I’ve been playing tennis regularly for 25 years. I coach tennis, I live tennis and I breathe tennis. It goes without saying that I’ve made many tennis mistakes in that time.
When I first started, I made mistake after mistake. It took me years of playing and meditating on the game to realize those mistakes and correct them.
I truly wish I knew then what I know now. My motivation for writing this article is so that you can learn from my experience.
Without any more delay, here are the top 20 mistakes tennis players need to correct. If you can learn from even one of these, then it was worth your time to read this post.
Never Assume The Ball Is Out
Many people I play often assume my ball is going long. They abruptly stop moving and then my ball falls in. They’ll often say something like, “I thought that ball was going five feet out!”
In tennis it’s wise to never assume the ball is going on unless it’s blatantly obvious. It’s better to play the ball and hit it, even if you think it may go out. If you take a swing, you can still call it out.
But if you don’t swing and the ball goes in, then you’ve lost the point for sure. One way to circumvent this mistake is to just run down everything. It’s a good drill and habit to get into anyway.
Always Carry The Proper Equipment
I know a lot of players who show up to matches ill-prepared. They don’t have grips, carry one racket and some don’t even have a tennis bag.
It’s always a good idea to show up to a match with everything you’ll need to perform your best. It may be annoying to acquire all the stuff you need, but once you do, it’s in your bag and done.
Here are the essential items I carry to every match. If you’re new to tennis, these are great items to keep in your bag: at least three rackets, new grips, hats, extra shirts, water, wrist bands, a towel, vibration dampeners, tennis balls, an energy bar, sunblock, and a racket weight.
Showing up prepared means you’re serious about tennis and serious about winning. It doesn’t take much, so learn to come prepared to all your matches and you’ll play better for it.
Never Judge A Book By Its Cover
I’ve probably played over several hundred people in the last couple of decades. Sometimes I’ll play someone I’ve never met or seen play before.
One thing I quickly learned is never to judge someone’s play on looks. I’ve seen the most unathletic, dumpy-looking players be able to hit the most extraordinary shots. Those players could do things I could only dream about.
Never assume you can beat someone on appearance alone. Always judge by the level of play. The same holds true for players that look good.
I’ve played against athletic-looking, young players with great stroke technique, and they were some of the easiest matches I’ve played. If you count yourself out before the match begins, you can play yourself right into an unnecessary loss.
Practice Like You Play
A friend of mine, who was like a mentor to me early on, always reiterated, “you practice like you play.” This means you should practice as hard as you play.
Unfortunately, I don’t see many players heeding that advice. When I first began playing tennis, I would practice very nonchalantly.
But I realized that to maximize my practice sessions, I needed to practice as hard as I worked in matches. Once I did, my game evolved, and I saw noticeable improvements.
The next time you are on the practice court, be intense and focused. Practice is your time to improve, not goof off.
Use The Best Racket And Strings You Can Find
I know great players may tell you differently, but for most of us club hacks, which racket you use has a huge impact on your game. Many club players I know use old rackets with bad string.
If you’re an avid tennis player, you need to upgrade your racket and string now. It may be a surprise to hear this, but you should be changing rackets every 3-4 years at max. New racket technology comes out every year and after 1-2 years, rackets begin to lose their “pop”.
Do you want to know the fastest way to improve in tennis? Purchase yourself a new racket and put good strings in it. By good strings, I mean 17-gauge strings with good feel. Try to avoid the cheap 16-gauge crap.
If you don’t know what racket to buy, try demoing several different rackets from your local pro shop or an online site like tenniswarehouse. If you call them, they’ll give you suggestions. Trust me, rackets make a big difference in play. If you like the serve and volley game — which is probably why you are here in the first place — check out our specific recommendations here.
Focus On The Process, Not The Results
As you may know from reading my blog and seeing my youtube videos, I’m a tennis coach. When I teach experienced players, they often have big expectations of improving right away.
