From graceful serve-and-volleys, to grinding top-spin forehands … sky high lobs to net cord drop shots … social just-for-fun gatherings to ultra-competitive tournament play … learning the very basics of the game to high-energy calorie burn … from playground tennis to Grand Slam championships … tennis is truly a special sport because of how many styles and nuances are intertwined. It is nearly an impossible game to master, but an amazing journey to take part in, and one that can last a lifetime.
So why do you play tennis? What motivates you and what are the goals you want to achieve when you go out to practice or play? What is your “why?” As you ask yourself these questions, what thoughts and feelings come to you?
Most players have never focused on those question in all the days, weeks and years they have been on the tennis court, and therefore, this magnificent sport may not have been as enjoyable as it could be. It is important to understand your own motivations and to have clear goals of what you want to achieve. This can be applied to all aspects of life. Just think … the game you love can be even better!
What is your WHY?
Some players are looking to meet new people, make a new friend and enjoy the social aspect of the sport. Others are highly competitive players who want to train to win matches and tournaments. Perhaps you are a fitness buff and are looking for that high step count or an insane calorie burn. Maybe you are looking to challenge yourself to learn a new skill. Already have a grasp of the game, but your backhand is a weakness and you're looking to add more spin to it? Or have you just had a long day in the office and just need to hit a tennis ball?
These are just a few of the WHY’s of tennis players. Now, here is where things get interesting. Coaches and tennis professionals … do you know your players’ “WHY?” Have you asked your players what they are interested in? What parts of the game they enjoy and get them energized?
This information greatly impacts how a coach runs a practice, what areas they focus on, how much feedback and what type of instruction or motivation to give. If someone comes to play tennis and is looking to get a great workout, should a coach have the player practice a basket of serves? If a player has an upcoming tournament, should a coach work on a technical change?
Coaches, ask probing questions and draw answers to make the correct judgments about your often non-expressive players. Listen to what makes them tick, both on and off the court, and find out what makes them unique. Everybody is different, and everyone learns differently. To give your players the best experience, a coach needs to find these answers. With a better understanding of your players, their points of view and areas of interest, your time on the court will be much more productive and effective, therefore resulting in a heightened enjoyable experience for both the coaches and the players. This is what separates the great coaches of the sport from the standard tennis pros.
Players, think about your goals and your reasons for stepping on to the court, and then share them. Tell your coach what you like, and address the areas you feel are important to focus on. Be open and honest and share your strengths and your weaknesses. Do you know them? Strong, consistent player/coach communication is vital to any great practice session and even better match results. And then be open to what the coach has to offer. When he/she presents something that is different, out of your comfort zone, perhaps difficult for you, you must have an open mind. Learning new techniques, practicing things that are difficult, although frustrating, will lead to a better all-around game. Trust that your coach has your best interest in mind and knows your “WHY.”
Take the time to find your WHY and your tennis will never be the same.
Mark Santucci is director of adult tennis at Roosevelt Island Racquet Club. He came to Roosevelt Island after 10 years as director of tennis and operations, director of junior tennis and director of adult programs at Yonkers Tennis Center. A native of Rhode Island, Santucci was the captain of the Marist College Tennis team, where he helped lead his team to a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. He can be reached by e-mail at MSantucci@AdvantageTennisClubs.com.