Competition: The Key to Better Tennis

Sure, you've got the basics of tennis down--shot placement, decent serve, good footwork--but now what? How do you make that all-important leap to the next level?

You can certainly improve your game by taking lessons or by practicing with a hitting partner, but if you're looking for a real jump in your tennis abilities, competition is the key.

Putting your skills to the test in a competitive environment forces you to make improvements in your game. You can practice a shot a hundred times on the practice courts, but until you place yourself in a win-lose situation, you'll never know how you perform under pressure.

Competition is also a stimulus for improvement. Testing your game through competition motivates you to improve your skills so that you will perform better the next time around. Your body has an innate desire to want to improve upon itself. Like when building muscle in weightlifting, you tear muscle in the process, which your body rebuilds even stronger to better prepare you to meet the challenge again in the future.

Competition also shows you what areas of your game you need to focus on. Did you lose the match because your opponent found a flaw in your backhand? Your opponent did you a huge favor by pointing out a component of your game that needs work. Now all you have to do is fine-tune that shot so next time you can rely on it as your secret weapon.

Additionally, the practice of setting and achieving goals brings a sense of fulfillment to your everyday life. It's no wonder that tennis players scored higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes or non-athletes, according to Dr. Joan Finn and colleagues in a study done at Southern Connecticut State University.

Here are a few examples of great ways to test your skills in a competition near you:

Enter a tournament
Testing your skills in a tournament near you is a great way to catch the excitement of tennis. From USTA sanctioned events to local opens, there are lots of ways to have fun playing tennis in a casually competitive environment. While some tournaments require that you qualify, there are a great number of events open to all USTA members and others that don't require membership at all.

Join a league
When it comes to leagues, there are lots of option to choose from. From the USTA to your local tennis club to online programs, taking part in a great tennis match on a regular basis is just a click away. Leagues are a good choice because they get you on the courts playing tennis on a regular basis. They also connect you with other players in your area that can also become practice partners. Join a league near you and improve your game, meet some new people and see what tennis in your neighborhood has to offer.

Check out your local USTA section
There's always something going on at your local USTA facility. The USTA isn't just for? former college players who dabbled with going pro. It's full of people just like you who love the game and want to play as much as possible. Generally, USTA sections work in conjunction with local parks, making the court times affordable and offering a wide variety of members from all walks of life. Best of all, USTA membership offers all sorts of privileges.

Start a tennis ladder
Tennis ladders are a fun and competitive way to play more tennis. They can be as simple as a sheet of paper that tracks players' progress or an online program that manages rankings via the Internet. Start a ladder at your office and add some competition to your workplace.

Find a virtual partner
Having trouble finding a tennis opponent in your area? There are a variety of sites that can help you find a tennis match near you. Search for members in and around your zip code, check out their profiles to see if they're at your level and challenge them to a game. You can also create a profile on more than one site and fill your tennis calendar in no time.

Join your local tennis club
If the local public park isn't your thing and you can afford the membership, check out your local tennis club. You'll find local tournaments and leagues hosted by the facility, great courts and amenities and other members interested in playing a match.

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