The other day I received somewhat of a nasty message from the mother of one of the juniors in my program. It seems that her family played tennis on vacation and she was upset about her child's level of play. She felt that for the amount of time (and money) that they were spending on their son's tennis, the child should be progressing faster. She finished by adding that she and her husband were "considering taking Billy out of the program."
I immediately called her back and she again strongly expressed her concerns. The not so subtle implication clearly being that the pros working with Billy weren't doing their job. After she finished, I told her that I understood her concerns and then asked her a few questions:
First, I asked if Billy was enjoying his lessons. "Oh yes, he loves them," was her reply. Next, I asked her how often Billy makes it to the complimentary Saturday practice session we offer all of the players in our program. "Never," said his Mom, "he has basketball and karate on the weekends." Finally, I asked Billy's mom how often Billy practices with his friends or parents? "Hardly ever," was her response. "We're just too busy."
"So," I said, "when all is said and done, Billy plays one hour of tennis a week and, looking at our attendance book, I see that he's missed approximately 25% of those lessons." There was a brief silence after which Billy's mom said, "Okay, I see your point."
There are no two ways about it. To become a good tennis player takes time and effort but many people fail to realize it. I'm always amused by the "weekend warriors" or "once a weekers" who get aggravated with their level of play.
I have a student, Sandy, who is a 48-year-old single parent with a thriving medical practice. He schedules an hour lesson once a week and keeps the appointment only a quarter of the time. Last week, after about 15 minutes of extremely erratic hitting, Sandy threw his racket in disgust.
I brought him up to the net and asked him, "When was the last time you played?" Last week, he replied. "No," I reminded him, "you had to cancel that one because one of your kids got sick." OK, it was the week before, he said. "No, you had an emergency at the office. Remember?"
Sandy soon realized that the last time he held a racket in his hand was a month ago. I reassured him. "You're actually hitting the ball great for someone who plays once a month." He laughed and then went back to the baseline and finished the lesson.
Quite simply, the amount of time that we devote to tennis will largely determine our rate of progress. With this in mind, you need to establish realistic expectations as to your performance, based on the amount of time you can give to the game.
Tennis is a part of our lives, not our entire lives. If once a week is all you can manage, leave all performance expectations in the car. Don't get wrapped up in how well or poorly you play because your level of play will largely be a crapshoot. You'll have some great days and others where you can't put the ball in the ocean. Enjoy the hour, get some exercise and, above all, laugh a lot. Remind yourself that, sadly, exercising once a week is more than most people are doing so pat yourself on the back for getting out there.
Twice a week is great. In fact, the biggest difference I see is when players move from playing once to twice a week. With this frequency, it's reasonable to expect some consistency in your game and even see improvement over time.
Three times a week is ideal if you can manage it. If you can make one of your outings some form of instruction, another a practice session and the third a practice match, you've got it all covered. During the lesson you can work on your shots. In practice, you can groove your strokes, and in a match you can incorporate them into a game plan. On this schedule you should see consistent improvement over time.
Improvement takes time, patience and perseverance. If you don't possess all three, you can't expect to be a star on the court. Take an honest look at how much time you are willing to devote to your game and adjust your expectations accordingly.
The same holds true for your children. If you've got them scheduled with a different after school activity every day of the week you can't expect them to excel in any of them and that's okay. The more things they can experience the better. If, down the road, your child shows the talent and desire to focus on one sport, certainly support them but keep it in perspective. Except in extremely rare cases, tennis will be nothing more for your child than a recreational activity.
There are more important things in life than tennis, and there is no shame in not making quantum leaps every month. Remember that it's OK to play the game with the only expectation being to have fun!