What it’s like starting tennis as an adult

This post is all about starting tennis as an adult!

Believe it or not, this blog post is a reader request. It makes me so happy that I’ve actually inspired some of you to start tennis over the last few months, as you’ve watched and heard a bit about my experiences over on Instagram. Who knew? That was never my goal, but it’s pretty cool that it’s happened. Because learning something new is really good for you, and we’ll get into that later.

At the time of writing this post, I’ve been playing tennis for seven months (I started in February 2022), usually taking one 90-minute tennis clinic a week, sometimes two, and sometimes none. I’ve also used the ball machine and played “fun” tennis with some people at my level a couple times, but I’ve not yet played any real matches. So, as you see, I am truly a beginner. (Edited to add in October 2023: I didn’t play my first match until about a year into attending clinics, and once I started doing real matches, in both an informal ladder, locally, and later, in a USTA combo league, I got a lot better, faster. I wasn’t quite ready to do a real match until about a year in, because I was nervous. And if you’re just starting out in tennis, I’d say get out there and compete sooner rather than later.)

Now, let’s get into the details of how this all happened …

What it’s like starting tennis as an adult

What it's like starting tennis as an adult by A Lady Goes West

How I got started in tennis and why it took me so long to get started

I wanted to start playing tennis for about a decade or so before I actually started, because I loved the idea of it, and I had always wanted a hobby just for pleasure, outside of work and teaching classes. (I actually tried to start tennis very briefly for a semester in college in a tennis class, but it turns out we mostly just learned about tennis tournaments, and I walked away from that class with zero tennis skills. So that was my entire previous experience, just for your reference.)

But, I always had reasons as to why I couldn’t really start tennis now. Not enough time. No place to play. Not sure what it would be like. Not wanting to be a beginner. Feeling silly about being an adult starting a new sport. Having minimal-to-no experience with sports with balls. Being a mother of a young child. You know … all of that.

Then, one day, I finally decided enough was enough. I made a goal at the start of 2022 to get a real hobby, and I knew tennis would be it. I went over to the tennis desk at Life Time (the gym where I work, yet I absolutely never went over to the tennis side) and asked all about the beginner programs. (I am actually very lucky to have an amazing facility like Life Time at my disposal, and I even get a little discount on my clinics, because I’m a team member. Yay!)

I found out that the first program you sign up for is a one-month commitment of four one-hour lessons, (called Play.Learn.Love), where you learn the basics with other newbies. This sounded okay to me, so I signed myself up. I also signed myself up for a free 30-minute tennis consultation with a tennis pro (this is a tennis coach, but you say “pro” in the tennis world).

During this meeting, the tennis pro meets with you to assess where you need to be and give you a level (every player in tennis has a level/rating so you know who you can play in matches). I knew I was a beginner, but I did it anyhow just because I had the opportunity.

Starting tennis as an adult 4 by A Lady Goes West

My initial consultation with a tennis pro and signing up for my first set of adult beginner clinics

When I showed up for this initial consultation a few days later, I arrived at the tennis desk, and they told me the tennis court number where to go to meet my pro, so I walked down there and sat on the bench nervously. I didn’t have a racket with me, so I just showed up assuming everything would be provided (much like we provide everything you need for a fitness class in the fitness studio). But I was wrong. Of course, the first thing the tennis pro said to me before even introducing herself was … ummm, where is your racket? Whoops. Lesson learned.

You bring (or rent) a racket for every tennis clinic. That racket is essential. While balls are provided in clinics, the racket is on you. At least at my facility. But if you play on your own without a clinic, you have to bring your own balls too. (And fun fact, if you hit a ball over the separation curtains between courts, you call “heads up” and then you ask them to return your ball. Tennis players like to play with the balls they brought. I would have thought they are all the same, but I guess they aren’t.) (And another fun fact: You have to pick up the balls during and after a lesson or clinic … so you’ll become quite used to all the contraptions you can use to pick up tennis balls quite quickly.)

