The winter time can seem like an eternity to a tennis addict. For most parts of the nation, winter lasts about three to four months (our Five Seasons Burr Ridge and Northbrook clubs may be feeling it a bit longer) - long enough for your tennis skills to get rusty if you don't know how to keep playing tennis in the winter. This lack of practice means you're basically starting over every spring, so how can you keep your tennis skills sharp during the cold months? Below are some practical steps you can take to maintain your game while you wait out the winter season.
1. Join an Indoor Tennis Club
Joining an indoor tennis club will give you convenient access to several tennis courts without having to worry about the weather. Prices will vary, so it's worth it to check with your local tennis clubs to see what kind of deals they may offer. Some indoor clubs require you to pay hourly court fees in addition to your membership fees, but there are some clubs that allow you to pay one flat monthly fee that includes unlimited court time. You can also check around to see if any clubs near you offer court time for non-members; while it may cost more up front, it will be less expensive in the long run. If you're strapped for cash, see if any friend of yours may have a guest pass you can use.
2. Sharpen Your Skills Using At-Home Tennis Drills
Regardless of what time of year it is, staying in shape is a requirement if you want to be at your best on the court. There are several tennis-specific exercises and drills you can do to help keep your skills sharp over the winter. One of the most common and helpful exercises along these lines is shadow strokes. Simply put, a shadow stroke is going through the motion of performing a ground stroke. The great thing about shadow strokes is that they can be done virtually anywhere; all you need is your tennis racket and a few square feet of space, and you can practice your ground strokes as much as you want. Shadow strokes help improve your muscle memory, and they can also enhance the fluidity of your swing mechanics. Perform several repetitions of each type of stroke (i.e., forehand, backhand, two-handed backhand, etc.), and if possible, do it in front of a mirror so that you can pinpoint any flaws in your form.
Other exercises that are great for developing the coordination, strength and stamina needed for tennis include jumping rope, sit-ups, and core-specific workouts. If you have a basement, you can hit tennis balls against the wall. Believe it or not, playing ping-pong is great for improving tennis-specific coordination as well!
3. Take Tennis Lessons
Sometimes it's good to take a break from actually playing tennis in order to fine-tune various elements of your game, and winter is definitely the time to do it. If you can find a good tennis instructor for some one-on-one lessons, he/she can help you identify certain errors you may be making in your swing mechanics as well as your serve. In addition, a tennis instructor can help you develop strategies that suit your particular strengths and playing style, a factor that is often overlooked by many tennis players.
When shopping around for an instructor, make sure to ask whether or not they have been certified by the USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) or the PTR (Professional Tennis Registry). They should also be able to tell you what their NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) rating is, which should be roughly 4.5 or higher.
While it can be easy to get the winter doldrums, there's always something you can do to improve your game, even when the weather outside is prohibitive. The important thing to remember is that you want to maintain personal momentum as much as possible. Think about it: If you had to push a large rock down a hill, the initial energy and force required to move the rock would be substantial, but once it starts rolling, it basically takes care of itself. Deciding to do any one of the steps listed above will help you maintain your personal momentum, and it will keep you in the right frame of mind to continue taking steps to better yourself as a player.