As a counselor of college-bound tennis players, as well as people who are looking to get an objective opinion on how to get their child into tennis, I often get asked, "How much tennis should my child play?" or even better is the question, "How many lessons/drills a week does my child need to take per week to get good?"
Of course, everyone has his own standard of "being good." Who can you trust? If you ask a coach or club manager, they very well might have your best interest in mind, but keep in mind that he/she has an interest in how much you play. Some pros may tell you a lot of lessons are necessary if the pro or club is looking to fill hours. A popular pro, may even understate how much you need to play because the pro does not have enough hours to accomodate you but doesnt want to lose you.
A fellow pro/friend of mine came up with a formula that is simple and makes sense. This might sound silly, but many parents who hear this advice agree with it but decide that these numbers don't apply to them (talented child, great coach, good work ethic, etc.) Trust me, it is a mistake. There are really no short cuts and if you think you could achieve your goals by playing less than I list, good luck but you are going to leave yourself disappointed. Humbly, I have played professionally (struggled), played at the highest college level (Stanford) and played at a top national level as a local junior from Roslyn High School. Now as a coach, I have worked with kids who all levels from barely making a school team through winning national tournaments.
1-2 Days A Week - High School Hopeful
Some people pump up the tennis to 1 or 2 times a week because they want to make their high school team. Some kids play 1-2 times a week, think of themselves as tournament players but settle in as High School/Middle School players. There is nothing wrong with either one but it will be very hard to have success at a USTA/Eastern tournament level by playing once or twice a week. Of course, if you play for a good school you may barely make your team. If you play for a weaker school, you most likely do not need to take lessons to make your team. A big mistake people make is to take a lesson for the couple of months before the school season starts and then forgo any organized tennis until the following year....not a great idea.
3-4 Days A Week - Sectional Player
Of course, the level of succes at the sectional player depends on talent, program quality, etc. But for the most part, if you are playing 3-4 times per week, you could look to be ranked between 50 and 150 in the East for your age group. This is a pretty wide range. There may be a minimal national ranking involved. You could probably get some major assistance into some o.k. academic colleges at this level
5-6 Days A Week - National Player
If you are looking to use tennis to possibly get an athletic scholarship or seriously help you get into a strong academic school by playing on the team, you need to have a legitimate national ranking and be a top Eastern player. The only way to do this is to play pretty much every day. This isn't cheap in this area of the country but there are ways around paying for everything.
Home-School or Move To an Academy - Pro Player
I dont mean to be Debbie Downer but it is nearly impossible anymore to have a "normal" life and make it as a pro. Look at all the people in the top-100 in the world and none of them that I know lived in a cold-weather area, went to school and had a normal childhood. And by doing this, it is still a long shot.
Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club and independently coaches high-performance juniors year-round predominantly at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Teams. He was ranked number one in the Eastern Section and fourth in the United States in the 18-and-unders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 516-359-4843 or via JuniorTennisConsulting.com.