Taking up a new sport or hobby can feel simultaneously exciting and scary. On the one hand, you are eager to get up and move, having fun while staying fit. On the other hand, you feel a little bit overwhelmed because you have absolutely no idea where to start. This can feel particularly true for tennis, as it is an individual sport.
What are some basic tennis tips for beginners? Any beginning player should focus initial efforts on acquiring the necessary equipment while achieving a baseline level of physical condition and flexibility. From there, there are a number of basic techniques you will want to work on prior to competitive play.
Knowing everything there is to know about tennis is unrealistic, as even the most highly ranked professionals in the world continually work with coaches and trainers to improve their games. Therefore, starting your tennis journey with a specific and detailed roadmap of what you want to accomplish can greatly help you enjoy the fruits of your labors.
6 General Tennis Technique Tips for Beginners
Now that you have taken all of the preliminary preparations and are ready to get to practice, there are a number of technical points that can help you get the most out of your sessions and improve your game as rapidly as possible.
Number One: Narrow Focus
One of the most significant mistakes novice tennis players will make is going into a practice session with the goal of “learning tennis” or “getting better at tennis.”
As mentioned, there is far too much to learn in tennis to make this an attainable goal. “Learning tennis” is a very general goal that can cause you to go every which way during a practice session, working on a little bit of this before moving on to a little bit of that. After a while, you are completely spent but realize that you have no tangible proof of your improvement.
A better mindset for going into a practice session is “I want to improve my backhand” or “I want to return serves better.” The details of good tennis play are very minute, and it takes hours of practice to improve in any one area. By narrowing your focus, you will be able to more efficiently and expeditiously build on your small gains.
A good way to check yourself is at the end of practice; you are able to resolutely say, “I got batter at XXX.” By being able to objectively and unequivocally make this assertion, you will be able to either build on these improvements during your next session or move onto a new area of focus with the confidence that your improvements will come with you.
Number Two: Find Your Stance
There are two main stances in tennis: the open stance and the closed stance. Although both need to be employed to play tennis correctly, most beginning players only learn one of the stances and carry that with them as they progress, greatly limiting their ability to handle the multitude of situations that arise on the tennis court.
While tennis stances may vary from completely open to completely closed and everything in between, in general, the following will be the characteristics of each stance:
- Open stance – this will involve the player’s feet aligned parallel to the net, with the chest facing toward the net or “open chested.” While it is slightly more difficult to attain vertical mobility from an open stance, the player’s line of vision is superior, theoretically allowing for better control of strokes. This is becoming a popular stance for forehand shots
- Closed stance – for a right-handed player, the right foot will trail the left foot, with the feet and chest perpendicular to the net, or “close chested.” The opposite alignment will hold true for left-handed players. This is traditionally the most common stance due to increased power and ease of vertical mobility and is still used for most backhands
Both open and closed stances are used on the modern tennis court and can be interchanged among the strokes, so beginning players need to practice getting in both open and closed stances and learning how to move, adjust, and hold the position from each prior to trying to hit a ball.
Number Three: Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Just like focus is important when preparing for what you are going to work on during a practice session, it is just as important when the balls start flying. Namely, when a practice or match session is underway, your focus should be on the ball at all times.
This seems somewhat common sense, but it is easier said than done. There are a lot of distractions on the tennis court, and many novice players can become enamored with watching their opponent and trying to figure out his or her next move and/or contemplating what shot he or she should do next.
However, narrowing your focus to pinpoint on the ball at all times is a simple step to improving your game that everyone can take, regardless of ability level.
When making a shot, you should watch the ball into your racket to ensure that solid contact is being made. After the ball contacts your racket, you should follow the ball as it rebounds and continue this process until a whistle is blown.
Too many players focus on looking where they want the ball to go, causing them to make weak contact or miss the ball altogether. By keeping your eyes glued to the ball at all times, you can confidently trust that the ball will go where you want it.
Number Four: Hit the Ball at the Right Point
There are times when the situation will call for you to lunge and scrape a ball from the ground, and who doesn’t like those enormous, thundering overhead smashes?
However, the reality is that the most effective, consistent tennis returns come from the waist.
As such, you need to spend the majority of your time practicing your forehand and backhand when the ball is coming down off of a bounce, stroking it back over the net when it gets to approximately waist level.
This is the bread and butter of tennis, with the majority of volleys involving repeated exchanges from this scenario, so you need to get good at it.
Number Five: Moderate Your Match Count
Everyone has heard the saying, “You can’t run before you learn to walk.” Well, this can be adapted to tennis to the effect of, “You can’t win a match until you learn to swing a racket.”
Competition is fun, and it is not necessarily the end of the world if you play a match here or there to keep things interesting.
The problems arise when you start playing more than you practice. When playing against other novice players, you are likely to develop your own techniques and habits that can help you beat them in a match. However, these same techniques and habits may not be considered “good” by a trained tennis player, and they could potentially inhibit your long term development.
Therefore, until your full game develops, the majority of your time on the tennis court should be spent in practice, focusing each session on that specific skill you are trying to master before moving on.
Number Six: Have a Short Memory
Wait: How are you going to give out all of these pointers and then suggest not to remember them?
Well, learning a new skill, and especially a sport as nuanced as tennis can be frustrating. In fact, in the beginning, you are much more likely to get it wrong than you are to get it right.
