The sport of lawn tennis (today normally just known as tennis) is over two hundred years old and, like many of the world’s most popular sports, originated in England (although that’s not to say that the English have had too much success in it since!). Tennis is a fun game that all the family can get involved in, but what do you need to know to get started?
To play tennis, you’ll need a racket, balls, and ordinary sportswear. Some clubs specify particular equipment such as white clothing and/or tennis shoes. You will also need a place to play, whether on a dedicated court or on a makeshift one.
Tennis is a simple game to understand once you’re into it, but there are a few rules you need to learn at the beginning, as well as a relatively complicated scoring system and court layout. Here are some of the basics so that you can get on your tennis journey!
What Equipment does a Beginner Tennis Player Need?
A beginner tennis player doesn’t need a lot of equipment. A racket, balls, comfortable clothing, and access to a court are all you need to get started.
Tennis equipment comes in many different types and qualities, but as a beginner, it’s pretty easy to pick up something cheap which will be great to get you started! As you improve in the sport there’s more equipment that can be used (such as tennis shoes or specific rackets and balls), but these just offer improved performance for experienced players rather than being necessities.
Bear in mind that different courts have different requirements. If you’re looking to play at a serious tennis club or country club, for example, you may need to wear all white clothing. Indoor courts very occasionally also require non-marking footwear.
However, if you’re playing on a budget and just looking to get into the parks and recreation courts every now and again, this isn’t a problem and you’ll be able to wear whatever you like. If you’re unsure, contact your local parks and recreation department (or whoever runs the courts) to ask if they have a dress code.
Tennis equipment is so popular and pervasive that it’s everywhere. Equipment can even be picked up in most second-hand stores, local stores that carry sporting equipment, or big-box superstores. Even equipment of this basic quality is already more than enough to kick off your enthusiasm for the sport.
I’ve shopped at the following places and found tennis equipment of varying quality levels.
Second-hand or thrift stores
- Deseret Industries
- Kid-to-Kid (thrift stores)
- Smith’s Food and Drug Stores
- Dick’s Sporting Goods
Want to skip ahead on finding good tennis gear faster? You can click here to search Amazon for tennis rackets and tennis gear. Sometimes, using Amazon as a starting place is just a good way to price things out and surf reviews to find what you really want that fits in your budget.
Or if you want to see our favorite choices, here you go.
- Single tennis racket – my kids loved this Wilson brand tennis racket (on Amazon). It was the favorite of all the kids.
- Need a pair of rackets? You can usually get a set like this (on Amazon) for a better price than buying one racket at a time.
- Make sure you grab some tennis balls for the right court and situation. You can search all the current the tennis ball choices on Amazon here. Not sure which to get? Get the ones rated for “all courts.”
Where can I Find a Tennis Court?
Tennis courts are available in many places. At lower price points, you can find publicly available courts through a city’s parks and recreation department, while tennis clubs and private courts are a more expensive option.
Tennis isn’t just a sport for the all-in-white older folks at the country club that you see on TV (although clubs like this do exist and often provide high-class facilities). Anyone can play, and courts are often available in cities through the parks and recreation department.
Search the website of your local department to find these, which are normally available either for free or at very reasonable hourly rates. They do fill up fast, though, so make sure you check back often to schedule your favorite courts.
A mid-priced option is to join a local gym that has a tennis court. Not all gyms have tennis courts, but I have seen some that do. Some memberships include the ability to reserve the tennis courts, while other memberships require an extra fee to do so. You’ll have to check your gym’s rules and regulations.
A more expensive option, but one that may interest you once you’re more experienced in the sport, is to join a specific tennis club. Here, you’ll have access to member benefits such as high-quality courts and maybe even coaching sessions.
Some tennis clubs offer tennis courts of different surfaces to practice on (such as grass, asphalt, or clay courts), as well as having indoor courts. If you live somewhere with snowy winters but want to keep up your tennis, access to an indoor court is a must!
Pro tip: you don’t absolutely have to play tennis on a tennis court. You can play makeshift games of tennis on your driveway, on a pickleball court that’s available, on a back patio, in the lawn of your backyard, or even on a basketball court.
My sister-in-law was actually just telling me a fun story about how she learned to play tennis – by using her driveway and by volleying the ball to herself against the garage door.
