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15 Mistakes Tennis Players Need to Correct

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By: Windsor Tennis Club Belfast - CC BY 2.0

While I have had a successful career playing tennis, there are many things about the game that I wish I had known earlier in my career.

I am going to share 15 mistakes that tennis players need to correct with you so that you can accelerate your tennis growth. Commit to these pieces of advice and I promise that your tennis game will improve drastically.

1. Focus on the Process, Not the Results

When you play a match, you play to win.  However, players tend to focus all their thoughts on winning rather than executing a game plan. Instead, think about what strategies you need to implement to win you points.  It will prevent you from tightening up on big points and keep you focused on optimal strategy instead.

2. Focus on Long Term Development, Not Short Term Gain

Humans want results and they want it now.  This mindset hinders long-term growth. Instead of trying to win today, focus on developing your game so you can compete and beat the best years down the road when it really counts.

3. No One is Unbeatable

If you don’t think you can beat your opponent, you have given up before the match has begun.  Everyone is human.  Tell yourself before every single match that you can and will beat your opponent.  Be confident.  Be a warrior. You will make the big shots when it really counts. Give it everything you have.

4. Don’t Be Shy: Make Friends

You can meet tons of wonderful people involved in the game of tennis.  People that can find you jobs, help you when you have car problems, hang out with you at the bar, and increase your happiness.  Make one new friend each day at the tennis court. Opportunities to make invaluable and advantageous connections will be lost if you are too shy to introduce yourself.

5. Get a Line Judge Against a Cheater

Do not let cheaters screw you over.  If you think your opponent is making bad line calls, request a tournament official immediately.  The mistake many people make is not getting a line judge sooner (or at all).  By giving cheaters the benefit of the doubt too many times, you could be setting yourself up to be cheated big-time on a very important point.

6. Please Yourself, Not Everybody Else

Do what is best for you and your tennis.  Choose your priorities and make sure you spend most of your time on them.  Don’t be afraid to say no if you don’t want to hit with a weak player.  It’s okay to do a favor once in a while, but not at the expense of your happiness and development. As the kids say these days: “YOLO.” You only live once.

7. Train with the Best Players Possible

How else will you get used to playing higher-level players besides playing them in tournaments? Find great players, train with them, and pay attention to what they do that makes them successful.  There is a place for average and weaker players in your training schedule: for example, if you are changing your technique or implementing new strategies.  Generally though, you should be practicing with the best players in your area.

8. Avoid Tournaments When You Are Changing Your Technique

Playing a tournament in the middle of changing your technique can set you back for months. Here’s why: you will, at some point in the tournament, revert back to your old mechanics.  This is because you can’t win playing with new technique that you are not accustomed to using.  As a result, you will reiterate the old technique into your muscle memory. Instead, keep practicing until the new technique is second nature (you don’t have to think about it) before you play a tournament.

9. Make Your Serve a Priority

All I did when I was young was hit groundstrokes.  I grinded out wins regularly until the 16s age division.  Then something happened.  Kids with big serves started blasting them in the corners and won points before I had gotten my racquet on the ball. Suddenly, I was working hard for each point while my opponents picked up free points off of serves.  Think about this: If you can hold serve every time, how often do you think you will lose a match?  Devote more time to your serve.

10. Develop Perfect Form from Day 1

Ignoring technical flaws is a recipe for disaster.  You may be able to hide a weak backhand or volleys, but soon that weakness will be the reason you lose.  Fixing bad form takes longer than developing good mechanics from the beginning.  The old adage applies: “Prevention is better than cure.”  If you are at the beginning of your tennis career, learn the right form.  And if you have technical flaws, locate and fix them ASAP.

11. Spend Time Finding the Best Tennis Coach In Your Area

Many players choose a tennis coach because of convenience, proximity, or recommendations from others.  While you should take those things into consideration, first ask yourself if you want to maximize your talents.  If you do, then you need to find the best tennis coach in your area.  Having a great teacher can be all the difference between becoming a top college player and quitting the game for good.  The reward for spending a little extra time finding a great tennis coach can be extraordinary.

