By Martin van Daalen, Director of North Shore Tennis and Miami Beach Tennis Academy

Becoming a good tennis player takes hard work and some talent. It is defined by how well you play the game at a competitive level. You could be the local club hero, a national ranked player, or an international player, but we all started somewhere.

Becoming better means improving on your current accomplishments. You can recognize a serious player right away by the way he or she trains and how much time they put into their sport. The passion for the game and intensity during the points is unmistakably high. So how do we go about this task of improving your game?

Here are the 12 steps to becoming a better tennis player.

1.Set goals and make a plan.
Setting goals and making a plan should be the first step. The goals should be realistic and contain a timeline to achieve them in. Therefore, you should have short-term and long-term goals. The goals can be various in subjects from technical, physical, tactical and mental. They can also be about performance or results. After this you can make a developmental plan that outlines your progression to suit your competitive schedule (tournaments).

2.Build the foundation.
Building the foundation is all about getting the basics right from the start. Having the basic fundamentals correct will save you a lot of time and trouble later. For instance, you dont want to go back and change strokes or grips and waste time doing it all over again. When starting to play tennis, your strokes, basic tactics and character on court are the blueprint. You will follow this blue print for a good portion of your tennis career. Good and bad habits are formed early on, so make sure they are the right ones. So find a good coach!

3.Find a good coach.
Finding a good coach to teach the advanced skills is a necessity to excel. Make sure its someone with experience and a proven track record in coaching and developing players. So as a player or parent, you need to do your homework by investigating the background, experience, and demeanor of the coach. These factors are important to find the coach that fits the character traits of you or your child.

4.Remain consistent.
Continuity in coaching is an important factor in the development process. Parents need to consider this before they decide to coach their own child. How long can you fulfill this role and is this the right choice for the child? Many players change coaches if they, or their parents, see other players be successful with another coach. Making a change in coaching more often makes you lose time in development and is not recommended, unless it is a necessity. The new coach might start changing the technique of the player and a loss of confidence is most likely going to occur. Only make changes in coaching when you feel you are not improving at all, or when the relationship is breaking down.

5.Decide on group lessons vs. private lessons.
Group lessons or private lessons are individual choices that should be made keeping the goals and interests of each player in mind. Dont start with private lessons too early, unless there are certain problems to correct. Once a player starts to excel and shows the passion to become an advanced player, parents or coaches can consider a more specific and individual approach.

At Miami Beach Tennis Management, we offer group and private lessons for players of all levels. Located in the heart of Miami Beach, FL, Flamingo Park Tennis Center and North Shore Tennis Center offer customized adult and junior programs, including private and semi-private lessons.

6.Maintain a proper competitive schedule.
The proper competitive schedule is important to make progress in your play. The level of play in tournaments should be adjusted to the motivation and intensity of the player. Playing a level where you can win some matches helps to gain confidence and find accomplishment in what you are doing. Be your own motivator. Find a level where you can win some matches (Win-Loss ratio 2-1). Playing practice matches should become a regular routine. You can not improve competing when you dont play enough practice matches!

7.Improve or increase your physical program.
The tennis game is constantly increasing in speed and tempo and requires great conditioning from the player. Having a good physical program will help you to improve your speed and agility, and last longer in your training and competition.

8.Play other sports.
Playing other sports (cross-training) can have a positive effect on development of your tennis game. The different sports train the coordination and all the various muscles to create the athletic body you need to compete at a higher level. For example, if you were playing soccer, it would not hurt your game but stimulate the coordination, strength, stamina and footwork to compete in tennis. Vice versa, it is the same of course.

9.Consider enrolling in a tennis academy.
Academies are very popular these days and many parents decide to enroll their kids every year. If your child is just starting off learning the game, these schools are not for you. The academies are much more suited for players that have a solid base in stroke development and want to play more competitive tennis. The academies are set up to bring many kids together to excel through competition. For advanced players and pro players, this is an excellent environment to improve their play with a combination of practice and competition.

Miami Beach Tennis Academy at the North Shore Tennis Center allows qualified players to begin with our high-performance training after regular school hours. Students train like pros, as they go through sessions of high-intensity drills. Our goal is to achieve individual improvement - both on and off the court. We follow the USTA methodology, which enables players to improve all aspects of their game.

10.Join national tennis programs.
National tennis programs are available in almost every country in the world. The best players are selected to train together and represent the country at international events. Most programs are sponsored by the association and provide the players with many opportunities to excel. As you progress and become a national player, you have a chance to join these programs. Most countries have organized training; sometimes even regionally. They usually organize exchanges against other countries and travel with groups to international events. It can be a great benefit to be part of these teams if you dont have the funds to pay for all the travel.

11.Develop your weapon.
Weapon development is an important next level step to apply pressure on your opponent. In watching the top international players of todays game, you will notice very quickly that they have one or two big weapons in their game (and some even more). Most weapons are constructed from well developed strokes that are not only reliable in consistency, but also have the ability to apply pressure through power, spin or tempo (or all of them combined). They are able to set up the rally and patterns to make outright winning shots or to force the opponent in making mistakes. It can, however, also consist of a tactical, physical or mental ability that creates a weapon. Most intermediate level players will start showing early signs of what could possibly develop into a weapon for the future. As players mature, it will become evident to coaches where to seek the weapon development for each individual player.

12.Enjoy the process.
Enjoying the process while training and competing is the driving force to improvement and acquiring a passion for the sport. There can be so much pleasure in competing in a sport when you can achieve what you have set out to do and make great friends along the way. I wish you much success on your journey..

About Martin van Daalen

Martin van Daalen is a world-recognized tennis coach, with over 35 years of teaching and coaching experience. He is a director of North Shore Tennis and Miami Beach Tennis Academy in Miami Beach, FL. He is also a head national coach and coordinator for Mens tennis and south region at the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). Coach Martin is the author of Teaching Tennis Volume 1 - a book published in 2011. He is a frequent contributor to various magazines, including International Tennis Magazine, and to the Tennis Channel.