So if you can’t find a public court and you can’t afford a tennis club? Don’t stress. You can find other places to play. Playing tennis on the lawn isn’t super easy, but it is doable in a pinch.
How to Pick the Right Size Tennis Racket for Everyone in the Family
Tennis rackets come in different sizes, and to be able to play properly it’s good to have a properly sized racket. There are three factors to consider; overall length, grip size, and head size. The overall length of a tennis racket can vary between around 19 inches and 29 inches, although most professionals play with a 27-inch racket.
The tennis racket sizing comes down to personal preference, and the longer you play the game the more you’ll develop a liking for certain sizes of rackets.
For children, however, it’s important to get something that they can use that isn’t too unwieldy for their size. Here’s a breakdown of recommended racket lengths for kids. Bear in mind that this is in no way an exact science, and if your child is large or small for their age then they may be better suited to a different age category.
|8 and under||Between 19 and 23 inches|
|9 and 10||Between 23 and 25 inches|
|Older than 10||26 inches and bigger|
For everyone over age 10, 26-inch rackets are recommended for players getting used to a full-size court.
When my children first tried tennis, they had both a 19-inch and a 26-inch tennis racket to choose from. At the time, the kids were aged 4, 6, 8, and 10. The 4-year-old was the only one who wanted the small racket. All the other kids wanted the larger racket – and it wasn’t an issue. The tennis coach actually encouraged them to use the larger racket – and had them learn to use two hands until they can swing it safely with just one hand.
Grip size is another factor that will come into play for the tennis players in your family. A larger grip will allow you to use more power or play with more comfort, while it might sacrifice accuracy. A good rule of thumb (pun intended!) is that when you hold the racket in a forehand position, there should be approximately a pencil’s width between your fingers and palm.
For players with less experience, a larger head size is useful in a racket, as it increases your chances of hitting a ball. More experienced players for whom this isn’t an issue will benefit from the increased accuracy and control of smaller head sizes.
Weight is also a point of difference between different rackets. Heavier rackets provide more power at the cost of versatility. For beginner players, it’s recommended to choose something pretty light. Once you have more experience and want to smash the ball a bit harder you’ll always be able to upgrade, but it’s important to be versatile at the beginning to hit the ball and not get frustrated!
If you’re buying rackets for differently aged members of your family, then bear in mind that they’re likely to get passed down as time goes on. You can also always buy budget rackets as your kids begin, and reward their interest by giving them something higher quality or that they like more aesthetically.
Basic Rules of Tennis
While the basics are quick to learn in tennis, there’s quite a lot of nuance to them. In general play, these rules are adjudicated upon by an umpire, who sits on a high chair next to the court and, at a professional level, by HawkEye, a powerful video system that works out whether the ball has landed in or out of the court.
Here are some of the basics, which you’ll need to know to play the game!
The Court Layout
One of the first things you notice when you walk into the court is its layout. The court is made up of a rectangle cut in half by a net across the middle. Each player’s court is divided into sections by white lines along the floor — but what do these mean?
Let’s start with the outer lines. Tennis can be played in two variants, singles and doubles, and the doubles court is slightly wider to make room for the extra player. The outside lines mark the perimeter of the doubles court, while the long sides of the singles game are actually the second line from the outside, cutting off the sides.
Why is this important? When you return the ball over the net, it needs to be hit within the boundaries of your opponent’s court. If the ball touches any part of the outside line of the court, it is deemed in.
Be careful when playing singles that you don’t accidentally aim towards the very outside edges, which are the doubles markings and are well out!
The other thing to take note of is the smaller rectangles known as the left and right service boxes. When you serve, you have to stand behind the baseline, and serve into a specific service box — but more about this in a moment.
Serving in tennis is one of the most visually acrobatic parts of the sport, watching players smash a ball far above their head! At a professional level, serving is both incredibly fast and accurate, with Australian pro Samuel Groth recording the world record serve at 163 miles per hour!
When you begin, you won’t be serving quite up to those speeds yet. Service must be performed from behind the left or right side of the baseline (the backline of the court) into the diagonally opposite service box. For each service, the player should alternate the side of the baseline that they’re standing on.
Serves can be over or underhand, and although you’ll always see serious players serving overhand, as it’s much faster, underhand is a good way to serve for beginners. This is particularly true for children, who would have a tight angle to work with on an overhand serve due to their height.
