Today I'll be starting as a coach for a relative of mine who just entered high school. She decided to give the Varsity Tennis Club a try, but she's never played the game so asked me to teach her. I've spent the last few days trying to figure out the first lessons to go over, and I think I've narrowed it down to the three things that I believe are most important to start with (or remember, if you've been playing long) to ensure good tennis success. Thought I'd share.
1) Have Fun and Control Your Mood
When you hit a bad shot in tennis it's easy to get frustrated. Extremely easy. In fact, it's one of the easiest things you'll ever do. Much harder, and much more useful, is removing those feelings and centering yourself to continue the game or practice. There will be bad shots. Not everything will do exactly what you want. And that's okay. Because you're learning when you hit those shots, every single point. So instead of beating yourself up about missing an overhead or hitting a ball too long, take a minute to breathe and remember that tennis is entirely about having fun. Next time you can do better, and you will do better. But if you get angry and so focused on that bad shot, you'll only end up hitting more bad shots. That's not to say you shouldn't get fired up, because that's great motivation. But get fired up in the right way, not by berating yourself and damaging your own chances in future points.
2) Watch the Ball
Those three words are going to be told to you no matter what sport you play. Baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse, Ultimate Frisbee. Okay, in U.F. you change the word "ball" to "disc" but you get the idea. No where, in my opinion, is it more important than tennis. Because in tennis you have a pretty large area to hit the ball back with. A normal racket has a lot of surface, and oversize rackets are even larger. Because of that, it's not difficult to take your eyes off the ball and look to where you are going to hit it. After all, if you watch it almost to the end before you hit it, you know you're going to hit it because you have a big area to hit it with. But even though you'll almost certainly HIT it, you very well may not hit it RIGHT when you look away at the last second. The only time your eye should not be on the ball is the second after you hit the ball. Because you should still be staring at where you hit the ball in that second. Don't look up. Don't follow the ball as it leaves your racket. Watch that spot. Look at Roger Federer when he hits. Watch his eyes in that video, and where he looks. He takes FOREVER to look up. That's because he knows where the ball is going at that point, and it's out of his hands. All he can do is focus on the hit and then plan for the return, and that extra second of staying focused is NOT going to take too much time away from preparing for the next shot. Too many tennis players rush because they feel they don't have enough time. You have time. Relax and you'll play better. Watch that ball, and then watch where the ball was when you hit it for that split second longer instead of moving your eyes up and away. The difference is amazing.
3) Move Your Feet
When someone hits a tennis ball to you, you can't change where that ball is going. You don't have Superman's super-breath to blow it in a certain direction, and you don't have the telepathic powers of a space chicken to pull the ball towards you. (It would be cheating if you did, by the way.) The only thing YOU can do is move yourself to the best place to hit that ball back. And to do that, you need to move your feet. A LOT. Think of where the ball is going as a giant circle. First you move your feet quickly to get to the biggest part of that circle. Then you need to make smaller and smaller adjustments to where you're standing until you are the exact distance away that you need to be to hit your best shot. So big steps to get to the big circle, and little steps- TINY steps- to get to the exact you-sized circle where you need to be to hit the ball. One of the best things I read while learning tennis was a coach who wrote "if your shoes are squeaking as you make those small adjustments, you're doing it right." It's true, if you watch a live tennis match you hear squeaking constantly from the players' shoes. So move your feet! Don't just plant them and wait for the ball to magically come to where you are. Tiny adjustments until you're ready to actually hit, and then step into your shot.
Anyway, I hope that helps someone else out there who might be just learning (or constantly learning, like myself) tennis. I added a tennis category to the blog today, so maybe I'll talk more about it later on, too. Oh who am I kidding? Of course I'll talk more about it later. I'm obsessed.