Similar to a lot of different sports and activities out there, tennis likes to claim that it’s a sport for a lifetime. And it’s true, tennis can be played well into old age. In fact, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) holds national championship tournaments every year for players age 90 & up. How many sports do you know that do that?
Tennis is a sport that can help keep you fit, active and improve your hand-eye coordination, while having fun at the same time. It’s never too late in life to pick-up a racket, hit the courts and learn the basics. And one of the biggest added benefits is that it’s a social game, too.
While finding equipment, court time and a partner might seem like a lot of logistics to coordinate, most beginners find tennis surprisingly enjoyable.
So let’s break down five things to start playing tennis:
1) Gear The basics are a racket, gym clothes and proper sneakers. Often, you don’t even need a racket to start. Clinics and private lessons can often help supply you with a “demo” racket until you decide you love the sport and want to buy one yourself. Or pay $5 to demo a racket from a local tennis shop for a day or two. That way you can test one out to see what you like. Any gym clothes for tennis will do – no need to spend a fortune on gear, but a good pair of tennis sneakers is a must. The best shoe for tennis is – surprise – a tennis shoe. They offer the lateral support that you need on the court. You can also wear a cross-trainer or a low-top basketball sneaker with non-marking sole. Unfortunately, a running shoe is not advisable. They not really made for the lateral movement of tennis and can cause your ankle to roll. They also mark up the court.
2) Find the right lesson for you When it comes to getting down a few basics of the game, beginners have a few different options. Tennis clinics are perhaps the most cost-effective and social way to start tennis. Places like the YMCA or public tennis courts generally offer affordable beginner clinics which is a great way to see if you like the sport and meet others that are your skill level (see #5 below). Though more pricey, private lessons are usually the quickest way to learn and improve because instructors can teach you the basics from the start and analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Instructor’s rates can vary, so shop around–a younger teacher (say, a college student on summer break) may teach for half the price of an experienced country club pro. A great alternative to the solo lesson is what they call a two-person private lesson, which offers a similar coaching experience at a much lower price.
3) Use a ball machine to improve Most tennis centers will have a ball machine that can be rented out by the hour or half-hour for quite cheap. Unless you’ve had some experience with tennis in your past, it’s not advisable just to get out on the court and start with a ball machine for your first time. But if you know the basics of the forehand and backhand from earlier days or from your clinic or private lesson, then the ball machine can be a great workout and fun way to get back into the game. A backboard is great for some warm-ups and light activity, but not much for improvement
4) Have fun with a partner If you go the clinic route, hopefully you’ve found a fun partner at a clinic (see #2) or have a friend interested in tennis, try to set up a weekly court time together. Even if you are just beginners you can have some fun. Start at the middle of the court with both of you on the service line. If you’re an absolute beginner, buy a softer “beginners” tennis ball that is a slower speed. This will help you hone your strokes. Or, if you really want to improve, toss balls to each other. One person gently tosses 30-40 tennis balls over the net while the other hits. Then trade spots!
5) Join a club or become a regular As I mentioned, tennis is a social sport. If you find some courts or a club near your house that you like, spend some time getting to know the people there. That will lead to more playing partners. The USTA has a terrific website to find clubs, partners and more.
Look forward to seeing you at the 90 & over nationals down the road!