Q. "Our ladies 3.5-level team is looking for a new tennis pro to drill/coach our team once a week. We are a team with many players with only 3-5 years of playing experience. Yet we are an athletic and competitive team with players who want our team to move up in the ranks of our Dallas league. What should we look for in a pro? Specifically, what type of things should we expect out of a practice, and what type of drills should we be doing at our level?"
From Lindy Lou, Bensalem:
Yes, you need to find a pro who meets your needs and can take your team to the next level. This will be a process, and I suggest you try out a few pros on a trial basis, and you can tell them that, too, that you would like them to work with your team for a few weeks. After that, you and the team members can get together and assess and evaluate the experience. You may have to go through a few pros, and that is fine.
After a discussion about your needs, a good pro will know what to do and what drills, etc. Leave the drills to the pro. When you get someone who everyone feels is good, the rest is easier. By that, I mean you can then say things like, "We like that drill,” or “We need to work the whole time on overheads” or strategy or whatever it is.
Remember, you are PAYING the pro, so feel free to ask them to work on anything you want. After your matches, you may be able to identify weaknesses or areas that you want to work on, and these then can be worked on in practices.
The best drills are when something is at stake or something is on the line, such as points. You also want to be put in pressure situations in practice, which should help you in your matches. A good idea (and you don't even need a pro for this) is to play tiebreaks with each other.
When you have had a good drill, you will know it.
From Kenny S., Sherman Oaks, CA:
First thought is you need a captain of your team. You sound like you all really want to get better.
Make sure your basics are all there. When you don't start young, you probably haven't had lots of proper coaching and lots of time on the court or matches.
You should be doing drills for singles and doubles, if that is what the team plays. Even if it is just doubles, I believe you should also try for a great singles game. In doubles, you want to get a high first-serve percentage, talk to your partner, have a good return of serve that usually goes cross court.
Your pro should be very positive, have a passion for the game and the ability to make you all better players. Winning ugly is a term I like, but sometimes just trying 110 percent, getting everything back, and just fighting your hearts out will make your team better.
The coach needs to make sure you don't swing at your alleys, you point at your overheads, you don't swing down on your forehands and backhands, and your overall tennis game is sound. A complete game is what he or she should aim for you.
Tennis takes mental toughness, athletic talent, training, and is one of the toughest sports out there. Good luck.
From Marie E., Rio Rancho, NM:
I highly recommend a cardio trainer who will teach you how to prepare for matches and how to cool down after a match. It is critically important that you warm up properly and cool down properly. After the warm-up, do drills for forehand/backhand/slice/spin/serving, etc.
I am 69 years old and have been playing tennis for about 59 years. I play doubles, singles and mixed doubles; also as many weekend or three-day tournaments as possible. I also do yoga and strength training. It all pays off, and the younger you get started, the better.
Good luck. Sounds like you're doing well to be playing USTA leagues after only three to five years of playing.
From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:
Amy, look for a pro with the training, skills and experience to deal with groups. Since doubles play such an important role, seek out one who has special training in doubles and has a proven track record.
You should find a pro who can deal with live-ball drills. There is a place for dead-ball drills; however, more growth can be developed with a live ball.
We have all seen great ball machine and drill players; however, they lack true anticipation and lack vision of what comes next. “I did a great job hitting the ball to where the pro said. Why can’t I win?”
Live-ball drills are balls in play with an opponent, whereas dead-ball drills the pro feeds, you hit, and there is no response to your ball. You spend more time in lines and running to the end of a line than actual ball contact.
Drills that result in a competitive behavior produce high-level competitive players.
Each practice should provide a player with time to learn new skills, time to hone existing skills, and time to play. It is the match-play time that is the test. Everything done is in preparation of match play. Practice matches need to be in view of your pro. This will provide the pro with data to build an arsenal of drills and routines to keep your team at its highest level of match play.
Expect to pay more for such a pro, but it will be worth it. Good Luck
From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:
The pro should first of all ask if you are playing for the fun of participating or to win. This is an important question, as a lot of teams only want to play with certain players for whatever reason, and then you lose the opportunity to play with the best players on the court. The pro should then evaluate each player as to the better format for singles or doubles and then rank the singles players, as well as the doubles players. Now you are ready to practice.
The pro should start out with technical drills, moving slowly into the tactical game of tennis. The pro should attend at least a couple of matches to see what is going on with the team.
The most important aspect of going with a pro is to make sure you are learning the game and having fun doing it at the same time.
From Nancy C., Rowland Heights, CA:
When I started playing again, I had several coaches who basically just hit to me. Then I attended a clinic for my senior team. Steve Kronseder actually taught. I would suggest that you watch the pros you are considering for your clinic. See if they comment on strokes or just feed balls.
In our clinic, we do doubles drills that address working as partners. The triple cross gets you to move from side to side. We do poaching drills, serve and volleys and net drills to get you to move and cover the court as a team. We also work on form. If all your coach does is feed balls, you aren't going to really learn anything. In our clinic, we work on stroke production and doubles strategy.
Good luck in finding the right coach. It isn't easy. My team was really lucky. He works us really hard, but it is also fun.