The value of being taught by a qualified coach is widely recognized. They will be able to see the inefficiencies in your game and help you to improve them. Most leading players will have received a large amount of coaching to develop their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. What if, however, you don’t want coaching, perhaps considering it too expensive or preferring to learn in a different way? Is it possible to learn to play tennis to a good standard without any help?
Whether you can teach yourself tennis will depend on your preferred learning style. If you enjoy having someone explain things to you and guiding the learning process, you will benefit most from lessons. If, instead, you like to seek information out for yourself and like to learn by imitating others, teaching yourself is a great option.
Learning Tennis By Yourself vs. Private Lessons
Private lessons have the advantages of being easy to arrange and personalized. You need to show up on time, and you can receive targeted technical and tactical advice while being given the opportunity to practice with someone whose aim is to provide the ideal feed for you.
If your motivation wanes slightly, a booked lesson can represent the difference between practicing and ‘giving it a miss for a week’. On the downside, such lessons might typically cost $60 per hour, and you might not spend enough additional time practicing to master any technical changes.
Learning by yourself has the advantage that you can go at your own pace. If you need to spend a two-hour block working on your topspin forehand, you can do so. You can look at videos of any player online so that you can model your shots on anyone- you will not feel any pressure to do things in a set way.
On the downside, if your motivation wanes, you will stop improving. You might find it hard to get practice partners prepared to feed the balls you want, and in general, you will need to be extremely patient and dedicated to reaching a good standard this way.
In general, taking private tennis lessons will offer more structure and accountability. Learning tennis by yourself, on the other hand, offers more control, flexibility, and costs a lot less than private lessons.
The Key To Learning Tennis By Yourself
There are many steps that will need to be taken to learn to play well. Firstly, you need to have a plan. If your practice is random and haphazard, your tennis will be erratic and unreliable. Decide when you will practice, and make a note of what you intend to work on each week. Arrange your practice partner in advance.
If you belong to a club, there will normally be another member who is keen to practice. If you are not paying them, you will probably need to agree that you will work on something for their benefit for part of the session, and the other part will be for you.
When learning tennis by yourself, make sure to set yourself goals, and make sure that they are measurable, achievable, and time-bounded. Well-chosen objectives are vital for maintaining motivation.
When you have decided on the stroke or tactical area you want to work on, decide which source of information you will use to learn from. Most of the useful information will be found online.
For example, YouTube features an enormous number of videos of professionals and coaches playing or demonstrating shots, often in slow-motion. Study as many of these as necessary to decide which aspect you want to incorporate into your game. Practice shadowing the relevant shots until you are comfortable with the movements.
Finally, go out and practice on the court. If at all possible, fix up a camera or phone to video the session. This will enable you to subsequently compare your efforts with what you were aiming for. If your shot isn’t quite matching Federer’s, analyze the differences and begin the process again.
Perhaps most importantly, once you have some reasonable basic shots, find some people of a similar standard, and play some tennis. You will learn far more from playing than from any practice session. You mustn’t lose heart if you do not progress as rapidly as you had hoped.
There are examples of primarily self-taught players achieving great success. Former top 20 player Ivo Karlovic has always struggled to find practice partners, but he improved by hitting a lot of serves and watching the style of the great serve-volleyers.
Mexican-American Richard Gonzales came from a poor background and could not afford coaching, but he still won two US National Championships in the late 1940s, as well as being part of a winning Davis Cup team.
How Often You Should Practice Tennis
When deciding how often to practice your tennis game, you must consider your age and fitness level, as well as the surface you are playing on. Younger players will often be capable of practicing longer and more often, while older players will need to watch out for injuries and burn-outs.
An enthusiastic 16-year-old playing on clay courts could easily practice for an hour or two every day, as long as they spent enough time in the gym to protect themselves against injury. A 75-year-old playing on concrete courts should probably limit themselves to 2-3 sessions per week at most in order to reduce wear and tear on their body.
The mental aspect is also crucial: you need to maintain your enthusiasm for playing and learning. If you try to play too much, you may begin to feel burnt out, resulting in a loss of motivation.
Therefore, the answer to the question is probably: ‘as much as you are physically and mentally able to’. As a minimum, one technical session each week and one free play session will help you progress.
It is tough to learn tennis without coaching, but it can be done if you are determined enough. You will need great patience and attention to detail, and it is vital to maintain general fitness to protect against injuries.