After a year off, I'm very excited to say that Tennis Server editor Cliff Kurtzman has been kind enough to allow me to resume writing for you. Since my last column, I've written a book (more about that in the future) and continued my love affair with tennis. I've read the latest books and articles, attended seminars and watched hundreds of teaching pros. All of which has led me to the following conclusion:
A vast majority of tennis instruction today is of little use to the recreational player.
A bold statement? Sure. An exaggeration? Probably, but it's my first column back and I want to grab your attention!
It seems we are offered an endless supply of information by tennis "experts" that teach us to play "Maximum Tennis," "Power Tennis," and even "Zen Tennis." We need this information, we're told, because tennis has changed and if we want to compete, we have to learn the "new" game.
We're given techniques and shortcuts with impressive sounding names: the Agassi forehand, the Sampras serve and the Serena smash. The shortcuts are certainly appealing in the "I want it now" society we live in and name association is, of course, seductive. Wouldn't we all like to hit the ball like the supermen and women who make their living swinging a racket?
So the average player takes to the court with his or her "new" stroke and proceeds to play worse than ever. This is because the techniques that are being touted are not applicable to your average tennis player.
Many of these authors and pros speak to their students from their ego. "I am (or was) a great player so I know what it takes to get there" is their standard line. They then proceed to show off their trophies or crank up a 120 mph serve as if to say, "See? Now pay your $$$ and listen to me." How ridiculous!
While these approaches may be applicable to those few that will develop to the highest level of the game, many have forgotten what it's like for the average player who doesn't have the talent, time or desire to put in the tremendous amount of time and work required to become a high level player.
They've forgotten that some of us struggle to open a can of balls let alone hit a topspin forehand. They've taken for granted how difficult it is to learn control and consistency and to place our service toss in just the right spot.
They're too busy trying to teach the skills they think their students should have rather than the strokes and strategies they truly need to play an enjoyable brand of tennis at their level.
Tennis has not changed for the 99.9% of us that will never play at Wimbledon. It is not a high tech game and it is not a complicated game. Where is the information that will help the 40 year-old stockbroker who can only play on weekends or the mother of four who isn't interested in "competing" but just wants to play an enjoyable brand of tennis? Where are the tips that will help the "mortal" player? They'll be in this column.
I've always felt a great affinity with the recreational player. I like to call us "mortal" players, and make no mistake, unless they hand you a check when you come off the court, you are a mortal player.
I've been in the trenches with players just like you for the past 30 years and seen millions of balls struck (and missed) by players of all shapes and sizes. I've worked with the 35 year-old ex-college star who thinks he can still play like he did when he was 19 as well as the middle-aged men and women whose sole goal is to rise to the top of their 3.0 league.
I've also taught the 14 year-old junior who's dying to make his varsity High School team and I've seen the light in the eyes of the little 7 year-old deaf girl, with Down Syndrome, when she hit her first forehand over the net. I know what your goals are and I also know what it takes to have fun, and win, at your level.
I'll also be exploring tennis and how it relates to our lives. It's amazing how our experiences through tennis can teach us about ourselves not only as tennis players but also as parents and people.
One of my favorite writers is the late George Sheehan. As the author of hundreds of magazine articles and numerous books. Dr. Sheehan became a legend in the world of running. Also an avid tennis player, Dr. Sheehan wrote about the sport of running but, more importantly, on what we can learn about life through sport. He once wrote:
"Play is where life lives. Find your play, and experience this whole sport on the other side of sweat."
Tennis is our "play" and through our "sweat" we experience life.
Am I a psychologist? Certainly not. A philosopher? Amateur at best. Nonetheless, I have spent thousands of hours around tennis, and people, and I know that the parallels between tennis and life are quite intriguing and well worth exploring.
One of the things I enjoyed most about writing for the Tennisserver was the tremendous amount of feedback I received from you. In fact, it was the words of many of you when I ended my first column that encouraged me to write my book. I thank you for that!
I love hearing from you so please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or just to tell me what's happening with you and your tennis.
This column, titled "MORTAL TENNIS: The Trials and Tribulations of the Everyday Player" is for you.