During this initial tennis assessment (after we went to the tennis desk to check out a loaner racket for me), I learned how to hold a racket, I had the chance to hit a few forehand and backhand hits, and that was it. The pro noted that, yes, I was a true beginner and should definitely be in the Play.Learn.Love program (which I believe would be a 1.0 or less rating/level). 

My first four beginner clinics in Play.Learn.Love were one hour, and they consisted of four adults and one pro, on a Thursday evening. Our pro showed us different grips on the racket, then began feeding us easy shots to return. We practiced forehand and backhand the first session, then added in volleys at the net the next session, we also did a little bit of “live ball” and serving. I did okay for my first few sessions, but it didn’t come easy to me, and it felt incredibly foreign and awkward. I often did things wrong. But sometimes, I did things right. I was a total newbie.

Using the starter colored tennis balls the first three weeks to get going

When you’re starting out, you actually use different tennis balls. We used the red tennis balls the first week, orange balls the second, green balls the third week and by the last week, we were using regular balls. The different color balls bounce lower off the ground, and thus are easier to hit and better for beginners.

These colored balls are the same ones used with young players. Now that I play with regular balls, it would feel so weird to go back to the colored ones. Luckily, those are just for beginners or for kiddos. I’m a regular yellow tennis ball gal now. 

Starting tennis as an adult by A Lady Goes West

Getting over the fear of being judged and getting used to the busy tennis court setting

I was actually really nervous showing up to my first consultation and to my first clinic, because I felt very unsure of the whole tennis experience. There were a lot of really good people playing on other courts, there was a lot of talking and chatter, and there was also the “cling, cling, cling” sound of pickleball taking place indoors too — it was a little overwhelming.

I also felt like everyone in the entire tennis wing was probably watching me and seeing my uncertainty and lack of skill. And what’s funny is that, likely, not a single person, other than my tennis pro, was watching me. But that’s not how it felt.

I was sure they were all judging me. Sometimes I still think that, even though, as a fitness professional who teaches classes to 40 people at a time, I know that we’re all much more unsure of ourselves than we need to be. And nobody is worried about what we’re doing, everyone is only worried about what they’re doing.

Committing to one tennis clinic per week moving forward to stay consistent

Moving forward in my tennis career, I told myself I would always try to go to one small-group clinic a week, and I’ve been very good about that, except for taking a little break around the miscarriage. I notice that when I skip a week, I lose a little ground. (By the way, I haven’t done any private lessons, and I’ve always done small-group clinics with two to six people in them with one pro leading the clinic.)

For me, as a beginner, I need the repetition and regularity of a weekly clinic to feel like I’m maintaining or improving. This is definitely new to me. I don’t come back and pick up where I left off after a break, and I don’t know if anyone does. I don’t make time to hit between clinics, but I would like to do that one day. My weekly clinic is all I’ve got right now. (Edited to add in October 2023: After a year-and-a-half of playing, my new routine consists of one weekly clinic, one weekly match and one weekly practice doubles session with friends. Tennis becomes addicting and also a big time suck.)

Moving up from 1.0 to 2.0 to 2.5 over the course of seven months

Over the course of the seven months, I’ve moved from the 1.0 beginner clinic to the 2.0 beginner clinic, and now I’m in the 2.5 beginner clinic. (Edited to add in October 2023: I finally moved up to 3.0 in the summer of 2023, yay!)

To be totally honest, at this point, I hardly know how to keep score in a real tennis match anyhow. (Edited to add in October 2023: I finally learned how to keep score. Then, I learned how to do a tiebreaker, and I tell you what — all that took a while!) 

Starting tennis as an adult 5 by A Lady Goes West

Learning new things, forgetting what I learned, doing well, doing terrible and having fun all at the same time

I like that tennis is nothing but a hobby for me. I’m not in charge. I’m not the leader. No one is expecting anything at all of me, so I just have to try my best.

I’m not a naturally gifted athlete (which some people think I would be, because I’m a group fitness instructor, but newsflash: I’m not. I have to work so hard to be in shape and be able to do what I do). But because of that, tennis doesn’t come that easy to me. Yet, I’m improving every week … while at the same time always forgetting things I’ve already learned and then having to relearn them.

