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Player to Player: Playing High School Tennis

Real Tennis Players - Like You! - Asking For, and Offering, Advice on the Sport They Love

Player to Player is USTA.com’s regular feature in which everyday tennis players are given a forum to ask advice on the sport they love – and their fellow players will dish out advice. We’ll post a number of the best responses we receive to our question of the week.



This week's question from Jun:

I have a 7-year old son, who has been learning tennis for two years. During the time, I have been wondering and confused by one question: Should a kid at this age learn a proper grip when he does forehand strokes? For example, the average grip among the pros now is semi-western; should the kid learn this semi-western? Is it the right age for that?

Please share your advice with Jun by e-mailing Player@USTA.com and include your name and hometown.

Got a question of your own? Send that along, too!


Last week's question from Meaghan
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question)

I am a 14 year old who will be graduating eighth grade and moving to high school soon. I really want to make the junior varsity tennis team, and I was wondering what the typical high school player's skill level is. What do I need to have to make the team? I started tennis about a year ago, and I have been playing 3x a week or so. I can serve about 55 mph, and I hit topspin on my forehand and backhand. I have played matches, but I am not a great player for my age. I was just wondering the typical requirements for a high school player.

Player Responses:

From Sandy, Wakefield, RI:

It really depends on where you live -- state, county, even the town. In my town of 35,000 people in southern Rhode Island, to play on the boys' varsity you need to be a high 3.5 level to play 3rd doubles. The boys JV players are 2.5-3.0, but there are even players that are close to 3.5 that play the top positions on the JV.

Yet the girls' varsity at the same school might have "1" 3.5 player and the rest are 2.5-3.0. I will leave the JV levels to your imagination, but most have not played much or any tennis previously. All the better players actually play and attend the local religious high school, uuuggghhhh.

Play tournaments and USTA Jr. Team Tennis. Get used to playing all the positions, especially doubles. A great doubles player is hard to come by. Everyone wants to be the singles player, but in reality, doubles is where it is at. You can take all the lessons you want, but if you are not playing matches, you will not every really improve your game, unless the game is being played from one position and being fed from a hopper of balls.

From Robert, Honolulu, HI:

If your team has a no-cut policy, then you are in. You would just work on improving your game, without the pressure of making the team.

Depending on the caliber of the team, young folks would be anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5 players. Varsity teams that are looking to win state championships are in the 4.5 to 5.5 category, again depending on the state and level of your conference (5A, 4A, etc.)

On making college teams, you have options outside of major programs, like junior college, Division II and III, etc. I would start looking now with the school/schools in mind, find out about the program and their level of players, then construct your training around this.

You can't go wrong having a professional coach take a look at your game and help you construct a game plan for improvements. Plus, work with your school counselors on finding a college tennis program and academic program that fits you.

Also, look on the USTA, USPTA, PTR, NJCAA, NCAA sites for programs that help tennis players find college tennis options.

Good luck, and have fun!

From Neil:

You can go to www.ssvtennis.com to see the range of tennis abilities for Girls 14 based on the SSV Tennis Rating test.

The average for Girls 14 is SSV 90.163.
USTA Nationally Ranked Girls 14 are in the SSV 140 range.
High School Varsity Girls are about SSV 100. Top HS Girls would be SSV 120 .

On the website, you can download the SSV Tennis Rating test and see how you rate.

Click "Free Registration" and then set yourself up as a SSV Pro. From your SSV Pro Page you can download the SSV Guidebook with the test info.Get your parents, coach, pro or friends to help. It's fun, and it's free.

After you rate yourself, practice on your weakest area until you can improve your SSV Tennis Rating. Trust me, if you can clear SSV 120, you will make your HS team.

From Steve, Chapel Hill, NC:

The best thing to do is play in tournaments and get good coaching. Usually in high school, all the players trying out for the team play each other, and the players who can win the most are on the team. Often it is not the greatest players or the players with the best technique who make the team—it’s simply the players who somehow are able to win. The best way to learn how to win is to play matches. Playing matches is very different from hitting with a partner—keeping score changes everything.

Another way to make a team if you are “not a great player" is to make it as a doubles specialist. Playing doubles requires skills most girls your age often do not develop, such as strong net volleys and the ability to hit overheads.

