How to keep to improving your tennis over the years
During my thirty plus year involvement with tennis, the two main questions that parents ask me are:
1. My child has been playing for many years and still hasn't become a competitive player. Why is that?
2. Why has there been no change in my child’s tennis (improved or even regressed) for the past year or so?
To answer those two questions, we have to understand the main variables involved in your child’s tennis development at different stages. We will focus on the controllable variables. Over the years, I have used two different stages with the players I help train, assuming that they usually start playing in between the ages 8 -13. The first stage I call the developmental phase and second one I call the competitive phase. In order to achieve optimal levels of improvement throughout both stages a well-defined routine must be established for the player as early as possible. So, the answer becomes the same for both questions. Find the proper routine and the player will become as good as they can with the time allocated to their tennis.
The Developmental Phase (10-13 years old)
This phase usually lasts 2-5 years depending on the age they start. If they start at 11 years of age it will be 2-3 years. If they start when they are 8 years old, it will be about 5 years. During this phase, variables are their routine, technique, natural skill level, etc.… Players at this stage must develop strong technique and endurance.
Routine – During this phase, your child must play at least 6-8 weekly hours (3-5 days/week) of structured tennis in the earlier stages and at least 8-12 hours (4-6 days/week) in the later stages. Technical lessons are a must and tournament, or league play must also become an important part of their routine.
Technique- Developing tennis players must have at least 1-2 weekly hours of private instruction with a qualified coach.
The Competitive Phase (14+ years old)
This phase is more specialized and depending on the individual, players can make great strides within 6-12 months. The players usually have already decided that tennis is their sport of choice, therefore; they are more self-motivated and since they are usually much stronger physically and mentally, their workload and intensity level must become much harder. During this phase, the most important variables are routine, conditioning, and mental strength.
Routine – Tennis time-including conditioning and other related activities- should be 12-20 weekly hours (4-6 days/week). The number of hours you will put into your tennis will depend on your goals for the next 3-5 years. If you want to aim for pro-tennis and/or top-level college tennis, you will dedicate close to or more than 20 hours a week. If you chose to go for any level of college tennis, you can play close to but no less than 12 hours a week.
Conditioning - Spending time off the court working on strength and conditioning work outs become an integral part of the player’s development. Besides, on court training must be at a higher intensity level so the player not only improves their technique, but also footwork and endurance.
Mental Training - The mental aspects of tennis becomes more important as the tennis player gets better. In order to perform at higher levels more often, the player has to understand and overcome most psychological hurdles he/she will face during a match. That can only be done with the appropriate mental training. Some players are able to do that by just talking to their coaches on a regular basis but other players might require more sophisticated attention. In some cases, even a sport psychologist may be needed.
Over the years, most players I've trained who had the time to follow the training routines I have described above, along with good discipline, and passion for tennis, were able to realize at least their college playing goals. A few were even able to venture into the professional world. The main problem that I encounter with many parents and players is that the ones who complain about the lack of results are the ones who have been the most erratic with their routines. There are no short cuts. In order to become as good of a player as possible you must put in the hours. Most players who compete at a high junior level and go on to play college tennis have in most cases put in about 10,000 hours or more into their tennis by the time they are high school seniors. How many hours have you or your child put in so far? By the way, hours you have spent on Virtual Tennis will not count.