15 years ago I was a miserable son of a gun.
As a 2.5/3.0 player who played on a 3.5 league team and thought he was a 4.0, I was watching all of those great players on TV and wanted so badly to be like them.
Problem was, my game was just awful, crushing my ego and making my performance go into a spiraling downslide.
I was a member of the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in San Diego's North County, but didn't want to invest in tennis lessons. I refused advice from friends who offered to go out on the court to hit with me for an hour.
"I don't need to hit, I need to play!" was my line of thinking.
And every lost match made me even more miserable. "Where on Earth is the fun in this game? I'm paying good money for this!!?" I thought.
One day I was playing a USTA mixed doubles league match with my ex-girlfriend. I'm omitting her name for her benefit, but all of my friends know who I'm talking about, right? Well, we lost the first set because of me. And halfway through the second set I completely lost it.
I got burned by the opposing net player and started blaming my partner. Oh boy, I should have known better. She looked at me with disgust and then she walked out; she left me standing there and went home. We defaulted the match, of course, and never again played league doubles together.
The next day, my buddy, Dave, called me and said he wanted to buy me a drink at our local watering hole. Over the course of a couple of hours he explained a few things.
He said, "Rich, I am very sad to give you some bad news. NO ONE in the club wants to play with you anymore. The good news is, I can tell you how to change that if you want."
We got very drunk that night and I promised to listen to his advice. Dave put me on a three-step plan, which I didn't embrace at first but soon became very enthusiastic about as the hard truth he explained began to set in.
Here is Dave's 3-Step Plan for turning my tennis life around:
1. Practice hitting ground strokes with my buddy twice a week
From the next day on, we were hitting ground strokes together on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. No games, no points to win or lose. Just hitting. Dave was no high class player, but he'd played for 30 years and knew what those ground strokes should look like.
It helped me concentrate on the basics without the pressure of wanting to win. I focused on stroke development, footwork, posture, grip, all that good stuff. In addition, I took a private lesson once a month or so to have a pro check how I was doing and make sure my strokes were developing the right way.
2. Work on my attitude on the court
Under Dave's regiment, I learned how to not beat myself up after a bad shot; look for things to improve when I was in a rut; clear my mind and focus on my game; compliment my partner and create an atmosphere of respect and trust bewteen us; and have FUN playing tennis.
3. Work on my attitude off the court
This was a big learning curve for me. I had to start being nice to EVERYONE, not just my buddies. This turned out to be very, very difficult with my German Virgo background. But, in the end, I mastered that, too. And all of a sudden the sport of tennis and the interactions with my fellow tennis players started to look like fun again.
You may ask me now how does any of that relate to improving your game one whole level? Well, I went from a 3.0 to a 4.0 player, which is actually a jump of two levels, all while having fun and making friends playing tennis. And here are my three suggestions for you to accomplish the same:
1. Practicing your strokes regularly improves your tennis game
2. If your tennis game gets better, you'll have more fun
3. If you have more fun, your tennis game gets even better
Can it really be that simple? Yes! Try it yourself, it works. And I can assure you of one thing: EVERYBODY wants to play with me today!
The founder of the San Diego Tennis Network and the California Social Tennis Network, Rich Neher can be reached on Twitter (MrTennis) and through his new web site www.CATennisNetwork.com.