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Thu, Oct. 17

Column: Never mind being perfect, practice makes you better

Teaching tennis for a living gives a bit of insight to the trepidation some people have when they go from learning the game to playing it against others. It's scary for many and exhilarating for others. But bottom line, the game of tennis is to be played.

Yes, you test your skills against another's and one of you will win and one of you will lose.

The worst that can happen is that you get killed, and then you have to mentally come to terms with the following: You were playing out of your league but made your opponent feel pretty good which is nice for them; or you tightened up and didn't play as well as you know you can, thus you have to play more matches to learn how to relax. Back to the drawing board with thoughts of what you need to correct and practice to make things better, and next time play someone closer to your ability level.

I have seen some beginners shy away from playing matches for over a year.

They keep saying, "I'm not quite ready yet."

In 20 minutes almost anyone can learn the necessary strokes to play tennis at a beginning level. And within a week of going at it, they can have a good handle on score keeping, rules and stroke development, while enjoying running down balls, laughing, screaming and feeling moments of greatness.

That's what makes it fun. Tennis is always a work in progress, at every level of the game throughout a lifetime of matches.

Yes, you play tennis for the exercise and social outlets it provides, but no one will ever convince me that you don't play to win and enjoy it more when you do.

So what if you're one of the players who after years of playing always find a way to lose?

There are a couple choices. Finding a new group of players more to your ability level comes to mind. Take some lessons and work on your game around your match play. Raise your proficiency in the areas that are weak.

Your only other choice is to carry a book around of excuses so you don't duplicate what you're saying each week, or find people to play with that can carry your sorry butt.

Those of you who do have a decent game but still agonize hearing the words, "Spin the racquet and let's get started", might give some thought to the following to settle your nerves:

Drink a beer before you get on the court; get in a long pre-warm up so you're settled in mentally and physically; get some counseling cause there's no doubt your mind is getting in the way; learn to think only about the point you're playing; it's only a game, don't make more of it than it is; learn to laugh - it defuses tension; just say YES.

Maybe we should come up with a medical term for a tennis player who is out of sorts that insurance can cover.

Seriously, giving lessons and clinics creates great opportunity for a lot of tennis professionals to make a living. Not a bad gig for a few people who really never wanted to have a real job.

Tennis professionals should be promoting how difficult it is to play and that a year of lessons is required, followed by weekly drill sessions for the rest of your life.

But if you're opposed to becoming your local tennis professional's best ($) buddy, make sure they or your local tennis association have a multitude of tennis outlets for you to play in.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or

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