Q. "I’ve been invited to play league tennis this year. I’ve never played organized USTA tennis before -- only social tennis -- and I’m feeling a little intimidated by all the rules and regulations, not to mention the specific tennis etiquette. What’s the best way to not make too many mistakes and have fun playing, while trying to improve my game, make new acquaintances and be a good team member?"
From Marilyn D.:
USTA is about being competitive and, thus, prepared. Social tennis is very different in your club leagues. Picture your scores on TENNISLINK for the next 10 years! Print out your local league rules and have them in your bag if a question comes up at a match. Get a regular experienced partner to practice and play with, if possible, but be flexible with your captain's requests. Perhaps you will find others who are new "self-rated" players, too!
Finding a good captain who will be there to answer questions is key, and being available to play every match helps you get that experience! The more you play, the more "match tough" you become to put all those tennis lessons to the test! Practice "challenge matches" among teammates because playing for points, rather than just hitting, will keep you focused and give you an objective measurement to use as a guide. Try to get the "least games given up" each match from all present, as every game counts in ratings! Don't worry about winning, just playing every point hard!
USTA can be very competitive, so if you are in it for fun and for the social aspect of it, to meet new players and improve your game, then be sure to pick a team that has the same goals as you.
From a captain’s point of view, be available (even at a last-minute’s notice), be flexible with your willingness to play with any player and in any position (singles or doubles, deuce or ad court), and most important, return your captain’s e-mails or phone calls promptly. Speak directly to your captain (not another teammate) if you have any concerns, and arrive to your match at least 30 minutes before game time for warm up.
Keep your captain informed if you will be arriving late so as not to add stress to her or your teammates, whether you will be showing up or not. Be ready to play, mentally and physically, and do the best you can, no matter which line your captain places you on. Each line is important, and your job is to try and do your best with whomever or wherever you are placed. Have a good season!
From Tom H., Alexandria, VA:
Think of it like starting a new job. To learn the ropes, you have to pay attention to what others are doing. Start to make friends with others, jump into the middle of the action, make yourself available for hitting. And trust your new friends to tell you the do's and don’ts as you go. Pick people to partner with and hit with those who are positive and supportive.
From Bev M., West Chester, PA:
For playing/etiquette tips, read The Code or Friend at Court. Both are USTA publications.
From Renea, Mobile, AL:
As a long-time leagues player, my advice is, first of all, be kind to your captain! Answer her calls or e-mails promptly concerning upcoming matches, and let her know immediately if you have a problem fulfilling a commitment. Remember, she is just a team member who voluntarily took on this job!
Take the time to read The Code, a guide to unofficiated matches. It will answer all sorts of questions for both first-time and long-time league players. You can find it on the USTA web site.
Finally, relax and have fun, recognizing that not only will you never make any money at this sport, but you are most probably paying to play, so you should enjoy every minute! Give your opponents the benefit of the doubt on calls on both sides of the net, recognizing that we will all make mistakes.
First and last – have fun!
From Bill, Portland, OR:
Have fun and smile. I have seen too many get serious when going to match play. Last match, a guy on the other team threw his racquet twice. It is just a game. We went three years without winning a match, now we are near first, so keep it in perspective.
From Charlie J., Orlando, FL:
Mary, first learn the rules. There are too many to memorize them all, but the basics are essential. When I took my first tennis class nearly 30 years ago, we spent the first four weeks in class; we were taught the basics of scoring, line calls, etiquette, etc., before venturing out to the court. I'm still amazed to this day how many people don't know how to keep score in a tie-breaker.
And, be flexible. Some rules have changed, and all too often, rules are, how shall we say, at the discretion of the home court (some make up rules as they go).
Finally, have fun. Tennis is the most enjoyable social sport ever. It's first and foremost meant to be fun. Happy hitting......
From Rufus T., College Park, MD:
Mary, don't be afraid to ask the more experienced members of your team ANY question, no matter how obvious or mundane it seems. And talk with them about all your known strengths and weaknesses. Don't wait for them to find out during a match!!
From Coach Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:
Well, playing any competitive tennis will make your game better. Yes, you can't double fault and get away with it. You may be playing better players, but that’s good; that’s what makes your game better.
