How to Recognize Tennis Talent

How to Recognize Tennis Talent

I already wrote several posts about tennis talent identification. Here is one more. This article Talent Identification in Tennis was written by Dave Samuels. I hope you will find it interesting and useful.

Spotting talented junior athletes who might have an aptitude for tennis is part art and part science. In addition to speed, strength, power, coordination and balance, tennis players need a variety of mental skills. Understanding a few basics of talent spotting will help you determine if a child has the potential to succeed as a competitive tennis player.

Talent Categories

The International Tennis Federation’s Doug MacCurdy recommends six areas for coaches to consider when identifying tennis talent: physiological, physical, psychological, technical/tactical, results and intangibles. Physiological attributes include parameters such as height, weight and arm span.

To gauge physical attributes, MacCurdy suggests testing young tennis players in running, jumping, catching, throwing, coordination, agility, tennis-specific speed, power, endurance and flexibility. Psychological attributes include self-esteem, confidence and competitiveness, with an interest in playing tennis one of the most important factors in judging talent. To spot tactical talent, look for player’s ability to move the ball around the court and solve problems.



Dancers, skiers, skaters, gymnasts, soccer players and others who use balance and footwork to excel have an edge in tennis over those with lesser footwork. No matter how much power a tennis player has or what level of stroke technique, they won’t maximize the use of these if they are not in the correct position to hit the ball.


Tennis players not only play frequently, but also they must practice most days. If players love playing matches but do not enjoy practicing, that might be a sign they will be limited to playing at the recreational level. Look for players to ask to stay on the court after practice, or who practice on their own. Players who ask to add points or tasks to drills demonstrate a love of competition.

Multi-Sport Success

If children are successful at more than one sport, it’s an indication they have developed the fundamental physical skills necessary to become a top competitor. Single-sport players might be able to dominate their sport at an early age because they have a big serve, fastball or passing ability. Look for children who excel in multiple sports, especially those that require throwing, catching, running, kicking, hitting and jumping.

Avoid the Results Trap

Don’t use tennis rankings or other competition results in young players as a gauge of future success. Tennis players who dominate at the 12-and-under and 14-and-under age levels have learned to play like 12- and 14-year-olds, usually keeping the ball in play until opponents make mistakes, rather than developing an attacking game. Post-pubescent children may mature in ways that benefit their game as they take advantage of more height or muscle.

So, what do you think about finding tennis talent?

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What Are College Tennis Coaches Looking for?

What are college tennis coaches looking for?

Now let’s talk about how to play and what to pay attention to during the recording of your video for a college tennis coach. Most college tennis coaches will never sign a tennis player only from a video alone. They will still want to see you play in person.

And what are college tennis coaches looking for then? These tips will help you to behave the right way on the tennis court.

UCLA tennis - What Are College Tennis Coaches Looking for?

  • On-tennis court behavior. Attitude is crucial: is a tennis player looking upbeat and positive? Or is the player berating him/herself? Which would a tennis coach  want to deal with?
  • Footwork, effort, and short selection; the nuts and bolts of your game. College tennis coaches want to see if a player use his/her head out there and if the player can create points, or just “bang away”.
  • They prefer to see you lose. Watching a player losing and the adjustments that one must try to make to salvage the tennis match are revealing. The player may turn the match around (great result) or may at least show that they can handle a loss with dignity. Again, what type of person would a coach want?
  • Don’t be looking to the sidelines; play your match withing yourself. No need to look at mom or your coach who applaud and make everything OK. Be your own coach out there.

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How to Prepare Tennis Video for a College Tennis Coach

I already wrote about How to get athletic scholarship for a tennis player. Here I would like to talk about how to prepare tennis video for college tennis coaches. There are some advice how to make your best tennis video.

john isner paris - How to Prepare Tennis Video for a College Tennis Coach

Remember that you are not supposed automatically send your tennis video or link to your YouTube video to a college tennis coach; the coach will let you know if he/she has seen you play, wants to see you play, or want to start with your tennis video. That gives you a good reason to contact the tennis coach, so having the footage ready makes sense.

Tennis video should include following:

  • 10-15 minutes in total length. The college tennis coach usually watches only 3-5 minutes of the video. Be sure you start with your best footage.
  • Start with some match points. Points that make your footwork look great and points that are several shots long showing the development of a point.
  • Be sure to identify yourself in the clips – by using graphics explaining you are in the blue shirt on the far side, or with titles put on the clip. Also write it on the outside of the shirt so the coach knows which player is you. It is very important that this be clear, and that you are not selling one of your opponents to a coach instead of yourself.
  • The tennis match does not should be a tournament match, though it can be. You can set up a practice match at your club, and film it with one stationary camera. That would get you enough footage to put together ten minute product. A high school match is also very good – the uniforms make it easier to identify the players and it looks more “official”.
  • The editing does not need to be professional or slick. But t should be supervised/final edited by a tennis pro or good college level tennis player who can see if the clip makes your footwork and strokes look good, or not.
  • Get this video footage no later than the summer before your senior year. There are so many summer tournaments and opportunities to get this footage, that this would be the best way to find an appropriate match to highlight your best play.
  • A personal, short introduction of the tennis player speaking into the camera, smiling and showing positive attitude, is a nice touch. Player should state his/her name, city, state of residence, age and what match might be included in the footage.
  • Add titles with your name, phone, and email, year in school, and date that was made.

In the next post I will write about what college tennis coaches are looking for when they are considering players for their team.

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The Perspective of Serve and Volley in Modern Tennis

We have discussed  why serve and volley is unpopular among modern players in the article Is serve and volley still alive?

