There’s been a shift in adult recreational tennis since Covid. That shift includes a mad dash towards two very popular racket sports you likely know of called, pickleball and padel tennis. Both are making a big impact on adults because you can get playing easier, faster & with less running & movement. That means less injuries in the minds of adults who’ve been hurt in the past or have vulnerabilities in the body. It also means a better use of their time & enjoyment.
Both padel and pickleball are in fact injury prone. Players are suffering broken wrists, sprained ankles, back pain etc. But we’re not hearing about it as much because there’s still real excitement around these games. Give adults a new hobby they feel competent to play or confidence in their playing abilities, and you give them more than a sport. You give them a new way of life. Sound far fetched? It’s not. Give adults a healthy way to tone their bodies, shed belly fat, tone tired legs, clear brain fog, run & sweat out anxieties and it’s a big win for them. Laugh & share camaraderie with others, feel a part of something other than their day to day responsibilities and you’ve exposed them to more. More what exactly? More life. A sense of feeling alive, feeling young again, reaching for more from themselves than the sofa and a package of bonbons to self sooth. Adulting and life gets hard – sport is the perfect release.
Tennis coaches are transferring their coaching services to padel players in Europe & pickleball in the USA. Ask them why and they find padel or pickleball a better business opportunity & more fun to teach. (Of course it is because they’re seeing results faster). Tennis coaches are also participating in these games at the highest levels for the social component & prize winnings offered in high profile & well attended local events or tournaments.
The upside for adult tennis players who excel in tennis even a little feel they play padel or pickleball well. And that’s what it takes. It takes an adult to feel their efforts lead to progress in a reasonable amount of time. That they can move forwards and take advantage of the numerous playing opportunities is an enormous, upside. The instruction messages in these other (easier) games are on point with very little mixed messaging. Because both games are relatively new with little instruction history. To be clear both games are direct downloads from tennis. There’s little pressure or shaming about playing one way vs another – old school or modern.
Tennis will always be the Queen / King of the Court. Most adults I know, given an appropriate range would prefer to excel in tennis. Adult tennis players at the beginner levels (beginner / intermediates) aren’t making progress quickly or easily like in padel & pickleball.
For one thing, if you watch Youtube tennis videos and many do, there’s a natural pressure from online coaches about traditional and modern playing styles. If you take your racket back a certain way – it’s old school, use an eastern grip, you’re old school – compared to the ‘cool new way’ they do it in modern tennis. Now in 2023 they’re marketing an even newer brand of forehand, calling it. NEXTGEN. I mean who can keep up? And in my own personal experience, the majority of adults simply want to get playing the game with a level of confidence – to play with others.
Focus on your foundations first
None of the messaging focuses on the need to have solid foundations in order to hold the racket correctly, get the racket down low Certainly lower than the ball) so you finish high. So you have newer tennis players yearning to play “modern tennis” and focus on racket lag, brushing up and out on a ball for enormous height & spin when foundationally, they can’t possibly relate to racket head but they want it because the coaches talk about how well Carlos Alcaraz does it. Adults suffering to keep the ball between the lines for 6 shots are now more focused on having THE most modern forehand instead of locating their best forehand contact point. It doesn’t add up. And it’s certainly not true.
In reality we’re skipping steps. Most adults who come to our adult tennis camps aren’t there yet. WE, coaches, would do better & generate more interest in tennis if we actually helped adults play their best game.
As certified coaches, we should be encouraging adults to get out and play the game in a way they feel best. Not pressured to hit a ball modern vs. old school and imply one is significantly better. Of course not. Teach them how to play so they’ll feel best on court as an independent player – not what the marketing world is trying to sell you. We could make it reasonable to learn so adults can relate to what matters most in their tennis evolution. If adults notice the progress personally and can relate to where they are vs. where they want to be, they keep going happily and their experiences on court could be better curated. Each adult comes with their own personal goal and therefore, has a very distinct path.
Those 5 core tennis strokes, tennis grips and understanding the courts geography are the key foundational elements in tennis. If coaches can’t meet a player where they’re at and move them forwards step by step because it’s too frustrating then it’s a coaching problem. If adult tennis players aren’t encouraged they’ll give up. If coaches don’t enforce the basics then it’s only a matter of time adult tennis players move onto something more favorable that fits them and the time they have to dedicate to it.
Tennis foundations, where your success starts
To be honest, most adults that aren’t hanging out in Reddit tennis chats, or TW chat rooms don’t know or care about old school, modern or NextGen. The adults I meet & train want to be able to finally play confidently with other adults. They want to use tennis for exercise, meet new people & have more active opportunities available to them. They’re not interested in all the posturing and fluff. And they realize that variety in their game is a winning edge as they get older. Have you ever seen a 60+ person move the ball around the court effortlessly using slice, drop shots and deep pin point volleys!!? They do that with much less movement than some of the best heavy hitters and it usually leaves people stunned.
How in the world are you going to hit a NEXTGEN forehand or heavy topspin ball when you can’t maintain a rally because most of your balls are in the net? I understand it doesn’t sound as “cool” but what’s the rush? Keep in mind so many adults come to the game with some tennis experience already built-in or should I say baked-in. It’s easier for them to take the game they have and build from there, poco a poco – based on what they want from the game.
