There’s a lot of different avenues you can walk when developing your athletic career. Actually, just using the word ‘career’ insinuates you walked a particular avenue, that of a professional athlete. Some of us are casual athletes. Some of us take our sport quite seriously. Some of us have been paid to play our sport. Some of us are paying (dearly in some occasions) to have the opportunity to play.
Monetary investment aside, welding yourself to a game and contributing blood, sweat, tears, and gas money creates an emotional attachment. If we spend enough time practicing, the ups and downs of our game are going to affect us when we’re not on the court.
When we are on the court, however, there are two main ways to build our game: on our own or with support.
So what’s the better road to take? You guessed it: it depends on the athlete.
Pro: the self discipline achieved when you force yourself to work on a particular shot or technique is powerful. If we can take responsibility for our own game, especially practicing its most boring components, then the resulting sense of discipline will stick around for good.
Con: the problem with sticking to a routine is that it’s possible to get the routine wrong. Let’s say you practice your backhand lob shot for hours, only to discover you were practicing it poorly the entire time - would you be frustrated with the wasted energy?
The key is to comprehend what you’re in it for - if you’re fine with potentially losing time at the benefit of a strengthened handle on your self discipline, then self-taught is the way to go. If you’re hell-bent on growing your game as quickly as possible and you don’t care where the discipline comes from, then it’s a good idea to hire a coach.
Pro: when you teach yourself how to play a sport, the satisfaction that comes with winning is a unique feeling. That being said, most sports require some sort of interaction, either with coaches, teammates or opponents. However, self-taught success beneath the spotlight is like a drug to a lot of people. A healthy drug, mind you.
Con: the immediate opposite of this is that this sense of accomplishment will be much tougher to find. Every sport on earth, whether it’s tennis, soccer, or cricket gives as much as it gets. If you confine yourself to learning strictly from yourself, it’s going to take longer to find success, longer to find ways to win.
So how patient are you? Do you want to win right away? Then it’s a good idea to get involved with teammates who can inspire you, opponents who can push you or coaches who can teach you. If you’d rather simmer slowly while internalizing the skills you’re practicing, then it’s a good idea to set achievable goals and find the means to achieve them on your end.
Both methods have merit, and truth be told, most adult tennis players probably fall somewhere in between the two extremes. There’s value to be had when you work with coaches and teammates, and there’s benefits to be experienced down the road if you’re taking the road of self instruction.
Whichever road you take, just make sure to put your best foot forward. You owe it to yourself.