Tennis Lessons – What Really Is A Bad Habit?

In my experience as a tennis coach, the more I learn about players’ own individual styles of playing tennis, the more I question what really are bad habits in tennis. How do you describe a bad habit? Everyone is so worried about developing bad habits that they run from teaching pro to teaching pro and stress themselves out attempting to stave off the dreaded ‘bad habit’! They read books and tennis magazines and study videos seeking answers to the ultimate tennis strokes.

Now do not get me wrong. I’m not telling you that there are no guidelines to follow when learning to play tennis. What I am telling you is these guidelines are far too rigid and in many cases totally incorrect! Do you know how many ‘bad habits’ there are in tennis history of the past that are now not only accepted as correct, but often preferred?

From the 1950′s through the 60′s and on, tennis pros were teaching that holding two hands on the racket for the backhand was a bad habit. They claimed two hands limited the player’s reach and had too many drawbacks. So when pros gave tennis lessons they insisted that players stick with the one-handed backhand. Onto the professional scene came the likes of Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors and Bjiorn Borg. All with the two-handed backhand ‘bad habit.’ Well now maybe it’s not all that bad! So the tennis professionals and amateurs slowly embraced the two-handed backhand to the point where nowadays the majority of players have the two-handed backhand ‘bad habit.’

An interesting historical fact to note is that in the 1937 Australian Open between Vivian McGrath and John Bromwich both played tennis with two-handed backhands. Was it accepted then? Not even close! In fact it was ridiculed. Below is a searing excerpt from the Time Magazine 1937 archives specifically describing the experts’ response to Vivian McGrath and his backhand. See what you think:

Time Magazine, Monday, 10 May 1937: “When Australia’s Vivian McGrath appeared on the international tennis scene four years ago, experts could not have been more astonished had he been a kangaroo. For all backhand shots McGrath held his racket with both hands. For a first-class tennist to do such a thing was so unthinkable that tennis experts, instead of trying to explain it, simply regarded McGrath as an antipodean freak.” Lots of “antipodean freaks” are around today. You may even be one!

And how about the swinging volley that at one time was considered a bad habit. Just another ‘bad habit’ gone right! Don’t forget the big looping forehand of Bjiorn Borg with massive topspin…again another ‘bad habit’ gone right! The so-called experts said he could not win Wimbledon with those big looping tennis strokes. He won five championships in a row at Wimbledon and the experts were nowhere to be found. Now everyone has the ‘bad habit’ of hitting with a looping forehand.

How about the ‘bad habit’ of tossing the ball high on the serve. I remember watching the great Ivan Lendl toss the ball so high on his serve it would go off the television screen. His timing was set for that type of ball toss. I say, leave him alone!

Not too long ago hitting with an open stance on ground strokes was a ‘bad habit.’ Now it is becoming the standard.

Can you see why I do not teach tennis lessons with excessive technical information? First, learning tennis is an individual process. A bad habit for one player is fine for another. Second, the tennis profession is constantly changing the idea of what a ‘bad habit’ is. Third, and this is the key, most players’ ‘bad habits’ are just part of the learning process. An example would be taking the racket back late on ground stokes. This is nothing to worry about. Taking the racket back late is just part of the individual learning process. You do NOT have to force the racket back. Eventually preparing the racket properly will resolve itself. This is a timing issue that will be resolved by hitting thousands of balls…no need to overthink this so-called bad habit.

How about the bad habit of falling off-balance when hitting a tennis stroke. Not a problem. Just keep swinging and in time your balance will improve. Falling off-balance is just a phase of learning that all players MUST go through.


There is no way you can monitor every little movement each minute you play tennis. Practice some of the simple techniques which you have learned in your tennis lessons, but do not stress yourself out if your stroke is not perfect. A ‘bad habit’ today could be the next great shot of the future. Just like remembering “the next shot is more important then the last mistake,” remember, when it comes to the process of learning keep moving on. The wisdom of the body is smarter than you are! Spontaneous and intuitive playing will come to the rescue after you have spent hours and hours and hours hitting thousands of tennis balls.

About the Author

Tom Veneziano is a professional tennis coach who runs a successful website offering online tennis lessons. Find out how you can learn to play tennis like a pro.