Tennis is bleeding adult players post covid. Encouraging players to get out and take lessons with limited time should be more about making the game fun, impactful and a way to alleviate stress not increase anxiety because a coach wants his students only hitting modern or Nextgen because it’s really all they know. It’s ridiculous to shame anyone on the style of how they play.
Not sure if you’ve ever visited a Reddit tennis chat but to read the player comments from their ‘expert perspective’ scares me. It’s very clear we’re focused on the wrong things. Certainly to grow the game and the number of adult players, as coaches we need to make it about what’s right for the player not us, the coaches.
To be honest, the only way you move past the intermediate level is to have your foundations locked in. They’re not hard but they do require enforcing from your coach because you can’t see yourself. So as you grow into that intermediate level, you have leverage to move beyond that. To be able to add topspin, generate more racket speed (power) or learn a slice serve requires things you learn in the foundational phase of the game. Variety will always be the best part of tennis, the spice of life so to speak 🙂
Recreational Tennis … adults grow tennis not the juniors
I don’t want adult recreational players discouraged.
Every adult comes to the game with different goals. You also come with different levels of athleticism, hand eye coordination and instinct.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard coaches teaching adults to hit every shot, open stance!? Yet the player’s balance is a glaring issue and not EVERY shot is meant to be hit in open stance. Certainly not your backhand.
If hitting open comes naturally and you’re well balanced, confident and understanding why you’re hitting in this footwork pattern, ok. At some point you’ll need to hit open to grab balls out of reach but not for every shot. Another, more traditional footwork pattern (neutral or semi-open) still works great and you’ll need them both! But if you’re only following the marketing buzz, you’ll miss opportunities on court you’d likely love and that feel good!
I mean if a ball is coming right to you, why would you want to hit it open, when you can lean & step into the ball and put a real dent in it😋.
I’ve been on the next court witnessing adults trip over themselves to get their feet right & make contact with the ball but they’re locked in – so god for bid they need to adjust themselves from there – they can’t. Not everyone can coil (turn their shoulders & hips) enough to make that work. Just know, there’s are always alternatives.
I’ve seen adults struggle with their ball toss yet be desperate to learn a kick serve! It’s putting the barn before the cart. It’s too much too soon. Depending on where you want to go in the game depends a lot on where your focus should be.
When adults take a padel or pickleball lesson they’re immediately taught to hold the racket in a continental grip. They take NO issues with it because it’s all they know, they learn it from the start and it’s enforced by coaches. This is terrific and let’s them move forwards easily using the right foundations and fast too.
In tennis you need a continental grip for most shots, especially doubles players. You need it for variety shots. You need it to volley & serve.
I rarely see adults in my intermediate tennis camps use the continental grip because it they did hear of it, it wasn’t enforced. The continental grip in tennis is a game changer that can impact your whole game and overall experience.
When I bring it up – I get push back from players because the last thing a player wants to do is go backwards. So moving into that lower intermediate level is where players stay – forever. Until they quit tennis & go play padel or pickleball – where they learn & use the correct playing grip! It’s bizarrely backwards.
I’m not here to be doom & gloom, not at all. I want you to know you have options. If you’re hearing from a coach you must hit the ball this 1 way, they likely lack the range to understand your needs. Or how to coach you a better way.
Most tennis coaches like working with juniors, not adults. So YOU have to take your foundations seriously. Tennis needs you. You adults are the ones who stay & grow tennis, not juniors.
You’re the ones who buy equipment. You take tennis lessons. You join clubs. You play tennis events. You go on tennis holidays. You play tennis tournaments at home & away. You join adult tennis leagues. You promote the game to your friends. Adults, you’re it!
If not for the fun of tennis, then what?
In essence, we need you to be playing at your very best. To be enjoying yourself and spreading the word. To stay healthy and happy in your own skin.
Try not to pay attention to trying to keep up with the marketing buzz out there now dictating your style of play. Follow your own path!
You’ve entered a game that’s a lifetime sport. A game where adults start tennis in their late 30’s, 40’s, even 50’s.
You’ll likely never hit a backhand like Serena or Rafa’s lasso forehand. You likely won’t play with the grace of Roger Federer. I won’t either. But that’s not why I play the game.
Forget mirroring the pros. Admire them, absolutely! But keep your eyes on your paper (nothing to do with money). Meaning, follow your own path. Every adult player has their own goal based on their personal lifestyle & time they can give to their tennis game. Take & make the most of that time to improve your game.
It’s never going to happen over night. But you’ll absolutely become the player you want to be if you stop listening to the marketing out there.
There are different ways to teach this game so that you get the very best from your personal game.
And most importantly, let’s stay healthy and know our limits.
Take the pressure OFF yourself from listening to the glitzy crap out there about who you need to be on court. Secure your foundations. Improve your balance, know where you should be standing on court at any given time, learn the court’s geogrgaphy well because a whole new world opens up to you. Know there’s many ways to skin a cat. If you’ve bumped up against a coach desperate to teach you 1 way or the highway, who’s overly technical and you’re not finding success – move on. Find a new coach.
Find a patient coach capable of getting you to where you want to be in the game.
Have a great Summer 🤩