How much practice to improve your tennis?

And what kind of practice?

Whether you are junior or senior, beginner or superstar, you know that if you want to improve, you need to practice. But let’s have a look at how much you need, and what you should be doing in order to see results.

3 is the magic number! – in my experience, to see real improvement in anything takes practising 3 times per week. I have found this to be the case in tennis, in music, in other sports which I have done. Once just isn’t enough. A beginner might see some improvement playing only once per week, but this will start to level out if they don’t up things a bit. With most players, once per week will probably be just enough to keep them where they are.

What type of practice do you need?

Firstly, I’ll just list the different types of practice you might have, along with the benefits……..

1. Being fed easy balls in a non-competitive situation – this may be with a practice partner or coach, or even a ball machine. It might include serve practice. 

Good for: Practising the technique of a particular shot. Learning new technique

Not good for: Practising the tactical side of tennis, playing under pressure, dealing with opponents, learning to win matches, fitness.

2. Hitting / drills – this is where you set up particular situations to practice them. It might be hitting crosscourt and down the line, approach shot drills, serve and return drills, playing a short ball – anything. These kind of drills can be competitive (for points) or not.

Good for: Practising situations which come up in a game, but in a low-pressure environment; improving consistency through repetition; fitness.

Not good for: Replicating the high pressure situation of a match.

3. Practice matches – playing full points, but in a lower pressure environment such as with a practice partner.

Good for: Practising the tactical aspects of tennis, fitness, learning how to win points, improving your match-play by having to use all your shots in a real game situation.

Not good for: Working on a very specific technique, replicating the pressure of a tournament match, dealing with an opponent who you do not know.

4. Competitive matches i.e. tournaments or matches for your club or school

Good for: Learning to deal with pressure, learning to win matches, dealing with opponents, becoming used to the match situation.

Not good for: Working on the technique of any shot, trying out new things, improvement through repetition.

So which type of practice should you have, and how much?

This depends on your goals, your strengths and weaknesses and your tennis schedule – for instance, if you have a tournament in one week, you will need more practice matches and competitive matches and definitely not work on the technique of your shots.

Here are a couple of examples to give you an idea how you might set up your practice schedule:

Example 1: Me (Karl)

Let’s imagine I have a tournament coming up in a month. I haven’t been playing ANY tennis – just doing lots of coaching (which isn’t playing). I can feel that the technique of my tennis is a bit off, but I will also be struggling with the tactical side of tennis and probably not prepared to deal with the pressure of a match as I haven’t been playing any.

Should I take a tennis lesson to correct my technique? NO! I just need to get out and hit some balls with a practice partner to start with. It may well be that the problems will iron themselves out with a bit of practice. I probably need 3 or 4 good hitting sessions to start to feel the ball again properly. During those sessions, I don’t want to be playing many points as I want to get a feel for the ball again in a low-pressure environment.

So my first week of practice would be lots of hitting and drills. I might start to bring in a few practice points at the end of the hitting session to see what is happening when I play points.

Then, depending on what happens when I play points, I can decide how to structure my practice for the next few weeks. If it’s clear that there is a problem with technique, I can take a lesson or video myself to see what’s happening with the technique. I then need lots of easy balls fed to me so I can practice the technique. LOTS of repetition.

Then, I can start to introduce some drills into my practice so I can practice the technique in a more real situation. If the stroke I was working on was a short, shoulder high forehand, we could set up a drill where every point starts with me being fed a should high forehand which I have to hit to a target area, then playing out the point. LOTS OF REPETITION.

I then need to start making my practice more competitive as I have a tournament coming up. I might keep doing the drills, but spend less time on them, and more time on practice points. As I get very close to the tournament, my practice may consist almost entirely of playing points and, if possible, some more competitive

Example 2 – John

John plays doubles several times per week every week. He wants to improve, but his tennis has stayed exactly the same for several years. He feels that his tactics are ok, but there are a couple of shots which consistently let him down in games.

Well in his case, playing more matches is not going to help because we can’t really work on the technique of a shot under that pressure. Let’s imagine one of the shots which is causing a problem is the serve. He needs to isolate the serve by practising it in a non-match situation. Just hitting a basket of balls on his own.

Then, he probably does need a lesson or two as it’s very tough to work out what you are doing on your own serve. While he’s working on his serve, he could do with a break from his competitive games so he can work on the shot without pressure. However, as he starts to make progress with his serve, he could start to play some practice points. What he shouldn’t really do is have one lesson then go straight back into a competitive game, as he hasn’t had enough practice on his new technique. He’s likely to either revert back to his old technique, or even worse, have the shot completely fall apart as he is somewhere in between the old technique and the new.

Example 3 – Emma

Emma takes a lesson once per week and is out hitting balls several times per week with friends and family. She hits the ball nicely and has pretty good technique She hardly ever plays any kind of match, but when she does, she is so nervous that her game completely falls apart.

So in Emma’s case, she doesn’t need more lessons or more drills – she needs to play games. This can start with practice games, then introducing more competitive games, gradually increasing the pressure.

Do you fit into any of these categories? These don’t cover every situation, but you get the idea.

One of the reasons that I wrote this article is that we often get people booking lessons because they haven’t played in ages and want to get back into it. But they don’t really need a tennis lesson for that. They just need to get out and hit some balls. Sure, if you want to spend £30 for a reliable hitting partner, that’s fine. But you don’t have to.

Hope the article is useful. Please comment below.



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