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Getting to the Pro Level at an Older Age

Q. With someone of the highest raw talent, would it still be impossible for them to become a professional tennis player on a high level if they didn’t start playing tennis until they were 23 years old? Even with the highest training?

A. This is a loaded question, but I will take the bait. Roger Federer turned 24 years old this week (on August 8th). Would he be considered someone with high “raw talent?” I suspect that you will agree that is fair to presume.

I would suggest that even the great Roger Federer would have practically no chance of becoming a top-ranking professional player if he had not begun playing until his mid-twenties. Federer went through rough patches as a junior player and then early in his professional career, which is normal. Remember, these rough patches occurred after Roger had already been playing tournaments for over a decade.

A general rule of thumb is that it takes ten years and/or 10,000 hours of training to reach your potential. I would never say that anything is impossible, but if you want to play professionally then you had better begin devoting nearly all of your time toward that pursuit. You also will need to exercise some patience, because it will not be an easy climb.

Q. . Sports have been a large part of my life, but until I discovered tennis at age 48, I did not know passion. I LOVE the game. At age 58, I would like to prepare to be a nationally ranked 60-year-old. Any advice?

A. Your story sounds like a great one. While the 60 & over division is but two years away, you still have nearly thirty years to prepare for the 85 & over division. This opportunity does not exist with too many other sports!

If you want to compete in national tournaments in two years, then I would urge you to play in several tournaments these next few years. Become accustomed to the pressures of competitive match play. Develop your rituals and routines so that when you do begin competing in national tournaments, you feel more prepared to play with confidence. Lastly, assess your strengths and weaknesses and then work to improve both these strongest and weakest links to your game. Good luck on this journey.

Q. I am Jamaican and my goal is to participate in the Olympics for my country. However, I am 34 years old. I am currently rated a 3.5 player, but I play in 3.5 and 4.0 USTA Leagues. I know that I’ve got a long way to go. My question is this: how can I represent my country in the next Olympics? I play tennis at least 4-5 times per week, 2-3 hours at a time. I hope that you take me serious because my friends have the “Yea Right” look on their face when I say that I have the stamina and I will do whatever it takes to achieve my goal. Can you help me?

A. We receive a lot of E-mails asking how to become a world-class player. I take these seriously, and do not want to dampen your, or anyone’s, enthusiasm for our great sport.

There are tremendous sacrifices that come with making a commitment such as this however. Studies indicate that it takes at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of practice, training and competition to reach the pinnacle of our sport. It also takes an abundance of natural talent. If you feel that you have what it takes physically, mentally and emotionally (as well as financially- because this commitment is virtually like having a full-time job), then do it.

Having lofty goals is admirable. Realize that champions come to understand that enjoying the process is ultimately as rewarding as the end result. Good luck!

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