Your opponent may not volley (or hit) the ball until after the serve. Touching the ball before it hits the ground will result in a point awarded to you (although in reality, this happens very rarely). If your serve is so good that your opponent can’t return it successfully, it’s known as an ace!
A player serves all the serves for a game in tennis. That doesn’t sound fair to you? Well, confusingly there’s a whole lot more to play than just a game! Read on to find out more about tennis’ complex scoring system…
Points are scored in tennis when your opponent is unable to successfully return the ball to your court before it bounces twice. However, unlike in other racket sports such as squash or table tennis, this doesn’t award you points in a simple linear way.
The scoring system in a game of tennis is as follows;
- 0 (also known as love, as a player with no points must be playing for the love of the game)
- Match point
Confused yet? People are unsure as to exactly why the scoring works this way, but a popular theory is that it was originally counted using a clock-style board where the hand was rotated to indicate points.
This makes sense, but to why it’s 40 and not 45 there are many more alleged reasons, ranging from theories of broken clocks to a way to keep the ‘deuce’ system marked on the board (read about this in a sec).
0-15-30-40 isn’t the whole story, as the match point is only awarded if the scores weren’t tied at 40-40. In this case, the point is known as ‘deuce’. Play continues, and whoever scores the next point is awarded an ‘advantage.’ If they win again, they’ll be awarded the game, but if they lose the scores will again be tied at deuce.
There’s also more to tennis than just winning a game. Winning 6 games (by a margin of 2, so if scores are tied at 5-5 for example you’ll need to win 7-5) awards what’s known as a set. Matches of tennis are normally played as the best of 3 or 5 sets.
That’s why at the end of a tennis match you’ll hear the phrase ‘game, set, and match’.
Just like in most sports, certain fouls in tennis (known as faults) can lose you the point. Here is a selection of some of the most common faults that you’re likely to encounter.
Failing the second serve
- When serving, you have two attempts to get the ball into the opposite service box. Failing to do this will award your opponent the point.
- Hitting the net on your serve is known as a ‘let’ and means that, even if the ball finishes in the right box, it isn’t a valid serve, although you’ll get two more chances rather than the usual one.
Catching the ball
- The ball must be hit to return it. A player may not hold the ball on their racket before launching it back.
Hitting the ball twice
- The ball can only be hit once per shot. If you make a small mis-hit that bounces the ball into the air, which you’d be able to return volleyball style? Tough. You lose the point.
Hitting the ball on the wrong side of the net
- This seems obvious, but is easily done if the ball ends up high above the net! Wait until the ball is safely on your side of the net to hit it, as infringing on your opponent’s side of the court is a fault and you’ll lose the point.
- Like many sports of upper-class English origin (such as cricket and rugby), sportsmanship is considered integral to the game. As such, any verbal abuse or argument with the umpire results in the point being awarded to your opponent.
Key Takeaways on Playing Tennis
Playing tennis doesn’t have to be scary, expensive, or crazy. Instead, it should be a fun experience for the whole family. If it isn’t fun, you aren’t playing tennis right. 🙂
And don’t feel like you need to spend a ton to play tennis. It really can be as easy and cheap as picking up a mismatched set of rackets from your local second-hand store, a can of tennis balls from the local sports store, and then learning how to hit the ball off of your garage door or the back of a wall.
As you get more into tennis, then you’ll want to invest in better gear, lessons, and dedicated practice space. But that doesn’t have to be where you start – that can be where you get in time.
So get out there, play some tennis together, and have a fun time. In the meantime, here are the rackets and other tennis gear we’ve liked best.
- Single tennis racket – my kids loved this Wilson brand tennis racket (on Amazon). It was the favorite of all the kids.
- Need to get two rackets? You can usually get a set like this (on Amazon) for a better price than buying one racket at a time.
- Make sure you grab some tennis balls for the right court and situation. You can search all the current the tennis ball choices on Amazon here. When in doubt? Get the ones rated for “all courts.”
Learning from your own experiences is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as a family of sports nuts wannabes.
- “Find the Right Tennis Racquet Size.” US Tennis Association, 1 Jan. 2017, www.usta.com/en/home/improve/gear-up/national/what-racquet-is-right-for-me-.html.