If your goal is to learn tennis properly by developing a solid technique, tactics and strategies, it is a step in the right direction to seek the advice of a tennis professional for guidance. The most important part of your responsibility for improvement is choosing the right pro. Referrals by friends are the best bet. It may not always be the convenience of the pro at your club who is best for you, but with a little research, you will locate the right person. Evaluate the pro after your lesson to be certain you are comfortable with their style, delivery of information, examples, use of time and their personality.
Progress will be even quicker if you come to the table with an idea of where you would like to go and what you would like to achieve. Is the goal to be good enough to rally and play with a spouse, or is the goal to compete at a high level in tournaments? Be honest and realistic about your goals and discuss them with your pro.
The first lesson should be an overview of your background and goals. This needn’t be a lengthy dialogue at this point but enough to relay your expectations. You should listen as much as talk in this exchange and agree upon some short range goals of a week, a month or two months, and long range goals of six months to a year or more. If you are asking the pro to get you from a “C” level player to a “B” level player in a month, you are being unrealistic. This may be a season-long or year-long project, depending on your dedication. If you are new to the game, the pro will lead you and your important evaluation is that you feel good about the pro. If you are interested in a physical workout and hit, let the pro know that this is your goal. The pro will bring new balls out, hit a few balls with you and then play some points or games. If you wish to play but do not convey this to the pro, do not be disappointed the pro has not read your mind.
Besides the pro selection, what exactly are your responsibilities for a tennis lesson and improvement?
►Do give the pro some information of what it is you would like to improve. If you are consistently missing your backhand, try to report if it is just missing long, hitting the fence, clipping the top of the net or bouncing three times before it gets there.
►Don’t tell the pro you are slow to take your racket back, make contact late and never follow through. The pro will determine the cause of errors and suggest a cure.
►Do be ready to hit balls when you arrive to the court 10 minutes early. Warm up by jogging and stretching so you are ready to work when you hit the court. Visit the restroom. Have hats, hair ties, wristbands and over-grips in place and turn off your phone!
►Don’t come late to the lesson and expect the pro to move the next student back or waste time discussing the recent news, movies or team gossip.
►Do commit yourself to trusting the pro you have chosen and let them lead the lesson.
►Don’t become frustrated and ask to change the drill because you cannot accomplish a task or ask to touch on every aspect of the game in the time allotted.
►Do take constructive criticism and feedback in a positive way. The genesis of teaching is information, correction and trial and error.
►Don’t expect praise on every shot you believe to be a winner. A good pro will mix praise with the completion of the task and for effort. You are a trusting team on the practice court that will gel with honest assessment. Improper praise will create a phony atmosphere.
►Do take notes after the lesson. Discuss a plan of action to work on the lesson items by ball machine time, backboard practice, drills for skills with another player, or hitting a bucket of serves as outlined by the pro.
►Don’t ask the pro to prepare a lesson dossier for you. You will remember and retain information quicker if you are a part of the process. This is your game and you are responsible to become a student of the game.
Do you feel good about yourself and your game and did you have fun? If you worked as hard as possible, communicated with the pro and had at least one “gem” of a takeaway from the lesson, then it was a success. Budget your time and money as you would any decision that affects your life. If you don’t feel good and didn’t have fun, make an adjustment.
Mike Puc has been the Director of Tennis at Gleneagles Country Club in Delray Beach, Fla. since 1998. A winner of 15 national titles and an ATP world ranking, Mike directs 25 teams with 350 players in nine leagues, while offering the most extensive Calendar of Events in South Florida that includes tournaments, lectures and social round-robins.