The USTA Leagues are a great way to play real tennis, like the pros. You might be nervous, and you might lose, but you will learn from that and get to that next level. In a match, you need to be accurate with your shots, know how to hit all of them – volleys, overheads, backhands, forehands and serves. The USTA Leagues I have been in have given me the competition I love, and it provides a nice social network of guys and ladies I still talk with.
The next level would be USTA tournaments, which I am trying to do at the moment. You need to be in shape and have your game in line. The rules are not hard, and, yes, I get nervous when lots of people are watching; it’s only natural. So have fun, and realize you are on your way up in your tennis game, taking it to the next level!!
From Lindylou, Bensalem:
Don't worry too much about the rules and regulations concerning league play. As a new member, you would not be expected to know them all. Most likely, others on your team or the team captain are familiar with all of that, and you will gradually pick it up, the more matches you play.
The hardest thing for me was remembering how to do the tiebreaker in doubles (and I still don't know). But someone else always does, and that is what I counted on and have never had any problems. Relax and have fun!
From James S.:
Relax and have fun! It’s better that way. If you plan on continuing playing in that league, just try to remember a few things.
Never become a litterbug or make a mess with food. Try not to make much physical contact with others, except greets, end-game congratulations, and helping the injured are acceptable! Be honest; do not be afraid to make the right call. The game played neatly, comfortably and truthfully is all one could ask. Oh yeah, maybe wearing tennis attire with proper tennis equipment could also be needed.
As far as rules and game play, state your level and knowledge of tennis to the head of the league, and there might be some classes you could take to help clarify those small choices you will have to make!
Finally always be friendly. Help if you can, and be courteous to the other courts in action!
From John L., Muncie, IN:
Mary, I started playing USTA league tennis seven years ago. It has been a real joy to me in making new friends and playing with a team. You know you will now be a part of a team who will help guide you to not make ‘mistakes.’ Most likely, you will play doubles with others who know the etiquette of league play. I know your teammates will help you.
My two cents for you, Mary, is to enjoy the new relationships of your teammates as you carpool to matches out of town, the ritual of the restaurant gathering after a match, and the fun of getting to play the ‘game.’
From Susan, CO:
Pick up a copy of Friend at Court. The yellow section, “The Code,” will tell you just about everything you need to know. Second thing -- have fun! That's what tennis is for. Relax, enjoy the competition and have the beverage of your choice after the match.
From Adrienne K., Tucson, AZ:
Mary, ask your team captain if one of the other members of her team would be a mentor to you. That way, if you have any questions regarding the rules and regs, you can talk to the mentor when the time is right. Also, your mentor could speak just to you if she sees something about which you would need more information.
From Charles K.:
Do you enjoy playing tennis? If you do, then just go and do your thing. Forget the rules, etc., that you perceive to be different than in "social tennis." Tennis rules are tennis rules. You most likely already know them. Just keep playing by them.
Mary, focus on your play, but do not take yourself, your mistakes or your opponent too seriously. You will be amazed at how much you will learn, how much your game will improve, and how much fun you will have doing it. Support and encourage others, and others will support and encourage you. Laugh, and everyone will laugh with you!
From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:
Mary, sounds great. Who do you think will be playing in this league? Peers, that’s who. The USTA’s website has everything you need to know about the rules and regulations, including court etiquette.
Players know the players from the movement they set up to hit the ball, so let your feet do the walking that takes your racquet to the ball, and let your racquet do the talking, and don’t worry about the score.
Smile a lot, it returns great value on little investment. Keep apologies to only if you hit someone with the ball. Saying you’re sorry on every error burdens you and will bring attention to your weakness. EVERYBODY make errors -- forced and unforced. It is part of the game. It’s the team with the least error that generally wins. Remember, most points are lost through error in league play, not won with great shot-making.
As for getting better, practice, then play. Play is not practice. That’s why they keep score and write them down in a book FOREVER.
Be yourself, and just have fun playing and stay away from gossip. That’s about it. Have fun.
From Denise H., Baldwin, NY:
I have played quite a bit of league tennis, and although it's competition and no one likes to lose, it is all about having fun.
