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The Deciding Factor: The 1 Critical Skill That Separates Every Level

August 25, 2017

With over 10 years of experience teaching adult tennis groups, coaching 2.5 to 4.5 teams and teaching myself to a 5.0 tennis player, I feel that I have the inside scoop on what you need to have to get to the next level for your adult leagues. Regardless if you are a 2.5 or a 4.5 player I have you covered! With the sake of simplicity I wanted to challenge myself to putting what I think is the most important skill needed to reach each level of adult tennis. While this won’t be your guide to all the checklists needed (maybe another blog?) to reach the next level, it may help guide you to more efficient and effective practices. Any comments are welcome to provide more insight on this topic!

Moving Up From a 2.5 to a 3.0 Level

Skill: Movement/Tracking

Reasoning: Most beginner adults can understand the technique of hitting the ball but struggle with having the ability to move to hitting a ball. This involves “tracking” which is being aware of where to be to hit the ball that is coming to you. For example, too many times players will see a high ball and see it bounce over their heads without having a shot at hitting it. This is why athletes who pick up tennis move straight to the 3.0 level as they can make consistent contact with the ball with their expert tracking skills.

Help: Try throwing a tennis ball across the net with your partner. The other person then catches the ball when the ball bounces. Wherever the ball is caught the ball can be thrown. This will help players learn to move and track a ball without worrying about the technique of hitting the ball too. Videos on this coming soon!

Moving Up From a 3.0 to a 3.5 Level

Skill: Ability to hit all shots on the court with consistency

Reasoning: This is where your weak backhand can only take you so far. There are too many players at a 3.5 level that can expose your weaker side so having an ability to be consistent on all strokes (serve, return, forehand, backhand, volleys, overheads) is essential for this level. Rarely will matches be “won.” Rather the player who makes the most mistakes will lose the match. This is because it will be difficult to hit balls by someone at a 3.0/3.5 level.

Help: Hitting the center of the ball consistently can help with your focus on hitting the ball correctly.

Moving Up From a 3.5 to a 4.0 Level

Skill: Hitting with Pace/Spin

Reasoning: Although pace and spin are separate entities, I am treating them like a horse and carriage. Can’t have one with out the other. Power means nothing without controlling it with spin that is the next step to improve your game from a 3.5 level. There will be very few players that can get past this level hitting flat balls. This includes hitting spin on serves, groundstrokes and even volleys. This takes the correct grips and possibly a whole new swing for you to get to this level. Consider getting a lesson from a certified pro to help you with this!

Help: Try watching this tutorial on topspin so that you can then hit the ball harder and keep it in the court.

Moving Up From a 4.0 to a 4.5 Level

Skill: Having Weapons

Reasoning: This is the most frustrating move for many adult players I know. Many have maxed out with their strokes because of the fact that they don’t have a weapon. This means a big serve, forehand, backhand, etc. that can put pressure on your opponent to force an error. This also connects well with the ability to hit a punishing short ball. Moving forward and seeing opportunities to attack is important to keep pressure on your opponent. This often takes a change in one of the following categories: fitness, mindset or technique. All are hard to change but to play at a 4.5 level, it may be worth the struggle!

Help: Understanding centripetal force to hit harder balls, increasing racquet head speed on your serve oron your forehand, inside out forehand drill, Exercises to help you get fit: band exercises for the knee, back and stomach exercises, electric chair drill.

Moving Up From a 4.5 to a 5.0 Level

Skill: Hitting with pace consistently with correct footwork.

Reasoning: This was a big change for me. I played in a 4.5 league a few years ago while also teaching tennis, teaching chemistry and varsity coaching. Basically I had no time to train and I struggled just to make the match on time. I had no choice but to play with caution and hit far from the lines while relying on my speed and fitness to get to balls. I was surprised where I was so successful that I was bumped up to 5.0. I didn’t even try for it but with the right mentality on the court I was able to separate myself from them with having a gritty mentality. Instead of hitting a winner every 4 or 5 points, I rarely hit a winner and instead kept consistent pressure on my opponent to make them go for low percentage shots. This leads to the next part to getting to a 5.0 level is the footwork needed to be quick to the ball so you can set up and hit the ball hard and consistent. Without quick feet, it will be very difficult to get to the next level!

Help: Having the right mindset might change your game completely. Try these videos to help: How The Pros Hit, Having The Right Mentality, Split stepping, proper footwork of the return of serve, taking the ball on the rise.

Moving Up From a 5.0 to a 5.5 (D1 College) Level

Skill: Experience

Reasoning: I met some really good D1 college players this past summer to hit with. I found myself over my head with handling their pace and pressure the were able to consistently do. At a 5.0 level, it’s not that you don’t have the strokes to improve; it’s more about the time to train with players that can get you there. By the end of the summer I was feeling more confident and hitting the ball with much more consistency and pace.

Help: Try making your practices a bit more difficult.

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