Becoming a better tennis player requires lots of practice. There are no real short cuts to improving your game other than to spend quality time working on your skills. Other than taking lessons and playing matches, practicing with a family member is another great way to improve your game. Growing up, I gained a lot of experience playing with my dad and older brother. What made those experiences so beneficial was very simple: It was always positive, it was always productive, and we always had a good time being out on the court. Sometimes practicing with a parent can be a great experience, and other times, it can be a challenge. In order to have a successful practice, you only need two things: Positivity and productivity.
The first rule of practicing with a parent is that is has to be a mutual and voluntary practice. You have to both want to be out there playing tennis with each other. You may have different goals or ambitions while on the court, but as long as you both genuinely want to be there, then you are going to have a good time. If at any point during your practice either one of you feels like they don’t want to be out there, it might be a good idea to stop and take a break. Sometimes, taking a five-minute break just to have a seat, have a drink and redirect your conversation away from tennis is all you need to enjoy the rest of your time out there. Saying a few positive words or giving a simple and sincere compliment can go a long way in establishing a positive practice environment.
The second rule is that you shouldn’t be trying to coach each other on the court. Unless either one of you is a certified tennis professional, it is probably best to just play and not coach. Keep in mind that you both agreed to go out and “play,” not give each other a formal tennis lesson. Your child listens to your voice every day and always has to follow your instructions. During play or practice time, I am willing to bet that they want a break from hearing your voice tell them what to do. Some of the best practices I have ever had were silent ones. Silent practice time gives a player the chance to focus more on what they are doing, process things and think for themselves. Sometimes everyone just needs a little “quiet time,” on the court to work through their thoughts or to work on movements they want to improve. The bottom line is that it is better to say less than say more. If they appear frustrated, it might be best to let them try to work through it on their own or take a short break and come back to it.
If you are on the court practicing and your child asks for help, you are now allowed to do a little bit of coaching or teaching. If they express the fact that they are having trouble with something, they are reaching out for your support. Keep in mind, however, that unless you are a tennis professional, you probably cannot offer them the best answer. If they are having trouble with a particular stroke, your best option might be to toss or hit them a few balls and let them use that stroke 15-20 times and then return to play after a short break. You shouldn’t try to examine their technique or offer any specific solution unless they ask for your opinion. Simply just let them work and feel through it on their own and be there to support them through the process. If the situation doesn’t improve or if they are asking for more help, your best option is to seek out a qualified tennis professional and schedule a lesson for your child to work on the problem.
Finally, the third and final rule is to include other people in your practice. Some of the most fun practices I can recall have been with larger groups. It might be a good idea to let your child bring a friend with them to come play. Sometimes having a friend with them makes practice feel more like they are “playing” instead of practicing. If you have friends or other family members that also play, it might be fun to include them also. Having a larger group can take the pressure off of performance and keep things more positive and fun.
Ultimately, the best way to practice is to keep things positive and productive. Finding people to practice with who bring out the best in your attitude is more important than finding people that bring out the best in your performance. If your attitude and spirits are high, you are guaranteed to have fun out there and get better. If you get stuck or frustrated with a part of your game, then seek out a tennis professional who will elevate your attitude and help you get better along the way. The sport of tennis is a lot more fun when you surround yourself with people who know how to have fun on the court while they improve.
Jimmy Delevante is a USPTA-certified teaching professional and a National High-Performance Coach. He is the director of tennis at the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League Training Center, a former ATP professional tennis player, and master pro at Sportime Kings Park.