My first suggestion is not to let anyone take the joy out of the game for you. It should always be fun. As you play, the rules and etiquette will become second nature. What you don't know in the beginning, just ask; there will be others who are in your shoes. Also, review the rules (which they should give you a copy of) in your off time.
As time goes on, you will make friends. To be a good team member means doing whatever is needed of you to help your team win. I am sure you can handle that.
Go get 'em, Mary, and have a great time!
From Kitty, Princeton, NJ:
First of all, congratulations on being asked to be on a team -- that's a compliment to both your ability AND your personality.
Talk to your captain about USTA rules and etiquette. I give my team members a tip sheet every year that points out some of the scoring peculiarities and reminders about rules that might be waived in a friendly match. You can also get a copy of Friend at Court from the USTA that will give you a complete read, if you want to go into great detail.
Remember that the other team is going to have some new members that are in the same first-time situation, so just relax and have fun.
From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:
You seem to be consumed by not violating rules, etc. Someone had faith in you to ask you to play, and they must have felt comfortable with your play and personality, as well as your manners on the court. Just play the game, and the rest will take care of itself. Relax and have fun!!!
From Alicia B., Greenville, MS:
Remember, first and foremost, that you are out there playing to have fun and most likely because you love tennis. Don't get stressed out about it. And don't let the other players out there stress you out. Some recreational players take their tennis WAY TOO seriously. It's not like any of us are getting paid for playing!! Just keep the mindset that you are out there to have fun and hopefully win some along the way.
And don't beat yourself up when you make mistakes. That's how we learn! Just remember that IF you lose, it’s because you played a better player that day. And you may just beat her tomorrow. Good luck with your new league playing… and STAY FUN through it all.
From Tricia W., Houston, TX:
League tennis is a lot of fun! It’s a team/family atmosphere. Don't be nervous about all the rules. Tell your team to inform you about the main things in advance, and be open to them reminding you and/or telling you more specifics as rules/regulations come up.
I personally started in the lowest bracket with other women who were new to league tennis, and we have worked our way up without the stress of "having" to win. The main thing is to do it for fun and friendship. Be courteous to your teammates and opponents. Remember it's just a game and no one is getting paid to play. We all forget them and/or do not know all the rules/regulations. Just work together with your team to play your best!
From Eric R., Santa Rosa, CA:
Remember that you are on a team that wants to help you do your best. Confide in them about your inexperience and specific concerns. If possible, after you get to know the members, pick out a sympathetic teammate as a regular practice partner. Invite him/her to your courts before league matches begin and get used to their style of play.
Tell your team captain about your preferences in terms of strengths and weaknesses before they set the line up. Read the rule book online. Write down questions, or go to usta.com archives and read other’s questions and their replies.
Most of all, remind yourself that at your level, there is no reason to put pressure on yourself. That would be counter productive. Be your own best coach by staying positive and believing in each shot as your next time to shine.
From Bob B., South Pasadena, CA:
I started playing in a 3.0 men's doubles league last year and have really enjoyed it. However, at first I was nervous and played somewhat uptight. I soon learned that most of the players were also nervous and started using this to my advantage.
Our team came together after several weeks of matches but only after we started practicing in between matches. At one of our crucial practices, we played the 10-point tiebreak that is used when both teams take a set. Changing sides every four points can throw off your game unless you fully understand the fundamentals.
Jump into the league play, take a big deep breath, and be ready for some great competition and fun (not to mention the new acquaintances who will become new friends.)
From Kenny S., Woodland Hills, CA:
If you play social tennis, you need to follow the rules, but to a point. You need to dress correct and not act like a fool. There are little rules, like touching the net with your body is a lost point, that most people don't know. Also you want to win, and you have teammates wanting you to win. This is a learning experience. Just go with the flow, and play your game. This is a win, win!
From Linda C., Indianapolis, IN:
The best way to enjoy your first league experience is to know the rules of the game. It's frustrating to play a match that "counts," when the opponent does not understand who can call lets, touches and double bounces. If you know the basics of the game, make calls fairly and are pleasant and friendly, you should have a great experience!