I always tell people that I’ve been playing and covering sports all my life. But then, it hit me. There are a ton of sports and other recreational activities out there and, to be honest, I’ve only participated in a handful.
For all of my involvement in the world of sports over the years, I’ve never once tried activities like tennis, golf, disc golf, racquetball, the list goes on and on. So, this summer TownSquareBuzz is launching a new series called ‘Joe Tries’, where I will be sent to various locations to participate in the sports and activities I’ve long been avoiding. It’s time to play ball!
And this week we begin with tennis.
I arrived at the Stonebridge Beach Club at about 8:30 a.m. and I must admit I was less than enthused about my first tennis lesson. Not only was I getting ready to step onto the tennis court after going my whole life without so much as picking up a racket, I was also still feeing the effects of my crazy adventure at the Dallas Mavericks championship parade, which included little to no sleep.
I originally pictured my first tennis lesson being with a large group of people who, more or less knew what they were doing on the court or at least owned their own racket. So, I was very relieved to find out that my lesson would actually be a one-on-one session with tennis instructor Dave, who turned out to be a cool guy and an awesome teacher.
Any time I’ve heard people talk about tennis they always tell me that it’s much harder than it looks and I always knew that was the honest truth. I still can’t get the hang of ping-pong and as far as I’m concerned, tennis is just a blown up version of a table game that I’ve been horrible at for years. I stepped onto the court expecting to be awful and I guess that’s a good place to start when you’re trying something new.
The first thing I learned was how to hold the racket. I started out holding it pretty much like a hammer so Dave showed me the proper technique and even explained in detail the correct finger placement at all times and even though I tried my best, I’m sure I spent most of the lesson holding it the wrong way.
We then moved on to simply learning how to hit the ball back and forth over the net. Dave let me start out by hitting the ball with my own method before giving me the proper form instruction. Rather than swing at the ball like if it was a fastball coming down the plate, I was told to hold the racket with the strings facing out so when the ball comes over the net, I can swing upward instead of across my body. It took a while to get the hang of it but when I did, Dave thought it would be interesting to challenge me to a little contest.
He set up a stack of tennis balls on my side of the court and another stack on his side. He then stated that the goal of the contest was for us to hit the ball back and forth while aiming for the other person’s stack of tennis balls. The loser of the game would have to do 10 push-ups. On any other day, 10 push-ups would have been fine with me but I was still exhausted from the parade and was not looking forward to my possible punishment.
So I put my game face on and much to my surprise (and Dave’s) I was able to compete in head-to-head competition and actually got much closer to winning the contest than my instructor. Before a winner could be determined, Dave called an end to the game and decided to move on with the lesson. Personally, I think he was just trying to get out of doing the push ups but he was the teacher and I was the student so I didn’t ask questions.
Next was a lesson in backhand fundamentals. Dave explained the difference between the regular grip he taught me earlier and the grip used to complete a proper backhand. Unlike a regular tennis swing, the backhand is all about shoulder movement and it took a while to get used to it since I felt that I had to keep my arm stiff while hitting the ball. We practiced switching from the ready position to a regular swing and from ready position to backhand.
The final part of our tennis session was a lesson on how to serve. Dave handed me two tennis balls and told me throw one ball in the air with my left hand and then try to hit that ball with the tennis ball in my right hand. I missed on the first try so he told me to throw the ball like I would a baseball or a football. Once that objective was complete, I was wondering why he had me do this and he explained that the motion used to hit the ball would be the same that I used to swing the racket and hit the ball in midair on a serve. We then practiced serves and what I thought would be the easiest thing to learn turned out to be very tricky for me since ever time I served the ball it ended up in the other court to the left of the one were using for practice.
I wouldn’t say that I truly got the hang of the serve but I got it down well enough that Dave felt comfortable ending the lesson and just like that, my first day on the tennis court was complete. When we decided to do this ‘Joe Tries’ series, tennis was the activity I was looking forward to the least but after getting out there for a half hour I must say I had a great time. I never pictured myself as a tennis sort of guy and although I have a long way to go before I issue any challenges, I look forward to getting on the court again in the near future and seeing what I’m made of once the training wheels come off.
-Joe Arriola, TownSquareBuzz.com
Dave’s Tennis Tip for Joe
“I think what he has to do is he has to play tennis up close. He’ll have a lot more success closer to the net. He also has to get a practice partner and find a backboard so he can practice hitting up against the wall.”
What Joe Did Best
“You caught on to the backhand. Even though you felt your forehand was a bit stronger I think you’re a little better with the backhand. You just didn’t hit as many in the lesson.”