| By Lonnie Mitchel

“Can you teach me how to hit a serve like Roger Federer?”

I am asked that question almost on a weekly basis from a variety of students. I study the serves hit by the best professionals.

“Fix your toss, pronate your wrist, keep your head up,” I tell my students. I adjust my remarks as indicated by the observations I make on the endless variety of bad habits that I see students display. Whether it is an adult or a junior, one thing is for sure, they pay money to get better and invest their time with me to ensure that can happen.

I apologize in advance about the comments I am about to make to those students who have listened to me and went out and practiced. They almost always show improvement over time. For many others, “Don’t blame me!” if you are not getting better.

I am sure there are other teaching professionals who are reading this article and I bet you can relate to this. You have students who take lessons, but really only improve in the smallest of increments. Come on … admit it, we all have a few of these types of students who do not improve nearly as much as their potential might illustrate. I am sure you may have questioned your ability as a tennis teacher when that happens. I know I do only because I want to challenge myself to be a better teacher. I have come to one realization in my 20-plus years teaching tennis … students get better because they practice!

“Don’t Blame Me … I’m Only the Tennis Teacher,” the title of this article, does not mean I am not accepting the responsibility of giving the best quality lessons possible. Rather, I am putting a significant portion of the homework responsibility on the student. A student gets out of it what he or she puts into it.

As a parent, you normally say to your child, “How was school?” The child normally replies, “Just fine,” and you say, “Good, go do your homework.” “Yes, homework!” I said! In previous articles, I wrote of the valuable life lessons that students gain as part of their tennis education , such as dealing with adversity, discipline, concentration and perseverance, just to name a few. So, practicing the tools learned is important and the dividends gained are immeasurable.

It does not take a genius to figure out that practice is the seed for improvement. I also observe that many of the juniors I instruct also take lessons on a musical instrument. I ask them, “How often do you practice?” The answer, much of the time, is several times a week … I rest my case. The tennis racquet is my “musical instrument” and I use it, practice with it and care for it in the same way one would care for an expensive violin. Parents, if your son or daughter is doing their homework and practicing a musical instrument, then tennis deserves a time investment as well. Adults, is work and life getting in the way of your tennis game? I understand that is likely is, but invest the time when you can because if anything, your tennis can be as good as psychotherapy.

This article is clearly not directed to the juniors or adults who take advantage of the programs they are enrolled in which allows them the opportunity to play two or three times per week. It is probably more directed at the student who shows up each week for their one-hour group or individual lesson looking for some “magic pill.” So, here is the magic pill … lessons do not make you better, practicing makes you better, and a lesson should be used as a supplement to your improvement. A student needs both aspects to gain the most out of their tennis education. Please, do not blame me if you are not getting better, the ones who point fingers are the students that, 99 percent of the time, are not doing their homework—“Practice makes perfect.”

So you say that you cannot get to a tennis court? If that’s the case, there are two things you can do at home which take only a few minutes.


1. Practice your service toss outside in front of your homes two to three min. each day.

If you do this correctly, the muscle memory will eventually kick in and your serve will improve drastically because a good toss is the root of a good serve.


2. Stand in front of a mirror and look at yourself swinging your groundstroke’s slow and steady for two to three min.

Visualization and muscle memory are two important tools the best players in the world use for improvement.


If you cannot do these two things because getting to a tennis court is just not possible, then don’t blame me! The responsibility you have for improvement lies only with you and the person that looks back at you from the mirror.

Lonnie Mitchel

Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail lonniemitchel@yahoo.com.