How Do Traditional Tennis Lessons Fail?




bad tennis lessons
Brian Lutz / March 9, 2018

Miami, FL

Two courts down from my four person group tennis lesson another instructor was giving a private lesson to a beginner.  I stopped the class and we noticed a few things that were very different.  The pro was teaching the lesson with a basket of yellow tennis balls.  He was feeding from a ball hopper to his student on the baseline. He had a 90 ball hopper that was 2/3 empty. So there were about 60 balls littered on the tennis court.

The contrast was evident.  My group class of four tennis players were using four tennis balls!  Why because they weren’t missing. They didn’t need a ball hopper. I left my teaching basket in the trunk of my car.


So what is our secret?  It’s about progressive learning.  For novice tennis players I don’t use a basket full of traditional yellow tennis balls you are familiar with.  I start with red tennis balls designed for beginners, then orange balls, then green and finally yellow tennis ball. The hardest ball to control.


Why don’t yellow basket fed tennis balls work for new tennis players?  It’s simple, tennis shots the pro is feeding you from the basket don’t come at you  that way in the real world.  What a lot of tennis pro’s do unconsciously is feed the ball in a linear pathway to the exact height, speed and pacing that finds your contact point.  In the real world, when you play tennis with your friends, the ball has a multitude of trajectories, spin, pace and direction that are suddenly foreign to your lesson experience.

When you learn tennis from a traditional tennis pro feeding you from the ball hopper you can’t really self discover your game because the ball hopper is a crutch.  Essentially, it’s two stationary people hitting shots that aren’t practical or replicable. So when you go out to practice with your friends you are a mess because you are playing without the metaphoric crutches that were holding your swing together during the tennis lesson.

Alternatively, when you play with one ball in your pocket and one in play you discover very quickly how to keep the ball in play because there is sense of urgency.

Where does this urgency come from?   It comes from innate desire to succeed and the monotony of not wanting to  pick up tennis balls every few seconds!


Get rid of the ball hopper or the pro or both!  If you have ever wondered why your game hit a ceiling this is why.  Your system for learning is flawed.

Learning anything, including tennis, has to be done in progressions. If you want to learn algebra you first need to understand the fundamentals of math.  You can’t skip stages or you will stink at math.

Many times I will hear tennis players tell me “to improve they need to play against better players”.  Wanting to excel at Calculus won’t be achieved by sitting in Calculus classes around other smart people if you have skipped Trigonometry.  The common response is then “well I need to play people slightly better than me”.   Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on evolving your strokes.  Comparison robs you of the joy of “playing”.  Let’s focus on how to improve your tennis game.


Examples of 10-Shot Standard:

Can I hit ten forehands in a row with top spin cross court?

Can I hit toggle between short backhands and deep forehands using ten as the the goal?

How about a cooperative drill with your tennis playing partner?

Can I hit a my serve in the box and catch the return hit by my partner with my left hand 10 times in a row off one bounce?

Don’t skip stages. Our Backhand City players are guided by the system and their own self discovery. You progress will be self evident as your confidence in your tennis game blossom.


Red tennis balls are the lightest and easiest to control. The are also twice as large as a regular yellow tennis ball and they are easier to see. They are two toned: optic yellow and red.  The red ball creates more air resistance so the ball not only flies through the air more slowly but it’s bounce is also profoundly more slow.

These slower balls allow players to get more repetition thus accelerating the learning curve as they refine their technique.  It’s also a great workout as the lack of missing elevates into a cardio tennis workout after your first 10 minutes upon arriving to class.  I have new students that hit 10-15 and 20 shots in a row without missing interchanging from forehand to backhands within 20 minutes. #noballpickup #justplaytennis


In summary, don’t skip stages of your tennis development.  Don’t fall in the trap of labels, playing level and ratings.  Focus on checking the boxes of your development and using the rule of 10. You will find your tennis game and learning curve will accelerate as well as your joy for the sport and the best part you won’t be picking up a court filled with missed tennis shots.

Brian Lutz

Backhand City

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Hint!   Want to learn tennis with Brian?  Sign up for his afterwork tennis classes in Miami.