From Kenny, Chicago, IL:

I believe you are taking all the right steps in making your goal. Be able to hit 100 balls in a row. Have all your strokes down; don’t swing at your volleys. Continue 3 times a week, maybe some private or semi-private work with a tennis coach. You have the desire. Keep with it, and you will get this goal.

From Tom, Phoenix, AZ:

It sounds like you are ready to me. I would advise you to just "go for it." You clearly have the passion for the game already if you are playing three times or more a week.

I have a daughter the same age that I could not convince to go out for her 9th grade team. She was afraid of not being good enough and/or getting cut from the team. But you'll never know if you don't try.

From John:

My advice to you is to contact the coach at the high school at which you'd like to play and tell him of your interest. Ask him to take you on the court and evaluate your potential for playing for his team. You have nothing to lose and a lot of satisfaction and fun to gain.

From Terry, Fort Worth, Texas:

Without more details, it is hard to say what the level of competitive play or the quality of program will be at your high school. However, from your self description, you will be just fine.

Most public school teams may have one, two or even several very good players, but with a team of eight to 12 players, there will be plenty of room for a freshman of your skill and ability. And with the new opportunities to play with older and better players, you will only see improvement for yourself.

I infer from your saying you can hit topspin on both your fore and backhand that you have some consistency, as well, and that will be a tremendous advantage. If your serve has the pace you say, you may be asked to play a lot more matches!

Be confident, work on your consistancy, and be sure to ask your new coach to teach you how to play the game, not just how to hit the ball.

From Terry, El Segundo, CA:

There are no typical requirements for a high school tennis team. Many coaches even have a no-cut policy. At the level you are now, the most important thing to work on is consistency. Do consistency drills with a player your level or better. It sounds like you will be playing doubles because only the top 3 players on a team play singles, so I suggest that you work on your doubles game. Doubles skills include net play, overhead, poaching, serving from a wider angle, but most importantly, learning to work with a partner. Working with a partner you need to be encouraging at all times, especially when things are going badly.

I advise that you go to the high school coach and ask the requirements for being on the team. Show your enthusiasm for the sport and your willingness to work hard on your game and work hard for the team. Offer to do some maintenance, like bringing water, balls, etc., to the courts on practice and match days, or offer to do team statistics on your computer, or offer to do a team website, or just ask the coach how you can help out.

The most important requirements are being willing to learn, listening to the coach, and thinking of others around you and their needs.

From Brock, Albuquerque, NM:

The skills needed vary greatly with the high school. The best thing you can do is talk to the coach of the school you will attend. Coaches at the high school level are usually very interested in knowing the incoming players.

If any of your friends are on the high school team, or JVs, you can also play with or ask them about their experience in making the team.

I coach mid-school tennis (6-7-8) grades in Albuquerque. Our mid schools have a no-cut policy, and as a result, we have many who have never played before. There are 750-800 students in our league, so as you may imagine, the skills vary greatly. By the time they go on to high school (9th grade here), many of them, with fewer skills than you have described, do get to play on a JV team. Most of our high schools have a no-cut policy, also.

We want students to be involved in tennis.

From Shelley, Wausau, WI:

I am a high school tennis coach in Wausau, Wis. It sounds like you have some skill, which is a great start.

Typically a high school varsity team is 10 players, with an extra 4 to 5 on varsity reserve. In addition, there is also the Junior Varsity, which in our case consists of as many as 25 players. If the coach already has his or her team from last season and has very few open spots, it will be hard to make the varsity as a freshman. Our No. 1 player this year, however, started on the JV team and made unbelievable improvements in 4 years. If you are going to a big high school, you will have a lot of competition for a spot on varsity.

My advice is to take lessons and work on match play whenever you can. You can have a great time on the JV team and get a lot of matches under your belt also. Don’t think because you are not on Varsity right away that you will not make it. We love having freshmen show up with some good skills, so I know you will get looked at by the head coach.

Good luck to you. I hope you make it, but even if you don’t, play and improve until you do.

From Bob, Hilton Head, SC:

Challenge in one-set mini-matches or real two-out-of-three real sets the lowest-ranked players from last year's team and also others in your class. Keep a record of wins and defeats. When you see the coach at tryout time, show him/her the record.