Don’t spend time focusing on what you missed and turn your attention to that next serve, stroke, or point. Eventually, your moments of success will outstrip your moments of frustration, and you will have a ton of fun along the way!
5 General Tennis Tips for Beginners
The temptation is great to simply go find a racket and start hitting tennis balls as hard as you can. However, not only is this likely to cause you to fall into an abyss of frustrating bad habits that can be difficult to break, but you are increasing the chance of getting injured by playing with improper technique.
As such, there are a number of important steps you should take prior to beginning practice for the first time.
Number One: Choose the Right Racket
While rackets for more advanced players can cost hundreds of dollars, you should be able to find a perfectly suitable racket to meet your needs for between $50 and $60. If you are really on a budget and are just looking to dabble, second-hand rackets are readily available at many thrift stores and online.
When selecting the racket, you will want to check and make sure that all of the strings are taut and in good condition. Even though there is not an appreciable difference in the weight of tennis rackets (almost all are between 9.8 and 10.9 ounces), you will want to look at the grip, making sure that it is suitable for your hand type.
Fun fact: You may see “racquet” instead of “racket.” Either spelling is acceptable, with the prevalence of each differing based on world region. However, the International Tennis Federation lists “racket” as its official spelling.
Number Two: Get the Accessories
If you are a beginner, investing heavily in the bells and whistles may seem superfluous, and it is understandable if you do not want to bite on every item that the salesperson suggests at the sporting goods store. However, there is something to be said for the value-added through feeling like a tennis player, so you will want to at least consider the following:
- Balls – this may seem like more of a necessity than an accessory. However, even most non-tennis players have tennis balls lying around, whether as a stress relief tool or a toy for their dog. Many of these balls are worn and will provide inconsistent performance, so consider the minimal investment, and buy a canister of fresh tennis balls
- Tennis bag – this is definitely not a necessity in getting started but can be a great way to keep all of your tennis gear conveniently gathered in one place. Moreover, as tennis rackets are a little awkward to stow and transport, a tennis bag can help pad and protect it. You will likely be able to find a suitable tennis bag for around $50
- Athletic gear – everyone wears tennis shoes. However, it is probably best that you invest in a different pair than you use for everyday errands. A tight-ish fitting t-shirt and shorts (not too baggy or low hanging) are acceptable for attire, and a visor or headband is common, as significant sweat may find your eyes otherwise
Number Three: Find a Court
This may be easier said than done, especially if you live in a rural area. It is advisable to practice on an official court when possible, as you want to get a feel for how the ball bounces and rebounds. There are a number of courts that may be accessible for your use:
- Public courts – access to these courts is free and can be found at some public parks and public high schools. The downside is that they are usually heavily used, making it difficult to get into a schedule of when you can practice. The condition of public courts is often spotty but should be able to suit your needs as a beginner
- Private courts – private courts are generally in much better condition and have scheduled times for their use. These can be found at tennis-specific training facilities as well as the recreation center at some universities. The cost to utilize private courts is usually about $10 to $15 per hour.
- Club membership – whether it be access to a specific tennis club, gym or fitness center, or a country club, tennis court access can be attained through a larger membership. The courts will generally be in excellent condition, but you will be required to pay a larger annual fee for all of the club perks, so you will want to weight how often you will use it
If you do not have access to a tennis court but still want to learn how to play, it is best to find an environment that most closely mirrors an actual tennis court. Try to find a large, flat area of concrete or pavement that has minimal rocks, crevices, or protrusions –ideally, one that is abutted to a wall so you can use the rebound.
Number Four: Build Your Stamina and Flexibility
Now that you have all of the equipment and have a place to practice pinned down, it can be tempting to just get going. However, this is not a great way to ensure optimal progression along your tennis journey.
Tennis can be an intense cardiovascular sport, even for beginners. You will need to have the ability to stop and start, sprint and shift, jump and lunge for indefinite periods of time. As such, you are never going to advance in your training if you are completely spent after one exchange. Some great ways to build stamina that can help you in tennis include:
- Walking or jogging uphill – not only does this elevate your heart rate and build leg muscles better than walking or jogging on flat ground, but it is much more low impact for those with cranky joints
- Squat jumps – find a carpet, grassy lawn, or other padded surface to perform these exercises. Squat down as close to 90° as you can and then spring up, throwing your hands overhead at the top. Not only will this build stamina, but it increases proprioception and plyometric, both necessary components in tennis
- Biking – going for long bike rides is the best way to build the long-lasting stamina needed for tennis. It is preferable to jogging because it is a much lower impact on the joints, allowing you to engage in longer sessions
In addition to these stamina-building exercises, you will need to work on your flexibility as well. Tennis involves frequent bending of the knees, twisting of the trunk, and swinging of the arms, so you will specifically want to target exercises that increase mobility and range of motion in the knees, ankles, lower back, elbows, and shoulders.
Finally, it goes without saying that these improvements to your fitness will only help you on the tennis court if you are able to employ them as intended, so make sure you are getting a proper warm-up prior to every practice session so that your body is ready to go.
Number Five: Keep Water Handy
Playing tennis will get you sweating heavily, which leads to rapid dehydration, in turn. As such, you will need to be taking frequent water breaks between points, games, sets, and matches.
If you have to frequently run to the water fountain, you will kill your practice session (especially if you are paying for a timed lesson). Therefore, keep a no-spill, 24-ounce water bottle with you at the court, preferably one that has a squeeze and spray top for convenience.