Hello, and welcome to the game of tennis!  I hope you get to have some fun along the way, because the game was designed for having fun and getting some high-quality exercise.

     Our country's tennis web site [USTA] is for all sorts of players who are:
            - beginners and others interested in lessons
            - looking for a place to play
            - finding someone to hit with
            - tournament players
            - team players

     The truth, in my humble opinion, is that being a beginner tennis player can be a bit challenging, because you are starting at the very bottom of the old totem pole.   On the other hand, Martin van Daalen, author of Teaching Tennis [Vol. 1, ISBN: 978-1-4628- 7459-0], says that "tennis is not as difficult as it seems."  While the more experienced players at a club are not likely to be enthusiastic about hitting with you, if an experienced player actually does ask you to hit for a while, consider that to be a gift, because he or she could probably hit with someone else instead of you and get a much better workout.   It's nice for a strong player to ask a much weaker player to hit, but as a beginner, don't YOU go up to an high-level player and ask to hit.   That's considered impolite, social-climbing, etc, so don't do it.   On the other hand, it's perfectly OK to ask other novices like yourself to rally for a while or play a set.

      Experience has shown that players enjoy the game a lot more when they can get into long rallies [four or five hits or more in one exchange of shots] and be able to move the ball all around the court, hitting the ball where they actually want to hit the ball.  We call that ability ball control.  

     Unfortunately, it takes time, usually a year or so, to develop a fairly sophisticated level of ball control on all the strokes in tennis.  That's one reason people enjoy going to college matches and professional tournaments - they know how much work is involved in reaching a high skill level.  If you would like take a step toward achieving some skill with your own tennis, keep on reading.

     And so, the question comes up:   How does one improve, and as quickly as possible?  Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

     [1.] Take lessons from a good teacher, as often as you can afford to.  Both group and private lessons are good.  Now, it may be that the guy down the street who supposedly knows a lot about tennis would be a great teacher for you, but if you do your homework, and find out as much as you can about all the tennis instructors within 45 minutes of you, there's a good chance that you can find someone better, maybe a lot better.  Unfortunately, many people just look for the closest, lowest-cost tennis pro in town, doing no research at all.

If you are looking for a teacher, here are some links:


If you live in the USA, you should be able to find an instructor near you in one of the web sites above.

     I posted the three websites above to encourage you to take lessons, because this is the fastest and most efficient way to improve your playing skill.  Yes, you can do a lot on your own, and you should, but if you have someone helping you, it's normally 50-100 times better for you.  The odds of learning good technique are improved, and, correcting bad technique (or avoiding it) should be much easier.  As C.M. Jones once wrote, "I am convinced that 999 out of every 1000 need help, either from a professional or a skilled amateur" (How to Become a Champion, 1970).

     [2.] Learn the "language" of tennis so that you can understand what your teachers are talking about.  The Glossary page in this website would be a good place to start.

     [3.] Go out and hit the ball in between your lessons!  Use a ball machine, play some wall ball, have someone toss balls for you to hit, rally with other novices like yourself, hit a basket of serves, whatever you can do to improve your racket-handling skill.  Make up your mind to hit the ball four, five or six days a week.  Do not hit all day long, because that could lead to an injury.  
      If you're injured, you cannot really work on your game.  Therefore, limit your practice or play to a half hour, or an hour or two.   Practicing five or six days a week is 1000 times better than hitting for several hours for just once a week. As your playing skill and fitness improve, you will be able to stay on the court for longer and longer periods of time without any soreness, injury, and so forth.  Fitness and conditioning are excellent, but they don't do very much to help your racket-handling skill.

     [4.] Surrender yourself to tennis.  Think about it every day, watch it on television, video, read all the books magazines, websites, etc that you can get your hands on.   Go out and see local high school matches, college matches, and professional matches if they stop in your area.  Enthusiasm makes all the difference.  Players who carry a blasé attitude about the game seldom become champions.

    [5.] Learn the rules!  If you are a brand new tennis player and you want to learn the basic rules, here is a very nice, illustrated, free, pdf file, courtesy of the U.S. Tennis Association:

    The link above is to a page in the USTA web site where you can download different elements of the rules.  I hope you will spend some time reading and learning the ITF Rules of Tennis and also, The Code: The Players' Guide to Fair Play and the Unwritten Rules of Tennis.  Both of these are contained in the very comprehensive USTA rule book called Friend at Court, and also the less expensive book Rules of Tennis.  It's a good idea to read your rule book once a year.  The USTA also makes changes every year; you may want to replace your copy every few years in order to stay "current."  