Also challenge your parents and/or grandparents and friends, getting handicap games from those clearly better than you. Try to earn the right to not have to have handicap games.

Don't forget the "squash shot" on both forehand and backhand to give you an effective defensive and net game.

In addition to learning the mechanics of tennis, make sure you have your mental game in order. Do not let your mind be distracted by missed easy shots, by bad calls, by unsportsmanlike behavior or excuses. Make sure you don't fall into the trap of being distracted by your own behavior and attitude. There are plenty of examples of professional tennis players on TV both good and bad for you to see.

Distraction in any form will not help you play better tennis. Roger Federer, Chris Evert, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, New-age Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Tiger Woods are some of the best athletes in this regard. I will let you see and figure out who are the worst.

Good luck, and best of all, a lot of play will allow you to progress very quickly.

From Don, West Orange, NJ:

Your chances of making the team are a function of the talent of players at your school. You should find out who the current players are and introduce yourself to the coach. If you know the players and their abilities, you'll know how your game compares to theirs. Then you'll know your chances of making the team. Good luck.

From Aavo, McLean, VA:

I'm a high school tennis coach for both the varsity and JV teams in the AAA category (large schools). I'm also a part-time tennis teaching professional.

The caliber of play will vary from region to region, and a lot of times it will depend on how popular tennis is in your area. Simply put, JV players are usually at the "intermediate" skill level, while varsity players are "advanced (starters) or advanced intermediate."

The fact that you're playing three times a week speaks well for your drive and devotion to the sport. Since you have been playing for about a year, it is important to ensure that your technique is good. Therefore, you should seriously consider taking either private or group tennis lessons to learn technique, strategy and tactics. Your tennis teacher can tell you whether you are JV or varsity material (starter or non-starter). Taking group lessons will help you gauge the level of junior tennis in your area, and you will make friends with whom you'll be able to hit with.

It is important for you to continue to learn different strokes, like slice/underspin groundstrokes and volleys (those are weaknesses at the high school level in our area), and working on your serve so that it's a weapon through placement (ABC- Alley, Body or Center of the serving box), spin (topspin/kick and slice), along with reasonable serving speed. Listen for the swish of your strings when serving. Focus on getting your first serve in, since most good players will try to attack your second serve. Work on your return of serve, particularly on the second serve, since that will be the way to beat your opponents.

Good luck! Sounds like you have a lot of potential.

From Lynnda:

As a parent who had a daughter in your position in the 8th grade, I would get in touch with the HS coach and ask to hit with him before the season starts. That way you have an idea of where your ability level is vs. other girls on the team. HS coaches are well aware of what they are working with now and who may be coming up for the future of the team. Have a great attitude, never miss a practice and be ready to show you are a team player, and that alone with your skills should get you on the team.

From Dot, Clay High, FL:

Congratulations on your decision to play a high school sport, and tennis is a great life-long choice. Don't be intimidated by the other players. Let your determination and positive attitude show at tryouts. Coaches look for potential in addition to ability, which it sounds like you have.

High schools vary by class and district, so at many smaller high schools we often start with beginners, seeing real results by junior and senior years. Some bigger schools also have Jr varsity teams to develop players. A check with your high school AD or the tennis coach should get you more information. In any case, keep practicing and try out!

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

The quality of HS tennis is really dependant on the quality of tennis in your area. If you live in an area where tennis reigns and there are clubs and USTA leagues, the probability is the competition will be strong. However, should you live in an area where the local courts are green from mildew, then the likelihood of making your team will be a lock. The important thing for you is, are you getting ready to play your best tennis? Are you active with a coach/pro/teacher who can guide you toward your goals? Playing matches is important, playing three times a week is good, but is what you are doing good enough to get you where you want to be?

At our local high school, the typical player is a recruit from the girl’s soccer or volleyball teams with little if any tennis experience, yet when under the guidance of a good HS coach is ready to play in the ten school days before their first match. So what is a typical HS player? You are, if you live here, but if you lived in Vero Beach or Boca Raton you might be a spectator.

In closing, find a coach, keep a tennis journal and focus on your needs to be the best player you can be, and enjoy your future in HS.

From Charlie:

Your DESIRE to play and the fact that you know your capabilities should carry you onto a JV tennis team.

