Tennis is a very challenging game. It requires tremendous physical condition to play at a serious competitive level. And that can be for a 12-year-old, a 22-year-old or a 62-year-old. The game can require a lot of the body in terms of strength, speed and endurance. But more than that, it requires tremendous skill. If ever there was a sport where the 10000-hour rule applies, it's tennis. The old adage was that it took 5 years to make a player and 10 years to make a champion. But these days it actually takes much more, and you better be putting in at least 1000 hours a year to have a chance to be competitive on the world stage.
But tennis is also a wonderful game for your whole life. You don't have to put in 10 hours or more a week to be able to go out and have a good time playing it. But it is difficult for even experienced former champions to maintain just a modicum of proficiency without having a racket in their hand at least a couple of times a week. And they better be doing more than taking a few practice swings in the living room.
Once you learn how to play the game and hit the necessary shots, you can maintain your skills with 8-10 sessions a month on the court and you can play this game into your 80's. The USTA has national tournaments and rankings for players in different age groups all the way up to 90-and-over. And believe me, those players are very competitive, even in their 90's.
Most people are never going to play 10 or 20 hours a week to develop elite skills, but they want to be able to have fun playing this wonderful game. We've made tremendous strides since I started to play the game enabling people to learn the game more easily. The equipment is much more forgiving than the wooden rackets I learned with. Just the hitting surface of the racket is 50% larger than what I learned with in the 60's. We have right-sized mini courts, slow-bouncing balls and shorter rackets for the younger kids to start with so they don't get discouraged by the initial difficulty of learning to hit a tennis ball. Instead, they can start having fun right away.
But you must accept that it is going to take a little work to develop any proficiency with a tennis racket at all. You are not going to experience much besides frustration if you only hit the tennis courts once a month or even once a week. Oh, you will get exercise running to bend over and pick up the balls, but it won't be much fun. You have to commit to putting a certain amount of time in to developing your skills. At least an hour of practice if not two for every hour of instruction. You better make friends with a nice rebound wall at your local school if you are just starting out. If you do it the right way, that work can be a lot of fun too.
I realized a long time ago how difficult it was to learn to play this game. I started very late for someone who wanted to play serious competitive tennis and it was a struggle. So I've tried very hard to find the best way to make it easier for people to learn to play. I began teaching the masses in my Tennis Academy in Grand Central Station in NY in 1971. I use ball machines and audio-visual aides and cameras and all kinds of Rube Goldberg devices to get my point across and make it easier for people to learn.
Boy, do I wish I'd had me to teach me to play when I was younger; I could have been so much better; it would have been so much easier for me to have learned some of the things that have taken me some 50 years to learn; and maybe I'd have been able to learn them while my body was still able to execute to the level of my knowledge. And I was actually pretty lucky. I managed to be under the influence of some of the best teachers of the time; maybe I should have listened to them a little more carefully, but as I look back, I realize some of the things I was trying to do were so foolish. If only I could go back and correct some of those ... but I can't do that.
But YOU can. I want to share all that knowledge I've acquired. I want to help you be the absolute best you can be. I'll do everything I can to help you be successful at whatever level of commitment you want to make. Don't be fooled. Your level of achievement will be directly proportional to the amount of effort and time you give the game. If you want to just learn to play the game and get some exercise, I can help you do that, but it will still take a certain level of commitment. If you want to train to be a champion, perhaps in 10 years when you are in the 55-and-over division, I can help you do that too; but it is going to take a lot greater commitment. If you are 12-years old and you want to play Division I tennis on a scholarship, I would love to help you do that, but it is going to take an even greater level of commitment over the next 6 years!
As for Fundamental Principles, there is really only one thing you have to remember. You have to obey the laws of Physics, Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology and Bio-Mechanics to name just a few; you need respect for the principles of balance and timing and movement as demonstrated in ancient arts like dance. As you progress competitively, you might find yourself studying SunTzu's The Art of War or Machiavelli's The Prince to toughen your match strategy and tactics. Tennis will teach you important lessons of life; it can contribute to your physical, emotional and mental well-being; it might even help you get into the college of your choice or earn a scholarship. All those things are great, but there are more direct ways to achieve most of those things; they are just by-products of the process of learning to play tennis.
In the summer of 1975, I ran my own adult tennis camp at the Bridgehampton Tennis and Surf Club in the Hamptons, one of the prettiest spots in the world to play tennis, right on the ocean. We would start the camp on Sunday afternoons by videotaping everyone's serve and then we would do a few drills and then go up to the deck overlooking the Atlantic for dinner; before dinner we would take a look at the videotape of everyone's "before" serve. At this point, I liked to ask everyone, what was the most important thing to remember when you are on a tennis court? Everything else flows from this one thing. No one ever got it right.
What is the one thing you should never forget if you want to play your best tennis? Everything else flows from this.
The only good reason to play tennis is to have fun and enjoy yourself. Many benefits can flow from the game and maybe you can realize some ulterior motive like getting into a better college, but if you can't at least once in a while say to yourself, "Wow, that felt great. Gee, that was fun!", then you should spend your time and energy somewhere else, because this is a really hard way to achieve all those peripheral goals. If it's a scholarship you need, go work for minimum wage at Mickey D's; the odds are much better that you will end up with what you want. Play hard and work hard at your play and the game will reward you in many ways; but if you don't enjoy it, find something else to do with your time. That is the ultimate fundamental about this game. And I will make you work hard, but only so you can have more fun!