How to Choose a Tennis Clinic
What is the difference between a private tennis lesson and a tennis clinic?
A tennis clinic usually involves four or more students. A private or semi-private tennis lesson usually involves 1-3 students.
The advantages of the tennis clinic are:
- The cost is significantly less than a private lesson.
- Many players, especially children, enjoy the social aspect and atmosphere of the clinic.
- A clinic features "live ball" drills that are played against other players (i.e. the ball is hit back to you by another player).
Note: I usually do not incorporate "live ball" drills in clinics for younger children (ages 4-8), unless they display the ability to rally a ball back and forth with another player. Currently, a A majority of my 6-8-year-old players can rally for 2-3 shots.
The disadvantage of a clinic is:
- Less personal attention. (This is a biggie if your main goal is to improve your strokes). In a private lesson, the tennis pro can devote as much time as needed to the student in order to make corrections in a specific stroke. The student gets the pro's undivided attention. In a tennis clinic, the teaching portion only lasts about 10-15 minutes, and then the tennis pro has to divide his attention between all of the students.
What to Look for in a Tennis Clinic
First and Foremost: LIABILITY INSURANCE
Accidents can, and do, occur on the tennis court during a clinic or private lesson. If the accident is caused by the actions or negligence of the teaching pro, liability insurance becomes an issue.
The tennis professional who is teaching the clinic should possess on-court liability insurance, either on their own or through the facility for which they teach. A tennis pro who is certified by the USPTA or USPTR (see below) automatically has liability insurance, as long as they are current with paying their yearly membership dues or have not let their membership lapse. Always inquire about a tennis pro's liability insurance.
Appropriate Age Group and Ability Level
Students should be participating with players of their own ability level. If a student of higher ability level is not being challenged in their own age group, they often get bored and lose interest, and they will also progress more slowly. If a student of a lower ability level is placed in a clinic with students of a higher ability level (with whom they can't compete with successfully), the student may feel dejected and eventually lose interest.
There should not be large gaps in the ages of the students who are participating in a children's clinic. For example, a 12-year-old player should not be participating in drills with 6-8-year-old players (unless the younger players exhibit an ability level equal to the older kids).
In my experience with children's clinics, I've found a palpable difference in the learning capacity, attention span, and physical abilities of children of different ages. Therefore, I have separated my clinic in the age groups of: 4-5; 6-8; 9-14; 15 & up.
Appropriate Student / Teacher Ratios
The student-to-teacher ratio for a tennis clinic should be 6 to 1 or 8 to 1. For high-ability juniors and adults, who can perform live ball drills, an experienced tennis pro can handle higher ratios and still keep everyone moving. When large groups of students participate in a single clinic, there should be an instructor for each different ability level. "Cattle Call" clinics--where numerous kids of all ages and ability levels are herded into one group with one instructor--generate more revenue for the instructor or organization, but do not adequately facilitate "learning."
The Correct Tennis Ball for the Age Group
For the Junior player (ages 4-12), the correct type of tennis ball (i.e. low- pressure tennis balls) will facilitate quicker learning, more success, and more FUN. Low-pressure tennis balls, often referred to as ROG balls (Red, Orange, Green), travel through the air slower and bounce up to a child's optimum strike zone (around waist-high). These tennis balls are now a staple in the tennis teaching industry and are recommended by both tennis professional teaching organizations, the USPTA and USPTR.
There are four different types of low-pressure tennis balls, and they are more expensive than regulation tennis balls. Consequently, "cost" and "convenience" are sometimes underlying reasons why a clinic or instructor does not use these low-compression tennis balls. A clinic that is solely focused on the students' optimum learning" should be using the correct type of tennis ball for each age group. For information regarding the correct tennis ball for each child's age group, click here.
Note: Some tennis pros and facilities continue to use only regulation tennis balls for all age groups of adults and children. In my experience, after using both ROG and regulation balls in my teaching of young children, I've found that the children have more initial success--and they progress to "live ball" rallying more quickly--using the ROG balls. And, that's the main goal: getting students to consistently rally a tennis ball back to another player, i.e. "live ball" rallying.
Beginner-level adults have told me that playing with low-pressure balls is more enjoyable for them, because they get more balls back over the net to their opponent
The Key to a Great Clinic:
No long lines.
The clinic should be structured so that it runs smoothly from one part to the next (warm-up, instruction, corrective techniques, drills, and a review). After the warm-up and the stroke instruction, students should be moving continually and hitting as many balls as possible. During drills, students should not be waiting in long lines for their turn, or waiting a long time in smaller lines to get their turn.
Each clinic should include instruction on a specific stroke, or specialty shot, or have a "theme" (e.g. racquet preparation, foot work, etc.). For younger children, the element of FUN should be woven into every part of the clinic.
A Qualified Instructor or Professional
This is where "the rubber meets the road" regarding tennis clinic quality (and pricing). An experienced tennis professional can articulate instruction to a large group of students effectively and efficiently, quickly diagnose errors in each student's swing and offer corrective techniques, and conduct drills that will reinforce what was taught--all while being enthusiastic, motivating, and continually building each student's self confidence and self esteem.
Never assume that a tennis club or a recreation department will hire a clinic instructor who is qualified.
Find out if the clinic instructor is a certified professional (USPTA or USPTR) and what teaching qualifications and experience they have. Are they full-time tennis professionals during the year? Or, are they part-time instructors? Do they have experience with the age group(s) that they are teaching?
For information on How to Choose a Tennis Professional, click here.
The hourly clinic fee may vary, depending on the facility and the teaching pro, and the city or town in which you live. In a tennis clinic, like most things in life, "you get what you pay for." The average fee for a clinic taught by an experienced full-time tennis professional starts at around $15 per student, per clinic hour. Indoor clinics are more expensive because of the court rental fee. For this price, the clinic should be conducted as described in the paragraph above, and you should be completely satisfied with the quality of instruction and with the clinic, overall. This is where your best judgment comes into play in regard to the price your paying for your clinic: Are you getting your money's worth? If you are not satisfied with a clinic, or you feel that the instructor is not qualified, inquire about receiving a refund.
Watch the Clinic !
Many parents spend their time at the clinic talking with other parents or texting on their cell phone, and they are unaware of how the clinic is being conducted. At least for the first few clinic classes, watch closely to make sure all of the above criteria are being met. Ask the instructor about any questions or concerns that you may have. You're the customer.
I hope that this information has helped you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about choosing a tennis clinic.