October 9, 2010

Federer Hired A Tennis Coach - Should You?

This is Part 1 of a series on getting the most from your tennis lessons.

Remember right before the U.S. Open when all of the pros were making coaching changes? Andy Murray split with his long-time coach as did Marcos Baghdatis and Bernard Tomic. Murray tried to get Darren Cahill to come on board while Roger Federer actually hired Paul Annacone.

So, let's talk about tennis coaches. Do you have one? Are you ready to bring on your own tennis coach? How do you know if its worth putting in the time and expense involved with taking private lessons?

Just to be clear - I'm not talking about how to find the right coach - that is definitely a huge topic unto itself (and don't be surprised if you see that topic in a future post!). No, what I'm talking about is whether you should take that initial step of committing yourself to regular, probably weekly, private lessons on your own or whether you can use some other less costly, and possibly more convenient way, to improve your game.

And if you're already taking private lessons, take a few minutes to read on and consider whether you're getting the most for your money.

I think the best way to decide whether to hire a tennis coach is to think about the pros and cons.

Pros to Taking Private Lessons:
  • The focus is completely and 100% on you. The great thing about one-on-one lessons is that you don't waste any time listening to or working on someone else's problems. Your problems and issues are the only ones that your coach will work on during your lesson. So, you can quickly improve the strokes and techniques that are most important for you. And, if you don't have a backhand technique that may lead to tennis elbow, you don't have to hear how someone else can change their backhand to avoid tennis elbow.
  • You can learn new things! No matter how long you've been playing tennis, there is always something new to add to your "arsenal" of shots. Did you know you can add spin to your overhead to help keep it in the court? I didn't know that until about two weeks ago. What a revelation! (Please don't laugh if this is something so obvious that everyone else already knows it but no one ever mentions it.) And I learned it, without asking to, from my tennis coach!
  • You will work on things you may otherwise neglect or ignore. Footwork. Does anyone really want to work on footwork? Probably not. But in a private lesson, your coach will put you through some drills that work on things you know you should be better at but don't usually feel like fooling with. Things like footwork, proper lob technique, placement of shots, court position, etc.
  • You can practice strategies in live ball drills and games. It is one thing to come up with a great strategy during a match. It is quite another to actually execute that strategy. A private tennis lesson gives you an opportunity to learn various strategies and then try them out over and over until you can make them happen. Hopefully during a match.
  • You can get a good work-out! You can burn A LOT of calories chasing down balls all by yourself. Way more than you will in a doubles match. So consider your private lesson your work-out for the day.
  • You have a tennis professional with lots of experience to take your questions to. Again and again, things happen during my matches that I'm not sure how to handle. If I want to play aggressively at the net but my partner doesn't, do we play one up, one back? Both back? Do I spend a lot of time trying to convince her to come up with me? Or do I just accept that we're going to lose that match and never play with that partner again? These are the kinds of burning questions you can discuss with your coach so that you're ready when the situation arise again (when you get partnered with that same person again!).
Cons to Taking Private Lessons:
  • They're expensive! This is probably the biggest drawback to private lessons - you're going to have to spend some money on them. In my area, a one-hour lesson with a certified tennis coach or someone teaching at a club can cost anywhere from $50 to $75 an hour. Cheaper lessons can probably be found but this is a situation of you get what you pay for.
  • They can be time-consuming. If you're going down the private lesson road, you'll probably have to make a weekly commitment. And if you're not willing to really make this commitment and show up week after week, private lessons may not be for you.
  • They can be boring. As I said above, in a private lesson the focus is on you. There's no one else to provide any relief, comic or otherwise. You have to keep your attention up all by yourself for a whole hour. For many people, myself included, this can be psychologically draining, especially if you're learning something new or practicing something that you're really bad at.
  • The strategies you practice may not apply in the real world. This is not to say that you won't learn great strategies. In fact, you'll probably learns all kinds of wonderful strategies and tactics that would blow your opponents away in a perfect tennis world. But, in doubles for example, if your partner isn't on the same page with these wonderful strategies, they may not do you much good. Just to give an example: I'm totally down with both doubles partners playing aggressively up at the net. My last three partners have NOT been into this. The last one flat out told me, "As soon as I see you come up to the net, I'll go back." This one up, one back strategy is NOT what I've worked on in my private lessons.
  • You have to have the right coach. It can be hard to find a tennis coach that can help you take your strengths and weaknesses and come up with a winning game. You have to make sure you do not waste your time and money on someone who is not teaching you well (and, again, that's a great topic for a future post!).
  • It's difficult (but not impossible) to work on doubles. A one-on-one lesson is not the best place to work on your doubles game. I know because I do a private lesson every week and I play doubles almost exclusively. There are doubles drills that you can do as an individual but working with two to three other people is probably the best way to improve your doubles game.
So, are you in or out with the private lessons? Personally, I'm in. And apparently so is Roger Federer. All I'm saying is if it's good enough for me and Roger, maybe it's good enough for you!

This post originally appeared on Tennis Fixation's blog page on the Tennis Now website. Click here to read this and other great Tennis Fixation posts on Tennis Now!

© Kim Selzman 2010 All Rights Reserved

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