So, You Want to Become a Tennis Pro?
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
(The following has been excerpted from Dave Smith's new book,
COACHING MASTERY, due out in February, 2008)
Subscribers to TennisOne are undoubtedly interested in improving their games. Many of our junior players even dream of reaching the top echelon of tennis: the ATP or WTA tours. Adults, while knowing their chances to “turn pro” are awaiting them in another life, perhaps, still would like to believe that they can attain higher levels of play. Well, you might be surprised at what I am going to be sharing with you. I encourage everyone to do a little dreaming…and then understand the following:
Some dreams do come true!
Players like Marian Bartoli (left) started out like my daughter kyla with a keen desire to improve in all areas of the game and a love for tennis in general.
Nearly every book on tennis suggests that it is incredibly unlikely that you could become a pro. The consensus seems to imply that only an elite level of athlete, coupled with unlimited financial resources, and an uninterrupted lifestyle could even think they could go pro.
And while such elements are truly helpful, I promise you that they are not absolute requirements. If they were, then players such as the William sisters or a Maria Sharapova would never have made it, let alone become Number One in the World! There are perhaps more examples of players with limited opportunities and advantages than those who had everything they needed. And it makes sense: those who are athletically gifted, those who have financial resources and plenty of opportunity seldom have had to ‘work’ for many advancements. Yet, those who have limitations or are disadvantaged must work to overcome such restrictions, and as such, understand how to succeed.
Obviously, there are thousands of players, men and women, who make it to the professional tour. You can find players ranked as low as 1000, yet still making a living playing tennis (a sparse living at that kind of ranking, no doubt, but still in the mix!).
Ana Ivanovic learned to hit that punishing backhand inside a swimming pool in Serbia.
Why so many people believe it is next to impossible to turn pro is a combination of stilted thinking and ignorance. The biggest problem is in the teaching philosophy of so many books, videos and even teaching pros. The way a player learns tennis is tantamount to either perpetual mediocrity or potentially skilled tennis. If nearly all books (and tennis teaching professionals) prescribe to the dual belief that players basically can’t possibly make it as a pro, and then go on to prescribe a methodology that guarantees mediocre play—or at best, limited potential, it is no wonder so many believe it is next to impossible to reach the professional ranks.
Players who learn introductory methods they must eventually change (to reach higher levels of play) will be severely stifled in their progression to higher levels. I will go one step further and say that it permanently limits a player’s potential and possible progression to the point that even those who had the desire, dedication, and determination to reach professional ranks will have no chance of pursuing such advanced levels. If ninety-nine percent of books and many of the teaching pros continue to offer such flawed methodology to begin with, it quickly becomes clear why the United States has such a small percentage of professionals on tour considering the size, wealth, and opportunity our society is blessed with!
Key Elements of Having a Chance to Turn Pro
The William sisters (Serena left) grew up on the cracked, public courts of Compton California without the usual privileges.
There are many criteria which players must meet if they really hope to turn pro. While having financial resources to take lessons, buy a ball machine, or play in and travel to tournaments certainly helps the cause, this is not as critical as many may believe. The William sisters grew up on the cracked, public courts of Compton California following the tutelage of their father Richard, who, in turn, watched videos and discussed advanced training methods with those who understood what would be involved. His vision was not thwarted by a lack of competitive tournaments either, as Venus and Serena both played very little USTA junior tennis. They also trained within the context of the Advanced Foundation, (either by luck or by design!) as many of the videos of the girls growing up did not feature those transitional methods that so many books and other pros introduce juniors to.
There is one thing that every junior player who made it as a pro had: sincere desire. This characteristic, desire, while not having anything to do with genetics (as it pertains to athleticism) or wealth, certainly is often more elusive and rare than any other attribute.
The thing I want to stress to anyone reading these pages is that anything short of sincere desire is simply an excuse. Someone can always say, “My family couldn’t afford tennis.” Or, “I just wasn’t gifted enough.” We can even claim that nationality, religious beliefs, where we live, bad weather, or any number of excuses could prevent us from becoming a pro. But, each of these is exactly that: An excuse!
There have been enough success stories in every sport to know that people who had far less opportunity were able to overcome "handicaps" through perseverance, personal belief in themselves, and dedication to reaching their goals. However, if tennis players were given the wrong information regarding stroke development, then no amount of desire will usually result in reaching such goals.
Players sincere about improving will often take notes onto the court when practicing. Here my student, A. J. Bartlett studies his notes during a break hitting with Kim Cljisters at the Pacific Life Open.
Obviously, starting young increases the chance of becoming a top level player. However, if a youngster learns tennis within the calamity of transitional tennis methods, then it simply won’t matter when they started playing: overcoming those initial methods will simply make it exponentially that much more difficult.
What is Desire?
Desire means that no one and nothing will prevent you from doing what is necessary to reach your goals. Players with sincere desire do not look at making time to practice as a “sacrifice.” Anyone can say he “wants to be the best tennis player in the world,” but few are willing to pay the price (in terms of sacrificing other wants or desires) to actually be the best. Those who have become the best in anything didn’t get there by wasting time or avoiding the hard work that they knew it would take. Ask any champion if they didn’t make serious sacrifices in pursuit of perfection. Many might even say they never made any sacrifices because it was always their number one priority to become the best tennis player in the world. In fact, doing other things in place of practicing might have been a sacrifice to these champions! The value of anything we do or have is usually enhanced, if not heightened significantly, by the sacrificial component taken by the individual to obtain that thing of value.
Once a player understands the correlation between desire and setting goals, the rest of the “journey” becomes the reward and the level of actual skilled play a player reaches is icing on the cake.
Also, unlike when I was growing up playing tennis in the 1970’s, each of you have this tool, TennisOne, at your fingertips to understand so much more about tennis than anything we had back then. A player who has sincere desire to reach highly skilled levels of play has the ability to study tennis like never before. Players can read articles, watch video clips and listen to audio clips to see, hear, and analyze the game anytime they want. When a player isn’t on the court, he can study the pros, the strategies, and the techniques which many of our writers and contributors have provided. This understanding of the game is the first real step for any player who wishes to reach his or her true potential. Ignorance is no longer a reason for player failure. So, start today on reaching your potential; study tennis, understand the various concepts discussed, and most importantly, establish those dreams you want to make your realities!
I will continue this series of “making it to the pros” over the course of this year. Next time, I will discuss the processes of making it to the top!
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's Book Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
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