     If you would like to have a printed copy of either of these rule books, contact H.O. Zimman publishing at http://hozinc.com/  Once you get your book, make sure you read "The Code" as well as the official rules.   If you always play by The Code, you will stay out of trouble.   H.O. Zimman has published rule books for the USTA for many years.


For young people (Youth) here is a special page from USTA for them to begin tennis:

For children under 10 years of age, here is a website especially for them:  

     There once was a famous person who took golf lessons and practiced for about a year before actually playing a round.  For many beginners, this is a nice way to get into it. No competitive stress early on, no "have-to-win" anxiety that afflicts so many of us.  If we compare it to, say, piano instruction, do we require our children to give a formal recital in front of a dozen friends and family after three weeks of lessons?  No.
     Same thing with tennis.  Taking time to learn the moves with thoroughness before going into competition can only be described as an intelligent way to approach things.  Once you've learned the strokes [motor programs] with enough repetition to hit the ball with an "automatic" level of precision, then you can move on and play competitive tennis much more easily.

     Enter group lessons.  Here, you have an opportunity to hit with "real" people, like yourself, and adjust to situations that arise in cooperative and competitive drills.  Vic Braden once wrote of the magic of group lessons, which really isn't there in a private lesson with only yourself and a pro.  Therefore, don't assume that group lessons are second-rate.  At some point, you will normally be moving from specific cooperative-style drills into doing some mildly competitive drills, and then, hopefully, some type of realistic game or entire set, and finally, if you feel up to it, match play.  
      Raising your skill level is a big factor in enjoying the game.  When you move up in terms of skill, there are more things you can do with the ball.   As you find out that you can do a lot more things with the ball in your shot making, your overall satisfaction with tennis usually goes up.  Unfortunately, a certain amount of effort on your part is required, but if you truly enjoy hitting the ball, it won't feel like "work."

    I have an expression:  Sportsmanship might not be #1, but it's way ahead of whatever is in 2nd place. 
If you take the attitude that winning is all that matters, you will probably have a difficult time making friends with many "elite" people in tennis. You won't have trouble being reasonably assertive, but if you go beyond that and carry yourself like you're the only person of any significance around the court, intimidate people, cheat, get into fights with anybody and everybody, have a tantrum every time you're behind in the score, then sooner or later, your behavior will be a problem for you.  Unfortunately, nobody's perfect in this department.  Again, read The Code in USTA's rule books.

     Before your first experience at playing a "real" set or match, here are a few things to keep in mind:  

     (1) If you're serving, call out the point score ("30-15," for example) before each point.  If you're receiving, remind your opponent to call out the score if he/she forgets to do so  ["Score, please?"] The server should also call out the game score (2-1, 5-3, etc) at the beginning of every game.  Aside from calling out the score and situations like that, it's a good idea to remain silent.

     (2) Change ends after an odd number of games has just been completed (every two games after the first game in a set: 1-0, 2-1, 4-3, 5-6, etc.

     (3)  Giving the opponent credit is a big deal in tennis, so compliment your opponent's good shots once in a while. Occasionally, you will see a professional hold up his/her racket and clap the strings, showing his/her appreciation for the opponent's brilliant shot.  On the other hand, world-class professionals will occasionally get into trouble for not giving credit to the opponent during a post-match news conference.  If you lose a match and talk like everything was your fault and your opponent had nothing to do with it, then you've probably just spoken nonsense.

     (4) If the match you're playing is not a sanctioned tournament, and there's really nothing "on the line," try and look for something to laugh about and have a good time with it.  On the other hand, if it's a "serious" match, for gosh sakes, don't be sarcastic or nasty to your partner or opponent.  People can be very sensitive while they're out on the court.  If you ride roughshod over somebody's feelings, they will probably remember what happened (and you along with it) for quite a long time.  

     (5) "Liners" are good, even if the ball clips the very last nanometer of the line.  If you are not absolutely certain that a ball was out, give the point to your opponent.  This is surely one of the biggest concepts in The Code.  Another one is calling balls out that you hit, balls that the opponent couldn't see.  Do this only on point-ending shots that will cost you the point, and NOT on first serves, for example.  Otherwise, you only call balls on your side of the net.  

     (6) When your match is over, you are expected to go up to the net and shake the opponent's hand.  By doing this, you acknowlege that the match is over.   The handshake is big part of good sportsmanship; it doesn't necessarily mean that you "like" your opponent.