The way that it feels to be new at tennis is such a great reminder to me as a group fitness instructor. I have to remember to always teach my own fitness classes knowing that there are new people that need a little extra help. Because with tennis, I need a little extra help. We can’t assume because we say something once that someone has taken that information into their system as a certainty. We need reminders. Lots of ’em.

But, real talk here: While I always have fun and am glad to be doing it, I don’t always feel successful after I finish a tennis session. And that’s not what I’m used to, because I live for those positive endorphins I get after teaching group fitness or taking group fitness.

In fact, when I finish up my tennis clinics, I often feel like I just didn’t perform how I wanted to perform the whole time and think about what I did wrong. I wish I was getting better faster, you know? When I have those moments of doing well, I am ecstatic, but then those moments are often followed up by missing three balls in a row. ‘Tis the life of a budding tennis player, I guess.

Enjoying slow and steady progress, even if I wish I was progressing faster

But then, when I look back at how far I’ve come in just seven months, I’m actually really happy with my progress overall. I can actually play tennis now, when I didn’t know how to before. No, I don’t hit the perfect topspin forehand shot consistently, but I do hit a decent amount of good shots, I have learned how to play, and I am out there having fun once a week or more. I definitely could have quit by now, but I don’t want to quit. And I’m proud of myself for that.

I have no hopes of becoming an expert and playing tennis every day (because, believe it or not, some people play every single day). I just want to keep tennis as a fun hobby for me, and I want to keep progressing and enjoying it and fitting it in as I can with the rest of my busy schedule. And if any of that ever changes, I’ll probably stop.

But for now, I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it for seven months, even though, technically, I don’t have very much extra time for it, and it’s another day at the gym, when I already spend a lot of time there teaching and working. In a small way, keeping this commitment to tennis is self-care, because I’m letting myself know that I deserve to fit in a hobby, even if it’s not always convenient. I truly believe it’s been great for me.

Now, let’s move on to some lessons I’ve learned about life while starting tennis as an adult …

Lessons I’ve learned from starting tennis as an adult

When you’re new, you have to focus completely on the task at hand. You cannot multitask. You cannot let your mind get away from you. And this type of immersion is really beneficial.

When I’m at tennis, I don’t think about anything else but tennis. I’m the type of person who is always thinking about what’s next in my day, I’m always thinking about decisions I need to make, I’m always thinking about work I have to do, etc. Always. I’m always thinking. But when it comes to tennis, I’ve found I can’t do that, I don’t want to do that, and I’m not even slightly drawn to think about anything else other than tennis.

During my clinics, I think about trying to do all the things I’m supposed to do. Follow the ball. Eyes on the ball. Stepping with the right foot when taking a shot. Pointing my racket in the direction of where I want the ball to go. Finishing every single swing. All of these things keep me laser focused. I don’t check my phone. I don’t check my watch. I don’t plan my day. I’m there in the moment. And honestly, I like that.

I haven’t had the easiest year, to tell you the truth. I’m often over-scheduled, I’m often feeling indecision about big things in my life, I’ve had some personal struggles, and these issues are always with me. But when I go to tennis, I’m at tennis, and that’s all I am. That’s been a great outlet for me.

I think this principle is the same when you’re new at a lot of things. Once you get better, you will have more brainwaves helping you be on autopilot. But when you’re a beginner, you’ve got to be all in with your mental and physical focus to succeed. And if you’re all in, sometimes it’s a really good escape from life. I’m here for it!

Starting tennis as an adult 3 by A Lady Goes West

Repetition is the only way to improve at anything. Repetition is the only way to improve at anything. Repetition is the only way to improve at anything.

Yes, some people have natural athletic ability and will pick up sports more easily than others. Yes, some people have better genes and will get in shape or lose weight more easily than others. Yes, some people are naturally smarter, funnier or cooler than others without trying as hard.

But really, the only way in life to learn something or get better at something is to do it consistently. Yes, this sounds like the most simple concept in the world … but we often forget it. If you want anything in life, you have to show up for that thing consistently. You can’t sporadically attempt something and think you’ll get anywhere. Practice. Repetition. Consistency. These are the un-sexy elements that build people. 