Often during a lesson, I’ll tweak or change a player’s technique. Not surprisingly, they play worse for a while, as it takes time to adapt to new changes. I notice the player gets awful discouraged when the new changes don’t work right away.
At that point, I’ll tell them to focus on the process, not the results. Too often we get caught up thinking the results need to be ideal all the time, or else something is flawed. That’s how many of us are programmed to think.
Just remember, when you are improving or learning a new technique in tennis, focus on the actual process (the technique) and not on where the ball is going. You’ll improve a lot faster that way.
Know That No Player Is Unbeatable
Most of you play matches. Some of those players you beat every time. Other players beat you every time. And against some players, it’s a toss-up on who plays better that day.
For those players who always beat you, never assume going into the match the outcome is certain defeat. It would be wise to think positively, construct a viable game plan and try to execute it throughout the match.
I always try to give myself the best chance of winning. You never know when a better opponent may be off that day. Or, maybe you’ll play the best tennis of your life and end up winning.
Nobody is unbeatable in tennis. I’ve seen poor players beat good players more than a few times in my life. They did it simply by out-hustling them and wanting it more. Always believe in yourself and never give up on the court. Better to go down in flames fighting hard, then tank like a loser and be soft.
Say The Score
This one is important when you play matches. It’s especially important when you play league and tournament matches!
On many occasions in my playing days, I’ve forgotten the score, especially after long points. If you don’t know the score, you can easily end up giving one or two points to your opponent and ultimately the game and match.
When serving, it’s always a good idea to say the score out loud, so your opponent can hear it. In this way, if they contest the score after a point, you can tell them you said the score before every point.
It also helps you remember the score better too. When your opponent serves to you, it helps to say the score to yourself. In practice matches, I’ll also utter the score out loud before my opponent serves (if he doesn’t).
If the court you’re playing at has pegs or flip cards to keep track of the games, use them. In this way, there’s no disputing the score of the match.
Never Argue With Cheaters
I’ve played quite a few cheaters in my years. These are players who make blatantly bad calls. It’s one thing to call a ball good that misses by an inch, but when it’s six inches out or more, it gets to be ridiculous.
I say never argue with cheaters because you really can’t win. Leopards don’t usually change their spots. So if a player is a cheater, most likely they’ll always be a cheater.
This doesn’t mean they cheat you on every call – just the close and important ones it seems. I usually approach cheaters in two ways. One is that I won’t play with them again. The second is much more passive, where I turn the other cheek.
I only turn the other cheek if I know I can beat that player – especially if we are friendly. For example, there are a couple of guys I like, but they often make bad calls in our matches.
Instead of arguing, I just except the call and play on, knowing I can beat them despite a few really bad calls in the match.
If you argue with cheaters, it usually ends bad and someone usually winds up walking off the court. I’ve even seen physical confrontations break out over bad line calls!
This is one that really irks me. I see it with a lot of experienced but lower level players I teach. They’re overhitting the ball and making tons of errors.
I believe most players overhit because they see the way professional tennis players hit and think they should be hitting with the same pace. Well, news flash – it ain’t happening!
Yes, racket speed is important. But if you’re not generating enough topspin due to poor technique or whatever the case, your ball is going to fly out or into the net much more than land inside the court.
I tell these players to either generate more spin or slow their swing down a bit. But it often goes in one ear and out the other. Consistency is a lot more important than power when it comes to winning at the club level.
If you hit hard and most of your shots are landing out, you definitely need to heed this advice. Tone it down a bit and watch your level of play rise.
Avoid Playing Matches When Changing Your Technique
When you make a change in technique, often your level will decline for a period. With practice, you’ll become accustomed to the new technique and you may even be a better player after the change.
One important thing I learned early on is to not play matches in the midst of making big changes to your game. You’ll end up resorting back to what’s comfortable during the match and sabotage the new technique.
Or, if you use the new technique during the match and it doesn’t work well (because it’s not yet ingrained in your muscle memory) you may end up believing it’s unusable and scrap it prematurely.
