Overcome Obstacles to Play
Don’t just teach your beginners how to hit the ball. For more complete participation in your programs and leagues, teach them how to play a match.
Close your eyes. Remember back to your very first USTA league match. You step onto the court, sweaty palms gripping your racquet. “Eye on the ball,” you mutter. Your partner is a newbie, too, and barely knows how to keep score. Together, you both will try to remember everything the coach taught you in your beginner class.
Odds are, though, that your class focused more on stroke execution than on match strategies, changing ends, footwork/movement during a point, communication with your partner, player etiquette, rules, etc. These aspects of a match probably received scant attention in your lessons.
During points, you probably tried to make mental notes to ask your coach later: What’s a let? How much time do we get on a changeover, and what should I do on a changeover? What the heck’s this tie-break thing all about?
The instruction pathway leads straight into leagues, but you’re left to fend for yourself when it comes to the more “social” aspects of the game, such as etiquette and rules. Even a topic as essential as match strategy can be ignored in lessons.
As a coach or programs coordinator, why not alleviate many of these stresses and concerns novice players face when they begin league play? You can do that by offering instructional “league” classes.
Understanding the Basics
Sarah Witherspoon, the adult programs coordinator for Macon Tennis Connect run out of John Drew Smith Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., runs an instructional league class. Sessions run four weeks, and the format mimics league play: Participants are placed on teams to play real matches, using one set regular scoring so they become familiar with how deuce/ad works.
“The major difference between league class matches and USTA league play is … well … me,” says Witherspoon. “Players can stop play to ask me questions about anything they don’t understand. Also, if I see obvious errors or plays that can benefit from advice on movement or communication, I stop play myself.”
Witherspoon stands nearby, observing students, determining when to interject. From her position on top of a hill, she monitors all six courts the league class uses. Sometimes, she waits until the point is played before giving instruction on what should have been done, while other times, she walks right on court, especially when order of serve is broken, or scoring issues arise.
“The ‘on-the-job training’ is the best way the beginner players can improve their game with the on-court assistance from the coordinator,” Witherspoon says. “It’s a great stepping-stone to transition them into USTA leagues.”
Players like Clare McBride, a secretary for Bibb County School District’s After School Program, love the league classes. “They give me the opportunity to gain match experience without the worries of real USTA competition,” McBride says. “I don’t want to be the weak link on the team.” McBride enrolled in her first beginner’s class last May as a way to relieve stress from the pressures of work and school. She then signed up for her first league class in June. She will continue registering for league classes until, she says, she can “hold her own” on a team.
Reviewing the Rules
Each class begins with a quick review of rules: no cell phones on court, no racquet abuse, wait until the point is played before you walk behind your neighbor’s court, etc. Then Witherspoon assigns everyone to his or her matches before taking her monitoring post.
Witherspoon also addresses spectator rules. “Many beginners think their fans can sit on the player benches on court. Furthermore, novice players believe spectators are allowed to settle line call disputes and scoring issues. We let them know right away this is wrong.”
Another common mistake new players make is calling the ball “out” before it has landed. All of these and many more etiquette procedures along with USTA rules are reviewed throughout the league class, ensuring participants graduate with an all-around knowledge of the game.
If you’re looking for ways to increase league play and program participation, why not start by offering a class that will create strong, confident players who are familiar with the intricacies of match play and can’t wait to enroll in all of your programs? Your players will thank you through program participation in leagues, tournaments and round-robins. Your coaches will thank you for the increased lessons generated.
With league class participation at the John Drew Smith Tennis Center averaging close to 40 participants and retention levels reaching 95 percent, who can argue with success? In fact, Witherspoon says that from the spring 2007 instructional league classes, five new USTA teams were formed that participated in league play last fall, three women’s 2.5 teams and two men’s teams, at 2.5 and 3.0.
If you help your beginning players to feel more comfortable playing the game, they’ll continue to grow and develop a real love for tennis. Which can only be good for your business.
Are you sure?
- Friend At Court, the USTA handbook of tennis rules and regulations, is a great place to find official answers to all your USTA match play questions. The book can be purchased for $5 through USTA. Or a full version of Friend At Court can also be accessed online. Go to usta.com, click on the “About Us” tab, then click the “Rules” tab.
- The Code, which is printed in the first part of Friend At Court, provides rules and regulations for playing unofficial matches.
- USTA sections and districts often publish helpful information for players, parents and spectators. Remember to check out your local district’s website when searching for tennis do’s and don’ts.
- Presented in an entertaining manner, Tennis for Dummies, written by Patrick McEnroe and Peter Bodo, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tennis, by Trish Faulkner, give lots of information about strokes, etiquette and mental toughness, and offer personal tennis anecdotes throughout.
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.