I’ve been a tennis player since 1973, have taught, full- or part-time, since 1978, strung my first racquet in 1979, and have written about our game since 1994. During all that time, I have noticed that there are almost as many styles of teachers as there are players. I wouldn’t say anyone’s style of teaching is wrong or their abilities inadequate, even if it wasn’t against USPTA ethics to do so (pros who violate this standard are lower than dirt, in my opinion, and are far too easy to find. They are not worth your time or money). However, I do feel that a discussion of teaching philosophy is worth having, as it applies directly to how comfortable you feel with a pro.
I think that too much emphasis is placed on the competitive aspects of tennis, and too little on what it was originally meant to be: a way for people to get together with friends, get some exercise, and just have fun. The current emphasis our society places on competition, fame and fortune in sports is appalling to me. These were not the original intentions of sports.
I think you should take the court to play tennis for the simple reasons that it’s a pleasure to play, and to enjoy the company of friends and make new ones. Winning or losing a match is inconsequential to the sheer joy of participating. The one-on-one aspect of tennis means that, as Vic Braden has said, “Half the people who play every day are going to lose.” The sheer odds of that equation should tell us to put it out of our minds and focus on something more positive. And that should be enjoying the social aspects of the game.
Whether you are a casual player, play in leagues or tournaments, or play tennis for a living, you’re going to be miserable if you don’t have a love of playing the game for its own sake. The greatest pro players in the world can play a gritty, exhausting and tempestuous match and embrace at the end, having enjoyed the playing of the game. That happens too rarely on our level.
Don’t put your worth as a person on the same level as your won-lost record. Go home from the tennis court happy you played.
I try to teach tennis the same way I play it: with passion and a sense of humor. Don’t come to take a class or lesson from me if you can’t laugh at yourself, or if you’re concerned about laughing at the other players or even at me. Everyone is fair game on my court, and I want a good time to be had by one and all.
I will make every endeavor to show you the proper technique for each shot, but the most important thing is that you enjoy the experience. If your strokes aren’t perfect, but you enjoy your style of play and aren’t going to compete at the highest levels, who am I to argue? As long as your swing isn’t physically hurting you, feel free to tell me to buzz off. Imperfect strokes with good strategy will be more fun than mindless technique, anyway.
I do feel, however, that too little emphasis is placed on properly teaching the serve, and will work very hard to show you the right way to hit it. Most players use the wrong grip, which severely limits flexibility and variety of shot, and places stress on muscles ill-equipped to deal with it. In every class and private lesson, I try to work on this most important shot. Remember: if you can’t serve, you can’t play.
I also want you to play shorter points and enjoy hitting forcing shots (tennis is lots of fun until the two-hour mark; then it starts to feel like work for most of us). So, my philosophy emphasizes moving forward and taking the ball in the air.
I dislike moving back to play a deep or high-bouncing ball, because I think it’s an inefficient use of the body and puts us in a weak, defensive position. One thing many beginning players naturally do -- until a pro talks them out of it -- is to hit the ball in the air if it’s coming right to them. I like to take that a step further and volley it while moving to the net to take charge of the point and force the opponent to be defensive. Your rallies will be shorter and your attitude better if you’ll do this.