be a better teaching pro and coach.

    When I release my next book, COACHING MASTERY, this fall, I hope you will pick up a copy of it too. It is written for the high school coach, the teaching pro, and the tennis parent. It will contain all my drills, coaching methods, how to attract large numbers and how to effectively and efficiently teach and coach large numbers.

    Thanks for writing such a public memo mentioning my book and your impressions. I appreciate the 'word of mouth' and hearing of the help it has provided.

    Best wishes!
  20. randomname

    randomname Professional

    Aug 2, 2005
    sorry if this is a bit off topic, but dave, I was wondering if you advocate club level players using a windshield wiper forehand or a more oldschool shot going up and through the ball.
  21. Tennismastery

    Tennismastery Professional

    Jun 23, 2005
    The wiper finish is just an embellishment of the conventional over the shoulder finish. Actually, there are as many as 6 finishes now discussed in high-performance circles: the reverse finish over the hitting shoulder; over the head, over the shoulder, parallel with the shoulder, over the waist and over the lower hip. The wiper move is really more about what the hitting elbow is doing: The more it raises within the contact zone, the more of a wiper motion is created.

    But in answer to your question, I do advocate club level players exploring the wiper motion after they have developed a reliable, repeatable swing pattern. It is an easy movement for most players to evolve into their swing and it can provide for a more effective topspin, especially in getting players to work on dipping the ball more and getting more angle both on the crosscourt as well as the inside out.

    But, I believe it can be overdone and some players forget to drive through the ball in attempting the wiper move and lose pace and depth.

    Hope this answers the question!
  22. fuzz nation

    fuzz nation G.O.A.T.

    Oct 20, 2006
    I'm not as qualified as some of our friends here who have already given up some really constructive advice, but I have a thought given where you're at and where you want to be. Actually a couple of thoughts...

    I've seen great results in my tennis from lifting, but more for endurance than sheer power. Work that core for sure, but you need everything to be sound including your rotator cuffs and forearms, right? While I'm on the fitness deal, I can highly recommend some yoga (especially if you find a gorgeous teacher). My balance was never better after I took some classes. I've also seen night-and-day improvement in my legs if I go for a reasonable bike ride only twice a week and it boosts my endurance, too.

    It doesn't seem like too many folks read books from the gurus like our amigo Dave Smith or even general sports psychologists, but I think there's a whole lot to gain there. The right reads can overhaul your understanding of the nuts and bolts of the game as well as how to manage your head effectively.

    Playing tougher matches and working out with hitting partners who are above your level certainly makes sense, but when I hunkered down and made the effort to get better, I also had to learn to say "no" a bit more often to people and groups who were holding me back. Not that I turned into a snob (I still happy to fill in with my Dad's doubles group when they need me), but I had to do what I needed for myself and as my skills developped, I was suddenly thriving among a different set of players at a higher level. Network with better players as much as you can without being a complete nuisance and you'll have some better players across the net from you more often... and eventually you'll be handling some of them!
  23. GuyClinch

    GuyClinch Legend

    Aug 12, 2004
    It's pretty hard to get out of that 3.0/3.5 glut. Maybe I should get Dave's book but I find books and such don't help me that much. I think the problem is often you don't know what your doing wrong.

    A good pro can spot that - and fix you right away. I have a problem with my forehand right now for example. I don't really "hit" it - I mean I am not smacking the ball. It's like a half swing - or something you would return a serve with.

    Couple years ago I took a lesson with a really good pro who 'fixed' that - but then it comes back again. It's so hard to break out of those bad habits for me. Also hitting with better players does help but mostly with returning serves and court coverage. It won't really help your stroke production. You need to have good strokes to be a good player.


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