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A young tennis player practicing her swing

4 Skills Tennis Players Can Teach Themselves

09/07/2015, 6:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech

How to train when no one's looking...


Tennis is unique from a lot of sports because you can play it long after you’ve adopted knitting as your preferred form of Friday night entertainment. 

In other less crass terms, tennis can be played regardless of age, physical ability and time constraints. Anyone can play tennis, any time, anywhere. 

All you need is a racquet, a can of balls and your will. 

And while a lot of the North Shore Winter Club’s tennis community is playing for fun and for the camaraderie of the game, you wouldn’t be secretly reading these blog posts if you didn’t want to get better, right? Who among us doesn’t want to show up at our next game or match with a few new tricks up our sleeve with which we can dominate our ill-prepared competition?

None of us, that’s who. 

Besides working on your hitting technique or game strategies with a coach or a team, here are four keys you can work on when no one is looking.  

1. Transition Play

Used in multiple game situations, transition play refers to the time in between shots and returns. You can work on this by serving the ball and then immediately running back and forth to key areas on the court. From the baseline to the net and back again, this is a distance you’ll have to cover several times in a match. 

Keys to transition play:

  • get set after a serve
  • respect the net after a serve
  • attack the net properly

2. Footwork

How strong are your ankles? How quickly do your knees respond to direction changes? Footwork is the king of tennis skills. The faster your feet move the faster you’ll get to loose balls. 

The good news is that you can work on footwork anywhere. Jumping exercises, agility ladder movements and core strength work will help you get to where you need to be faster. Players often hit the ball and then stand still, destroying their inertia. Stop doing this. Get it?

Keys to footwork:

  • keep your feet moving in between shots 
  • stay low and use your core as a stabilizer

3. Breathing

Simple breathing exercises are a forgotten art in the entire world of sport. Case in point, I had 25 nervous hockey players breathe in and out slowly at the start of a tryout session last week, and the results were telling - almost all the players said they felt more relaxed and had more energy. 

Teach yourself to breathe properly throughout a match by breathing properly when you practice and exercise.  

Keys to proper breathing

  • keep your breathing steady in the moments before you serve
  • breathe out when you hit
  • remember that stress and nerves are intangible, they don’t control you

4. Tactics

Whether you’re alone or with a partner, employing game tactics is an important aspect of development. But the key is to remember that mistakes will be made. Really, that’s the best way to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. If you don’t try something then how will you ever know if you’re good at it?

For instance, with a teammate you can communicate where you intend to serve the ball and you can let your partner know what area they should cover. If your partner knows they should poach or cheat to the net then your chances of success will improve. 

Keys to self-taught tactics

  • communication
  • trust
  • ambition 

Sure, a coach can help you with most of these items, and there’s a lot to be said for professional opinions. Sometimes though we lack the time to do lessons. And the rewards of teaching yourself a skill and seeing it lead to success?

Well, just like teaching yourself to knit, those are the best kinds of rewards.


photo credit: Tennis School via photopin (license)

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