12. Don’t Listen to Everybody: Figure It Out Yourself

It is good to seek advice.  But don’t listen to everything people tell you.  Assess a person’s tennis career and how successful they have been before you take their advice.  There is so much information out there it can be overwhelming and seem contradictory.  Try different things and see what works for you.

13. Take Advantage of Opportunities

My dad’s favorite saying is “When the oven is hot, bake the bread.”  There will be rare opportunities that come along in your tennis career: the chance to hit with a top-ranked player, a tryout for a prestigious training camp, or a session with an elite tennis coach.  Whatever the opportunity may be, jump on it! Don’t be lazy: take advantage of every single opportunity.  It may be the last time you get that chance.

14. Take Better Care of Your Body

Stretch a lot.  Correct muscular imbalances.  Warm-up before you play.  Eat healthier.  Keep your body in top condition, because it pays dividends in the future.  Small injuries or imbalances when you are young can lead to career-ending injuries later on in life. Invest in your body so that you can enjoy tennis for your entire life.

15. Tennis isn’t Everything

Don’t let the outcome of a tennis match determine your attitude for the day.  In the end, tennis is just a sport and a vehicle for self-growth (and damn good exercise, too).  Be more objective about your wins and losses.  Ask yourself what you did well, not so well, and how you can improve your tennis game.  After that, go out and enjoy your time with your family and friends. Losing at tennis isn’t the end of the world.

YOLO, remember?

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12 COMMENTS

    • Hi Hemant! Thanks for the comment! As I mentioned in #7, there are times when it is perfectly fine to hit with weaker players, especially if you are either (1) working on new technique, (2) implementing new strategies, or (3) doing the player a favor. However, to accelerate your improvement, you should generally play with the best players you can. For example, a player who you can destroy 6-0 6-0 may ask to hit with you. Hitting with this player would probably not improve your game, but it would be great for you to do this once in a while if you wanted to teach this player how to play better tennis. Finding better players to hit with will make you a higher-level player, get you used to playing tougher players, and will accelerate your tennis growth. Try it and let me know the results!

  1. Mostly good stuff, I mostly agree with #15, Tennis isn’t everything, nor is it who you are.
    #11, Getting the best coach in the area is another very tough one, better to get the best coach for you! Coach needs knowledge, commitment, interest in individual, and certain level of skill. Most expensive, busiest, biggest, badest, does not make the definition of the best. That is a very subjective value to be determined by player and parents together after defining where player is at and level of commitment planned by player. Many thing go into the determination of the “best” coach for each player.
    #6 is another tough one, tennis thrives on learning how to play effectively against, many different skill sets. Never playing weaker players is 1. bad for tennis, 2. breeds tennis snobs, 3.May not teach you how to concentrate on every point and every shot.4. losing to a weaker player, is kick of reality into every ones game. Playing only again stronger players is often excuse building for not winning a match.

    • Thanks for the comment Bill! I agree that you should consider what coach is best suited for your personality, playing level, and what type of help you need in your game. That being said, putting in the effort to find a very knowledgeable, successful, and experienced coach will give you the best chance at reaching your tennis goals. In regards to your point about #6, I elaborate about how to train with varying levels of players in my eBook (free download!). You can benefit from practicing against strong, similar, and weaker level players. However, I guarantee that if you add more higher level players in your training, you will learn from their superior play, be more accustomed to playing at a higher level, and improve your game faster.

  2. re #7.. how do you recommend going about finding & getting better players to play with you (or your child) if you don’t know of any personally?

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for the great question! There are several ways you can do this.