If you make a wholesale change to your forehand, backhand or serve, work out all the kinks in practice before setting up a match. Once you’re comfortable with the changes, then you’re ready to play.
Practice Your Second Serve More Than Any Other Shot
It’s a tennis cliché that you’re only as good as your second serve. The second serve is the one shot that gives club players the most trouble.
If another player can tee off on your second serve, it means you probably can’t hold serve. And if you can’t hold serve, you can’t win in tennis.
A poor second serve also makes you reluctant to go for a big first serve and puts more pressure on you. So why not learn proper second serve technique and practice it religiously?
When I first started playing, I put the emphasis on my groundstrokes and first serve. But in time, I realized the smartest thing to do was practice my second serve as much as possible.
By doing so, I feel much more confident when serving. I know I can take the chance of missing a big first serve because I have a reliable second serve in my arsenal.
Work With The Best Coach Or Tennis Course You Can Find
When it comes to learning the game of tennis, you only want to learn from the best. This is especially true for new players who are just picking up the rudiments of the game.
If you learn from a coach or tennis course with less-than-optimal technique, your entire game may be permanently flawed. You’ll end ingraining bad habits that will have to be undone months or years later. Trust me, you don’t want that.
Ask around and seek out the best coach in your area. If you can’t afford private lessons or don’t have a great coach in your area, online tennis lessons are your next best option.
Check out the awesome video course available from Coach Mencinger – The Serve Unlocked.
Don’t Play The Same Players All The Time
A lot of tennis players I know get stuck playing the same people over and over. This is mostly a matter of convenience and comfortability.
If you’re only looking for exercise or enjoy playing with a particular person, then great. But if your goal is to improve in tennis as quickly as possible, it’s best to seek out as many different players as you can find.
Tennis is a wonderful sport because no two players are the same. Each one brings a different style to the table that can’t be replicated by anyone else in the world.
Some players hit hard, others are more consistent. Some like to crash the net and some avoid it like the plague. Some players have big serves, some tricky ones, and others use great placement.
In order to fulfill your tennis potential, you need to face as many different styles as possible. I owe a lot of my success in tennis to facing hundreds of different players over the years.
When I’m in a tough match against a player, I can usually recall a player with a similar style and determine the best game plan. The experience you get from playing a wide range of players is invaluable.
If You’re A Singles Player, Don’t Avoid Doubles
In the early years of my tennis life, I hardly ever played doubles. I loved singles and one-on-one battles. As a result, my net game hardly ever got better.
When I moved to Florida back in 2007, many of the guys that played here enjoyed doubles, so I decided to partake in it. Besides, I was getting older and doubles seemed inevitable. Additionally, I really wanted to improve my net game.
After playing a couple of years of doubles, my doubles game and net skills evolved tremendously. This has helped me out greatly in my singles game as well.
I highly recommend you play more doubles if you don’t already. Find players your level or above and enjoy the game. Trust me on this, when you play with good players, doubles is even more enjoyable than singles!
Within a few months of playing, even if you don’t consciously work on your volleys in practice, you should see an improvement in your net game. Doubles also helps your return game, as you need to be much more accurate with your returns.
Go Easy On Yourself
This one took me a lot of time to develop. By this, I mean not berating yourself for mistakes and bad play. I see a lot of club players cursing themselves, throwing their rackets and exhibiting negative body language after poorly hit shots.
While it may feel good for the moment to do as a stress release, in the long term it hurts you and your game. The best way to react after a poorly hit shot is to remain neutral and just observe.
I no longer get upset when I hit a bad shot. Instead I think of the reason why I hit that shot badly and then offer a solution to myself. It could be to get to the ball quicker next time, follow through higher or change my grip.
In providing a solution, I create a positive feeling in me instead of a negative one. The next time I receive the same ball, I can better make the adjustment as well.
You see, I look at tennis like a science. If something doesn’t work, there’s no reason to be upset. A change needs to be made. If I can make it during the match, then great.