The JV team program is basically used to get your sufficient in your play so that you can be considered a candidate for Varsity. Stay with it, Meaghan... you'll see good improvement if you really want to play. Just remember, tennis is a GAME, not the end all.

From Steve:

Never give up, and when you are playing, always relax and think now when you return serve and before you serve. Look up and keep your ball toss arm up on serve. I did not make the high school tennis team as freshmen. Sophomore year, I did not play all year, and when conference tournament was to begin, someone got sick, and I played doubles and we won the tournament. Do not always hit hard, and come to the net frequently. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the game.

From Steve, Rock Hill, SC:

I have coached high school tennis for several years now, and I can give you advice based on what I tell my players.

There are generally three types of players that I deal with. I have good players, average players and not so good players that make my team. Everyone I keep on our team has a chance to be a good player, but some do more to improve themselves than others.

A good player will (goal 25 hours per week):

- work once or twice per week with a pro
- play matches or practice hitting with friends 2-3 days per week
- seek tournaments and competitive leagues to challenge themself
- run sprints & do footwork drills 3-4 days per week
- run long distance 2-3 days per week
- lift weights/strength train 3-4 days per week

An average player will (goal 10 hours per week):

- work once or twice per month with a pro
- play a match or practice hitting once a week, sometimes more
- run & lift weights some, usually in another sport at school

**Most of these players are good athletes to start with & just enjoy tennis as a second sport

A not so good player will:

- not take any lessons unless mom or dad makes them go
- practice hitting or play when someone asks them to - if they aren't busy
- get really out of shape when it is not season
- complain any time they are asked to run or strength train

It's really up to you which category you want to fall into. You are young and have a lot of time to see results from hard work. The sooner you start working, the better you will become senior year.

I would also recommend talking to the school coach to find out about the team's ability level. Ask about getting in touch with some of last year's freshmen to play. And definitely ask if the team plans to go to any camps together over the summer.

Good luck...

From Eric, Santa Rosa, CA:

You sound like a smart, well-motivated 14-year-old future H.S. player. Go for it.

Can you locate a good teacher and at least one steady, hopefully better player to increase your practice sessions? If so, then take as many good basic lessons as you and your family deem appropriate, and then follow up by doing the same drills with a partner.

Lessons plus a steady practice partner (who likes to practice the skill development drills that you learn at your lessons) will do wonders for your game. Confidence will later be developed by playing matches in both singles and doubles.

There is no substitute for one essential: Practice, which is your secret weapon in developing a competitive edge in a game that depends on rhythm and timing. Timing takes time. Invest yours wisely, and you will prosper.

Remember the old, wise cab driver’s advice when asked by a fresh-faced newcomer to New York City: "What is the way to Carnegie Hall?” He answered, "Practice, practice, practice."

Just practice alone will not work if you are practicing the wrong strokes. So make sure to start out with a good teacher helping you with the basics.

Enjoy the journey.

From Vincelle, St. Charles, MO:

As a former high school tennis coach and still an instructor, I want to commend you on your work ethic. Playing 3 times a week until you start high school is the best thing you can do. Also, play in some USTA sanctioned tournaments so you can get a feel of the variety of players you might face.

I don't know where you are from, but if it is in a warm climate, that is even better.

Taking lessons or getting a personal coach is also a good idea. Many players don't know, but it is better to come to tryouts with lots of tennis knowledge/experience because the coach or coaches won't have time to teach non-experienced players from scratch. Most schools only have a couple of weeks to get ready for their first match.

Since you appear dedicated to the sport, be sure to take frequent breaks from tennis so you won't get burned out. I also recommend that you try out for Varsity as opposed to JV. Why not? If Varsity doesn't work, then he/she will probably put you on JV, anyway. I doubt that you will be cut because there is a no-cut policy in many schools in our country. Unless you can't walk and chew gum at the same time, you will make the team.

Good luck, and thanks for your dedication.

From Cindi, Rapid City, SD:

Congratulations, Meaghan, on your decision to further your tennis experience! You'll gain so much from being a part of the team. I believe you already are a coach's dream. In addition to skills you have the passion, desire and commitment, which will take you far. Wishing you the best as you continue with this rewarding sport.

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