When it comes to tennis for me, I need weekly clinics or more. Getting in those repetitions and hearing the repetitive comments from my pro are what I need. And yes, I’ve had the same tennis pro from my initial consultation through my 2.5 clinic today, and she’s always saying the same type of stuff to me … but I need it. I forget. I’m trying. I keep showing up. 

One note about my tennis pro: She doesn’t sugarcoat things, and she says it like it is. While I think some people need a little more babying, I’ve come to love her direct nature, and it’s definitely what I need out there on the court.

If you’re planning to start tennis, you should interview, watch and shop around for the right pro, because you’ll be spending a lot of time with them and you need to feel like they’re the right match for you. 

Everybody has to start somewhere. And there are always new people starting new things everyday. So just start.

I literally thought I would be the only adult who wanted to start playing tennis. It turns out there a lot of adults who want to start playing tennis. There are also adults who haven’t played for a long time and are returning to get back into tennis.

All the time, people are trying to start new things. And that’s a beautiful thing. There’s nothing wrong with being new. You can be new in the gym. You can be new on the tennis court. You can be new on the golf course. Everywhere you go, you can be new. 

I was really hesitant to be new, but as my tennis pro told me quickly: “The good thing about being new is that you haven’t developed any bad habits that we have to break. You’re a blank slate.” Love that. Don’t be scared to be a blank slate at something, friend. It’s actually a really cool place to be.

Also, there will always be people further along in their journey than you. And rather than thinking of those people as “better than you,” just think of them as further along in their journey.

Now, let’s switch to tennis clothing and gear, before we finish up …

All about tennis clothing and why you need real tennis shoes

When I first showed up to tennis, I wore a regular workout outfit (leggings and a tank) and my favorite cross-training sneakers that I always have on for my other workouts that I do and classes that I teach. While this was fine for my first couple of lessons, I quickly learned that real tennis shoes are so much better and much safer. And there’s an entirely different type of outfit you can wear for tennis, if you want.

I decided to go to a local tennis store called Queens City Tennis Shop, to find some tennis shoes. They are not cheap, and they are not cute. And the first time I wore them, they felt so stiff and heavy. But the second I turned, stopped short and ran for a ball, I felt the difference.

Tennis shoes are very structured, and they have even more lateral support than your average cross-trainer, and this is because they are designed to protect your feet/ankles from stopping, starting and changing direction, and the sole is really firm. If you’re getting into tennis, go ahead and get the real tennis shoes right off the bat.

Here are my tennis shoes, and I’ve bought two pairs of them over the course of my tennis career. While I don’t love the look of them, as a fitness professional who understands the importance of functional footwear, I do love my tennis shoes for that. Also, one of the ladies in my beginner’s clinic actually tripped and fell due to wearing running shoes, so that was a good nudge for the rest of us to get real tennis shoes. Just get the shoes, friend.

I wear all-purpose tennis shoes, but I mostly play on hard courts. (Edited to add in October 2023: Once I started doing matches, I had to get used to playing on clay courts outdoors, and I learned to LOVE that surface.)

Next up, the outfits! Dave had bought me a tennis skirt/skort for Christmas, but I was too nervous to wear it at the start of my tennis career. I felt like a I was too much of a beginner to wear a tennis outfit. Once again, I was wrong there.

You can wear whatever you want, no matter what level you are. In fact, I notice now that wearing cute tennis clothes is a big benefit of playing tennis, and tennis clothes also provide function (with special pockets and places to keep extra tennis balls while you play). I love to see the skirts that some ladies wear. 

Starting tennis as an adult 2 by A Lady Goes West

My favorite tennis clothes

At first, I didn’t have many tennis-specific clothes, but I’ve added to my collection, the longer I’ve played. I find that I get too hot in leggings, so I always wear a skirt or tennis shorts.

adidas tennis outfit by A Lady Goes West

A look at my favorite tennis gear:

Once again, tennis is definitely a sport where you can wear tennis clothing and enjoy the feel of dressing the part. On days I have a tennis, I often stay in my tennis skirt all day long, because I love the feel of it. 