If not, then I’ll need to accept me errors during the match and work to improve my technique after the match, during my practice sessions. All tantrums and bad-talking is really nothing more than overinflated egos.
We’re all just club players and most of the time, no money or stakes are on the line. I think players need to relax a lot more and they’ll find they play a lot better.
Join A Tennis Club – Don’t Shy Away From Competition
If you live in any major city or even if you don’t, there is often a tennis club somewhere in driving distance. Mine is fortunately located in my city, about 15 minutes by car.
If you love tennis and enjoy playing, you owe it to yourself to go down to the local tennis club and join. Many of them offer leagues where you can meet new people and players.
My club offers leagues for players from level 3.0 up to 5.0. This is where most club players fall in terms of level. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to lose, you have to overcome that bad trait.
Losing is par for the course in tennis. All tennis players lose, no matter who they are. We all have bad days. And we all face players who occasionally present bad matchups for us.
Believe me, it’s far better to play tennis against new and challenging players than not at all. If you lose, at least you’ll learn. There are so many levels in tennis, you could play all your life and never reach a point where you can beat everyone in your area.
The most important thing is to have fun, get exercise, enjoy the competition and make some new friends. In the end, none of us are competing for grand slam trophies, so wins and losses really don’t matter.
Don’t Underestimate Footwork
I’ve said it time-and-time again, and I’ll say it one more time here: footwork is the most important aspect of tennis. If you can’t move to set up for the ball properly, your game will always be a struggle.
If you ask Roger Federer and Andre Agassi the same question (what is the most important aspect of tennis), they’ll both tell you footwork. Yet I see almost no club players working on it!
There are so many footwork drills you can practice. How about agility ladders, cones and mini hurdles? I never see players using them. Why? Because footwork is difficult to work on and hitting groundstrokes and serves is not.
I understand it takes a lot of work and sweat to move your feet. But tennis is a running sport and it requires excellent footwork to play at the higher levels.
If you underestimate the footwork required to reach the higher levels of tennis, you’ll never practice it and you’ll never improve. And that’s the bottom line on footwork. Enough said.
Avoid Setting Up Late
This is one that affects almost all club players. I rarely see players striking a great power position and waiting on the ball.
Most of the club players I see move right through their power position (or worse yet, don’t have one) and hit last second. These players tend to hit off target and often feel rushed when playing.
I once saw my buddy, Mike (a 4.5 level player), hitting with a female coach who was ranked inside the top 200 in the world a few years earlier. She was setting up to hit the ball when it crossed the net.
Mike didn’t set up until the ball landed – which was usually beyond the service line. Who do you think hit better?
I learned years ago that early preparation is best in tennis. If you can prepare early, you can slow down the game and play more at your pace.
This is a lesson that a lot of club players struggle with. I’ve tried to teach this to 3.5-4.0 level players, but most prefer to hit last second because they’re so stuck in that habit. If you can learn to set up early, you’ll see the difference it makes in your game.
Be Wary Of Technical Advice From Random Players
Most players like to give advice on how you should play. They’ll tell you that your grip is not correct, or you need to change your stroke in some fashion. In my experience, most players know squat about effective technique.
Even players that are high level and experienced have a difficult time spotting mistakes and explaining technique. For these reasons, it’s best to ignore all technical advice and focus on doing only what your coach says.
Personally, when someone gives me advice on my strokes, I listen and just brush it off. I know my game well enough at this point that I know what works and doesn’t.
But if you’re a newer player or a lower level player, just focus on doing the things your coach asks of you. If you get caught up in thinking that you need to try every piece of advice offered, it’ll drive you insane.
Everyone has an opinion on how you should play better. The best athletes and players in the world only listen to their coaches and themselves.
Sure, it can be helpful to get a tip sometimes, but if you’re an inexperienced player, how do you know what’s right and what’s not? So best to just work with a qualified coach and assess your game on your own.