      1. Talk to better players at tournaments and ask them to exchange contact information with you. You can make small talk, ask them if they’d like to warm up, comment about the draw, or talk to them in any way you are comfortable communicating to break the ice.
      2. If you or your child takes private/group lessons, ask the coach to set up a practice session with a good player they know of or to introduce you to one.
      3. When you are practicing and notice a good player hitting on the same set of courts, approach that player and ask to hit or exchange contact information.
      4. Ask your hitting partners or friends if they know any good players for you to train with.
      5. If you join a tennis forum online and can tell that there is a good player posting in the forums, you can message them to hit with you sometime.
      6. Check out tennisround.com. This site helps you find players of all levels to play with. Worth a shot if you have trouble finding players via the above strategies.

      I hope this helps! Let me know how it works out for you, and Happy New Year!

  3. For #10, Develop Perfect Form from Day 1, how do you propose to solve this issue if it’s now Day 8,000+? I know of a friend that has played tennis most of his life, but his backhand swing looks like a cricket swing or like he’s hitting a line drive in baseball. He’s an advanced and successful player that played Division I tennis, but I think it’s hard for him to correct his form after 20+ years. What advice could you give him to correct his form?

    • Hi there,
      Great question! For your friend, I would suggest that the friend first define his or her goals in tennis. If your friend wants to get to the next level, it sounds like a change should be made. The best thing for your friend to do is to seek out an excellent coach (#11 above) to help change his or her technique. Another great thing to do is take a video of the backhand and figure out the technical defects present. Then, your friend must put in hard work on the practice court to correct the deficiencies, focusing on one of them at a time. Ask your friend, does he or she want to continue to struggle with the stroke, or put in hard work to make the change and play better tennis. That being said, Courier’s backhand worked for him, so if he is hitting it well, then no worries! Help your friend out if you can! 🙂 Thanks for the question!

  4. Not focusing in wins have been suggested many times by many different people. However, entry to tournaments is based on rankings. Rankings, in turn, are based on wins. I’m sure the process matters but in order to gain entry to bigger tournaments, rankings and wins are essential part of the tour. Moreover, winning is especially important to players in the lower ranks where prize money is incredibly low. So low that winning this week’s $10K event might not be enough to get you to next week’s tournament!

    • Hi YE!
      Thanks for the comment! You are certainly correct in that there is a lot riding on rankings and wins. It is not easy to ignore these things. However, the best players are able to put all these considerations aside during a match and focus on executing optimal strategy during a match.

      These players should use the outside pressures you mentioned to motivate themselves to train and move up the rankings. But during a match, thinking about these things will distract you from playing optimal tennis. One can never be in the zone if they think about the match as a must win during play. Focusing on implementing optimal strategy rather than thinking about the match result gives the player the best chance to win. When it is time to play, focus on exploiting your opponent, using your strengths as much as possible, and executing superior strategy. This takes a lot of practice, but as you continue to compete, you will become more comfortable with doing this.

      Also, I am glad that they are increasing the payouts for Futures events, which have been quite low. The 10ks will become 15ks and the 15ks will become 25ks. For more on this, check out Episode 8 of The Tennis Files Podcast, where I spoke with Collin Johns about Life on the Futures Tour. Thanks!

  5. This is a spot on article. I shared with everyone on my team. I like numbers 9 and 10. So many club players never work on #10 they just keep bad habits.

    I get lots of free points on serve in doubles because I practice my serve 2-3 hours a week on average

    • Hey Scott,
      I appreciate you sharing my article with your teammates. You are doing yourself a great service (pun intended!) by practicing your serve and making it a priority. This is very smart, because as you know, the serve is the most important stroke in tennis. A high first-serve percentage in doubles and good placement will net you a lot of free points and easy volleys for your partner.

      I wish you and your team all the best. If there are any specific things about tennis that you are struggling with, let me know and I will write about it, make a video, or bring an expert on to my podcast (The Tennis Files Podcast) to talk about it. Keep up the great work Scott, and thanks for the comment!

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