     (7) If you win a match, try to say something positive or encouraging to your opponent up at the net.  He (she) is already in pain, and so, your sympathy can do a lot to take the sting out of it.  If you lose, try to be as gracious as you can, and compliment the opponent for playing well.  If you can't come up with something original, just say "Nice match," "Good play," something simple like that.  If you shake hands, but quickly look away without saying anything at all, that is also bad sportsmanship.   Shake hands, make eye contact, and try to be pleasant, even if you lost.  Hmm, especially if you lost, because that shows respect for what your opponent just achieved.

      It's not easy to keep cool out there when things aren't going your way, but if you can remain calm [and keep your mouth shut] when losing or playing badly, this may earn you more respect than when you're playing superbly and winning.  Things might get complicated if you see bad behavior from players who appear to be successful, but nevertheless, if you make an effort to be a good sportsman/sportswoman, good things will surely happen for you at some point in time.  It is very tempting to react emotionally after a point, good or bad.   In my humble opinion, this will usually be a problem for you.   For most of us, staying off the emotional rollercoaster, keeping a "poker face," is best.   Federer seems to be like James Bond, the coolest cucumber on the tour.   Of course, he wins a great deal.
      It takes time to develop this kind of "coolness under fire," but if you can learn it, you will be light years ahead of your competition.  Interestingly, some famous players have actually gotten help from professional sport psychologists in this area and become much stronger as a result.  Other players and coaches have found success or peace of mind by studying Zen or some form of religious activity.


Special note for ADULTS:
If you're an adult who has not been involved in any athletic activity in a long time, see your doctor first and get his/her advice before you go out and play.  I firmly believe in the expression "get in shape to play tennis," rather than "play tennis to get in shape."  Preventative conditioning work for your legs, back, racket arm(s), heart-lungs, are all very worthwhile things to spend time on.   Doubles becomes the game of choice for many, but if you know how to pace yourself and conserve energy, you can still play singles.  "Soft" surfaces [Har-Tru, clay, grass] will most likely be a lot easier on your knees, hips, spine, etc.

     A few years ago, I listened to a lecture by Kathy Woods, who specializes in working with players over the age of 45 or 50. [Read about her book, Playing Tennis after 50, by clicking here]  She spoke about "walking" to the ball.  That was interesting. 
     One of the privileges of being over 40 or 50 is that you are not required to run down every ball, or do a split step with each contact by the opponent, the way the kids do.  The best senior players know how to conserve energy, what to do when they are not actually going after a ball, and the best ways to play the odds in their shot selection.  They also have good racket-handling skill, which is something you can learn or improve on.  

    If you develop an obnoxious pain somewhere, pay attention!  Your body is trying to tell you something.  Injuries seldom heal themselves right there on the court; ignoring an injury will often result in the problem getting worse.  I know of two middle-aged guys who went out and played without preparing themselves properly, only to rupture an Achilles tendon and end up in a full-length leg cast for 6 to 8 weeks.  If the professionals can injure themselves, so can you.  Please be sensible & careful out there :-)

Special notes for PARENTS who want to start a young child in tennis:

     If you are starting a child in tennis, or have already started a child in tennis, make certain that your child's racket is short enough to be easily maneuverable with one hand.   
     How will you know if the racket is the right size?  Have your child stand up straight, with the hands dangling down at the side, fingers extended.  Next, measure the distance from the floor to the tips of the fingers.  That distance will give you the MAXIMUM length of racket you child should have.  If you want your child to have an "opportunity" in tennis, you need to get this right.  Children will often select a racket that is too long or too heavy for them.   Do not expect them to understand why this concept is important.

      Several years ago, the USTA put together a new program in the called "QuickStart Tennis."  Today, they call it Red, Orange, and Green Ball Tennis.  This is a wonderful thing.  For too many children who learned the game in the past, the net was too high, the court was too big, the balls were too bouncy, and the rackets were often too big and too heavy!  

      With the Red, Orange, and Green Ball program, children are given a light racket, a small court, a shorter net, and less-bouncy tennis balls.  The little "grasshoppers" can now learn the strokes more easily, and in time, play a game that is very similar to regular tennis.  The rest of the world has had this system long before we Yanks started using it, so be patient, things will get better.


     Along with the inevitable trials and tribulations that come with learning, I hope you also have some happy experiences with tennis, and that those who play on your court enjoy being there with you  :-)


Copyright © 2023 Charles Coleman


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