Tennis Tips

Becoming an Expert: How Long Does It Take?

I have heard various answers to this question, ranging from 3 hours to 3,500 hours. The answer is actually 10,000 hours, depending on the individual. Most professionals had around 13,000 hours of tennis-related development before making a career out of their chosen field.

Children in particular — but sometimes adults, too — often want to achieve a goal in life without realizing the effort, discipline, sacrifice and commitment that will be required.

Want to become a famous dancer, chef, musician or tennis player? Let’s look at what it takes to be an expert at tennis. This doesn’t mean you will become a professional player, but it will give you a better idea of the path you need to take.

The calculation that follows includes cross-training activities (other sports that improve movement, fitness and concentration), watching the game on television and at live events, dreaming big, visualization, positive thought patterns and technical, physical, mental and psychological development.

Say that you begin your journey in first grade, taking a half-hour Rising Stars class once a week for a 33 weeks. That’s 16.5 hours. And you play soccer twice a week for an hour during the season (16 weeks x 2 hours = 32 hours). Total time invested: 48.5 hours.

In second grade you increase the Rising Stars class to twice a week. That’s 33 hours on tennis. You play soccer again (32 hours), and you play basketball (16 weeks x 2 hours per week). Total time devoted to sports: 97 hours.

In third grade you move to beginner tennis (33 x 1 hour per week); you start a half-hour private lesson (33 x 0.5); you play soccer and basketball, as usual, and start playing chess, which is great for concentration (20 x 0.5 hours). You’re up to 123 hours.

In fourth grade you catch the tennis bug. You move into an intermediate group twice a week (33 x 2 hours). You take a private lesson for an hour (33 x 1 hour). You play school tennis (16 x 1.5 hours), and you play with a friend or family member on the weekend (40 x 1.5 hours). You play two weeks of tennis at summer camp (50 hours), and you play soccer, basketball and chess, as usual. Total: 307 hours.

In fifth grade you move into a lower advanced group twice a week (33 x 4). You increase your private lesson to twice a week for 45 weeks of the year (90 hours). You have 6 weeks at summer camp (150 hours) and play 5 junior tournaments (50 hours). You play school tennis and matches and soccer, basketball and chess. And you start running track (100 hours). You practice with a friend once a week (60 hours). Total: 582 hours.

In sixth and seventh grade you focus entirely on tennis, so you spend less time on soccer and basketball but you play more tournaments and start cycling for fitness. Let’s say 700 hours for both years.

At this point, from first through seventh grade, you have spent 2527.5 hours developing your athletic and tennis abilities. (To recap, the yearly subtotals are 48.5 + 97 + 123 + 307 + 582 + 700 + 700.) In addition, you’ve watched tennis live and on television, and kept a diary of your training patterns, results and goals. That brings the total up to 2,750 hours.

By this stage your technical development needs to be close to perfect so that you can focus your attention on the physical, mental and psychological part of the game. This includes fitness as well as practice and tournament match play.

As a 12-year-old, this gives you 6 years to add 7,250 hours to your tennis development to reach 10,000 hours. A girl who wants to turn professional needs to put in more hours because female players tend to peak earlier, between the ages of 18 and 22, whereas male players peak at around 24 years.

This means in 6 years you need an average of 1,208 hours per year of time. This is difficult to fit in around school work, while still leaving time for social activities and relaxation.

Be aware of what it takes to excel at something and show respect to those who have achieved in their specific fields. Give thanks to your parents who support you in your desire to achieve, and know that your coach lives with you as you go through the ups and downs on your chosen path.

Good luck to all of you as you strive for excellence on the tennis court and in your life.