By Ben Hestley, Owner, Bull Shark Sports
The classic stockbroker advice says to diversify your assets. The same holds true for improving one’s tennis game. Is your development diversified? In other words, what varying and different tennis experiences are you having that will culminate to becoming a better player?
Taking lessons from a certified teaching professional is a great way to improve your game, but every time you walk on court can’t be for either a lesson or an ALTA match. Players must supplement their coach’s instructions by finding opportunities to apply the lesson before trying to execute it in competition. Using a ball machine is a great way to reinforce technical or tactical items learned in a lesson. Also, playing tennis in unique ways, like Cardio Tennis, can enhance a player’s adaptability, not to mention endurance, during real matches.
Cardio Tennis uses a low compression ball allowing for longer rallies and for friends of varying skills to participate in the same class. The ball is also more arm-friendly than a full compression ball, is less intimidating, and the format makes for some crazily entertaining points!
Group lessons are beneficial as players can get individualized attention while having built-in practice partners to test their skills under the guidance of a coach. Special events, such as mixers and round robins, help players challenge themselves in a more social environment that’s less stressful than a real match. Again, experiencing tennis in a variety of ways helps players’ flexibility to handle situations that arise in competition.
To build a solid development plan, first take inventory of your current tennis experiences and quickly assess how each of them helps you improve. Then, think about areas of improvement in your game and how much time you can spend on them. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be more or less, just different. If you enjoy your weekly doubles game with your three best friends, but feel it’s getting stale, no reason to take that completely off the table. Invite another four-some to join you and create your own eight-person round robin; a new challenge of playing against different people but still among your BFF’s.
In your weekly social play, try different formats that will challenge you to become a better player. For example, play a game called “Deuce” where every game starts at deuce and play it out. This really helps players become laser-focused, both mentally and tactically in those crucial points to close out a game. Another is “Hold Return.” We all know holding serve is important, but a strong return of serve game is equally as beneficial. We see more and more the return playing a dominate role in matches. So, play sets to 8 and if the return team wins the game, that team is awarded two games instead of one.
Let’s talk about the serve. As I tell my junior players, if you can’t serve, you can’t play! Serving is an advantage, so the question is, does your serve “serve you” or it is just a meatball feed for your opponent? To start improving this, cut out the FBI-BS (First Ball In Both Sides) and do a warm-up devoted more to serving and less to exhaustive groundstroke rallies.
Serve practice doesn’t have to be schlepping a basket of balls onto the court and hitting until your arm falls off. Serve practice should take no more than 5-10 minutes. You don’t even need a court. Do you need a golf course to practice your drive? No. Lots of people have huge nets in their backyard to work on their golf game. Use it for serve practice! Serving is all about becoming proficient with tossing a ball above the height of one’s head and hitting it to an intended target with an overhand motion.
I hope this has given you some food for thought on ways to improve your game. And, if you love tennis, playing it in different ways will make you appreciate it even more!
USTA GEORGIA-GPTA TEACHING PROFESSIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Ben Hestley
How did you get involved in teaching tennis? When I was in high school, my coach asked if I’d like to help her with some after-school clinics. I’ve loved it ever since!
Diehard fan of what sports team? Auburn Tigers, Atlanta Braves
Best part of your game? Strategy and likely my serve.
Dream doubles match would be me and… Arthur Ashe, Dennis Van der Meer, and Billie Jean King. A lot of wisdom to soak in with those three.
When I’m not teaching tennis, I’m… Coaching baseball, but I also enjoy grilling and fly fishing
My favorite tennis memory is: Watching my 10-year-old son play his first yellow ball full-court tournament.
My favorite professional player is: Roger Federer, but this past year I’ve really enjoyed watching Rafa Nadal.
#1 reason why I enjoy teaching & coaching tennis: I enjoy helping kids become better athletes and use tennis as a vehicle for them to embrace physical activity and have rewarding sports experiences.
What important tennis message do you want to promote? Tennis is nothing more than playing catch using rackets. The more ways you can play catch, the better athlete and tennis player you will become. And it’s more of a development pie than a pathway. Having a variety of tennis play experiences helps develop one’s overall game and ability to handle a broader range of situations.