Finding the Best Way for YOU to Learn Tennis (Part III)

Are Private Lessons the Right for Choice YOU?

In Part I of this series, I talked about tennis clinics, and in Part II, I covered tennis camps. In this post, I’ll go over the benefits and limitations of private lessons.

Man hitting tennis backhand
In a private lesson, the total focus of the time spent is on you and your game. Indonesian Davis Cup juniors team player, Albert, was coached by Kelly through his college playing career.

Private lessons tend to have the highest direct cost of all of the approaches to tennis instruction discussed so far. A qualified, experienced tennis teaching professional (click here for more on that) will charge between $75 and $125 an hour for a lesson. Typically, pros offer half hour and hour lessons, and they often offer discounts for multi-lesson packages. Semi-private lessons (which generally have 2-3 participants) and small group lessons (with 4-8 participants) cost more per hour, but less per person.

You can find less experienced pros—more often than not teaching on public courts for which they pay no court fee and also have no guarantee of availability for your lesson time—for as little as $35 an hour. But, if your main consideration is direct cost, youʼre better off investing in a good clinic or reputable community college course than taking a private lesson on the cheap from a less-qualified teaching pro.

Still, many great pros do teach on community courts under contracts with local municipalities and cities. This ensures, first of all, that you will have a court when it’s time for the lesson you’ve scheduled and, more importantly, that the city has verified that the pro has insurance to protect her or himself and clients in case of accidents or injuries. I teach in San Jose’s Willow Glen neighborhood, for instance, under a contract with the City of San Jose and carry insurance through my USPTA certification and membership.

Many tennis teaching pros do not specialize in private one-on-one, semi-private, or small group lessons. This is largely an economic reality: while $75 or $85 an hour might sound like it adds up to a pretty sweet payday, most pros pay between $10 and $25 for court usage fees. They also pay for balls, ball machines and other equipment. Since most are self-employed, they also pay for their own unemployment withholding, workers comp, retirement, health insurance, and other taxes and benefits.

Certainly, itʼs still a good living if youʼre passionate about helping people to develop skills for a lifetime of active, socially enriching tennis. But the real money is in clinics and camps, where teaching professionals can gross more than $250 an hour. Indeed, the high end of the private lesson market ($100 and above) tends to be populated by pros who would rather see you in a clinic or camp because theyʼre actually loosing money even on a very expensive private lesson. Also, many pros make much of their living coordinating local or regional tournaments from which they collect fees and draw players into camps and clinics. So, one of the first things you want to find out about someone youʼre considering for private lessons is how their teaching practice is set up. If the balance of their instruction is clinics, camps, and tournaments, you might want to look at other options.

Girl learning tennis stance
While clinics and camps do a great job of highlighting the social benefits of tennis, for kids who are under- confident as athletes, uncoordinated, or just plain shy, a clinic can be a nightmare.

Given the cost, why would you choose a private lesson over a clinic or camp—especially if youʼre just starting out in tennis? The main reason is that, in a private lesson, the total focus of the time spent is on you and your game. Youʼre not standing around while the pro explains the drill— again—to someone else. Youʼre not waiting in line to hit at the net or get access to the ball machine. Youʼre hitting balls and getting feedback for a solid hour or half hour. As I noted, in a clinic, you might get five minutes of direct instruction, but in a private lesson itʼs all about you. In the end, that means youʼre getting more value from the instruction than you might get in a clinic.

Even semi-private and small group lessons have more focused instruction because the client— you—have selected the participants, and these are likely to be people with whom you will continue to practice, play, and otherwise interact. Maybe theyʼre friends or couples with whom you socialize, colleagues, or members of your league team.

A good teaching pro will focus on who you are as a group in particular and how you can best learn together.

This kind of focused attention is invaluable as youʼre learning to play or striving to move to a more advanced level. Because of this, if your budget is limited, it may be a better investment to take a half- hour private lesson every other week with a clinic or community college class as a supplement.

For kids, private lessons have additional advantages. While clinics and camps do a great job of highlighting the social benefits of tennis, for kids who are under- confident as athletes, uncoordinated, or just plain shy, a clinic can be a nightmare. A series of lessons with a qualified pro can help kids who are new to the game or who are moving into a more challenging level of juniors competition to develop coordination, competence and confidence outside of what can often feel like the sandlot culture of clinics and camps. To be sure, a good teaching pro will almost always recommend that your son or daughter partner with one or more other players, take a clinic, or attend a camp in order to develop the social aspects of the game—both etiquette and appropriate competitiveness. But a good pro will also understand when your child is ready in terms of coordination, skill level, stamina, and confidence to make the most of large group instruction in clinic or camp settings. And therein lies another important distinction: Tennis isnʼt a mass production sport. A private teaching professional is your personal tennis consultant, experienced at assessing the unique learning needs of you or your child as an individual and at developing a customized approach to meeting those needs.

At the end of the day, tennis is about fun, friendship, and fitness for life. I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery out of how to go about finding the best ways for you and your family to get into the game!

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