But remember, if you’re just starting tennis, you do not need to show up in a full tennis look. But if you want to, you sure can. Don’t be shy. Dress how you feel comfortable, and definitely consider getting some real tennis shoes right off the bat.

Concluding thoughts on starting tennis as an adult

Wow, this post got long, and I feel like I didn’t say everything I wanted to say.

What I will say is that I’m really glad I finally pulled the trigger and started tennis. Even if I’m not as good as I’d like to be only seven months into my journey, I’ve come a long way, I’m having fun, and I’m getting so many benefits from it in my life. Three cheers for starting something new and sticking with it!

Starting tennis as an adult 1 by A Lady Goes West

And if there’s something out there you’ve wanted to do for a while, you need to go for it! This is your official permission to just get started. 

And that concludes my post about starting tennis as an adult. Thank you for reading, and have a fabulous day! xoxo

Other posts you may like …

Questions of the day for YOU …

Have you ever played tennis?

When was the last time you started something new?

What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to try?

,

10 Comments

  1. It is always good to try new things and challenge yourself in different ways. Imagine how boring life would be if we only did the things we were good at. And if you think about it, we were all beginners at everything anyway – we had to learn to crawl, learn to walk, learn to ride a bicycle etc. So glad you’re enjoying tennis! ♡

  2. I actually started tennis as an adult a few springs ago! I went during my daughter’s preschool for a learn to play class. I did two levels of learn to play and outside practice and I feel like I could now play if a social situation called for it. I would still be terrible, lol, but I would be able to show up and play doubles at least! It’s so fun to learn as an adult-I agree with everything you said here-and I was proud to show my girls that you can have fun being a newbie at things!

    1. Hey Sarah! That’s so great! As long as you can jump into a doubles game and know what you’re doing, then you’re good to go. It’s very cool to show your girls your new sport. Thank you for sharing with me! 🙂

  3. I loved reading this! I started horse riding lessons about a year ago. No experience. It has been such a great challenge for me and I truly look forward to it every week. Everything you mentioned about consistency and showing up can be applied to horse riding ! As a mom, it’s so nice to have a sporty hobby that’s all mine.

    1. Hi Laura! Wow! That sounds like a great hobby and something very tough to learn, I’d imagine. Good for you. I hope you keep up with it and get a lot out of it. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for this! I’m in my late 20s, chronically unathletic, and started tennis lessons a few months ago. I’m super motivated, but the learning curve has been steep, and after a few months I’m not seeing a lot of progress… it’s been a little discouraging so far. I’m realizing that I can take lessons and do drills forever, but I’m not really going to get better until I start playing regularly, which is why I loved your update that you’re playing matches now! So inspiring- I’m going to keep at it!

    Do you have any advice for finding practice partners? How did you start finding matches to play in?

    1. Hi Julie! I found practice partners through my clinics — I would chat with some of the ladies after the clinic, and we exchanged numbers to play together for fun. You could also see if there are any local “ladders” you could join to play singles or doubles for fun at your level. Keep up with the tennis — it’s a SLOW process to get better, but as long as you’re having fun, that’s all that matters! 🙂

  5. Hi,
    I know you posted this quite awhile ago but wanted to comment anyway.
    After the pandemic, I felt I needed a hobby. I was an empty nester, my husband has plenty of hobbies and I needed something besides reading. At age 52/53 I signed up for tennis. I’m currently 55 and still plugging along. Last night I had a lesson and just felt like I played horrible. That feeling of I could still be in my beginner class because I just am not retaining the coaching (I blame menopause). Hence me looking for blogs to read/motivate me to practice more and possible receive pointers. All this to say, I hope you’re still playing and enjoying it.

    1. Hi Lisa! Thanks for reading and for sharing with me. It’s all about the journey with tennis — just celebrate showing up and hitting a few good shots — even if you mess up a lot too. I’m still playing and learning and enjoying my tennis hobby. I’ve even done a couple leagues, which was really fun. Stay with it!! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.