Pete Sampras 196x300 - The Perspective of Serve and Volley in Modern TennisOne blog’s reader said: “To serve and volley at the professional level (and be successful) an individual would have to have beyond super human reflexes, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, and speed/quickness to deal with the tennis balls traveling 110 mph’s off a ground stroke or a ball that has 2,500 RPM (Roger Federer’s) to 5,000 RPM (Rafael Nadal’s).

One could argue that the pros do already have some of those characteristics and I agree some do. However, to serve volley (and be successful) the player must have double or even triple that amount of “super human” talent that exists on the tour today. It physically is not possible at this day and age to do so.”

I asked a tennis coach to express his opinion about the perspective of serve and volley.

“I heard the same arguments almost thirty years ago, when the person who was destined to become the greatest serve and volley player of all time was still a baselines with a two-handed backhand. It’s just not true.

What is true is that the ball crosses the net in both directions faster, in general, than it did a generation ago. The slower court helps the receiver more than the server because the volley is played before the bounce. But Yannick Noah won the French on clay and Pete Sampras the Australian on Rebound-Ace playing serve and volley. And I doubt that returners today are any better than Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, or Bjorn Borg.

What is also true is that serve and volley is difficult to learn. The truly great players of this type of game in the modern era, Sampras, Rafter, and Edberg at least, and probably John McEnroe and Boris Becker, all started off as ground strokers and then learned serve and volley.

That’s like telling a student to learn fluent French, and then pick up fluent Chinese in high school. And they have to give up the two-handed backhand if that is how they started. It isn’t easy, and if they want to turn professional at seventeen, it isn’t even possible.

Sadly, there aren’t any role models for what used to be called “the big game.” Sampras and Rafter had Edberg, Becker, and McEnroe. They in turn had Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Stanley Smith and Arthur Ashe. Tim Henman, the best serve and volleyer post-Sampras, might have been the twentieth best in the sixties.

Likewise the coaches aren’t familiar with the game anymore. They make their living by getting quick results, and learning to play the net doesn’t come quickly.

I tell my players that after they learn to serve, and after they learn to volley, it will take two years to put it together. Nobody has that kind of time anymore.

I do agree that the serve and volleyer has to be a superb athlete, and new technology permits ordinary athletes to win majors. But great athletes like Roger Federer and Serena Williams will still win their share of titles, and while Martina Navratilova may not return, some girl may look at videos of her, as Pete Sampras did of Rod Laver, and say, “I’d like to do that.”

What do you think about the perspective of serve and volley in modern tennis?

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How Many Private Tennis Lessons Should a Junior Player Have a Week

We discussed a lot about How much should a junior tennis player train? Now I want to discuss about how many private tennis lessons should a junior player have a week. I found an article “500 Sets a Year” about that. It was published on

There are some quotes from the article:

“I tell parents all the time: take one private a week, and go play matches. Sometimes I tell parents to take one private every two weeks. It’s just overkill to do anything more until you reach the higher stages of the game (i.e., professional tennis). Players need to be playing 8-10 sets a week – that’s where the real learning happens.

Tennis is a game of trial and error, not about feeding out of a basket and focusing on technique. Players need to learn how to compete and cope with stress. There is nothing stressful about doing crosscourts for an hour, it doesn’t get to the essence of what tennis is… a nasty contest between two people where there is a winner and loser. Black and white. You are judged by the bottom line.

Eight to ten sets a week is a great benchmark to set. Play with anyone who will play with you. I’m tired of players or parents saying “I won’t play with so-and-so because they push… because they cheat… because they aren’t good enough…”

All are poor excuses. All you are doing is saving the player from the realities of the world. You will play pushers who will make life miserable, do you want me to ask them to stop missing?

You will play cheaters who will cheat you on the biggest point of the match. You will play parents who cheer against your double faults. You will play hackers, net rushers, grinders, counterpunchers, flat hitters, dinkers, rabbits – you can’t simulate this through drilling or feeding. Simply impossible…

Imagine if you played ten sets a week for 50 weeks a year? 500 sets! Now compare that to the kid who maybe plays one set a week? 50 sets a year. No comparison. I wonder who will win. It doesn’t matter who your coach is. It doesn’t matter if you have a world class trainer – or use the best string. It just won’t matter. Get out there and compete – it’s what makes tennis fun.”

I asked a tennis coach to comment on that article. Here is his opinion.

The women in the Marine League play two matches a day, five days a week, and improve not at all. Match play is necessary to get better, but it is not sufficient.

I agree that the aspiring player should compete against everybody — good, bad, hard hitters, junk ball players, because you cannot control whom you will play in tournaments, and your success is measured solely how you perform in tournaments. So a tournament on weekends and matches several times a week makes sense.

I now refer to a throwaway magazine article I read on golf. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. So every time you repeat an action, right or wrong, you will find it easier to repeat that same action, right or wrong.

Practicing a bad shot will give you a better bad shot, but you will never look like Roger Federer.

Roger Federer

Every time you step on the tennis court, there should be a purpose, whether it be with a coach, a ball machine or an opponent. One purpose has to be better strokes, and for this you need a coach. No one deliberately hits incorrect shots, so there’s no point in the player trying to make the correction on his own. It is easier to learn anything — a new stroke, or a new language, when you are young. Waiting until you are in college or on the tour is foolhardy, since without good strokes, you won’t get your college scholarship.

How much time you spend with a coach depends on your financial situation plus academics. There are risks of physical injury and mental burnout. What the actual mix should be is a matter for the player, the coach, and the parent to work out. For someone aspiring to be a good high school player, a lesson every week or two should be fine. To achieve more, you have to put in more.

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