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I Got Kicked Out of Two Tennis Clinics on the Same Day

I have a weird relationship with tennis. Unlike golf, which I played a lot as a kid, only to rage quit at age 13 and never play again (a story for another time), I have never really played tennis with some consistency.

You might think, well, a lot of people don’t play tennis. That’s not notable.

My mom plays tennis. My dad now plays tennis. My brother played tennis, and was good enough to be a decent high school player if he wanted. Both my grandfathers played tennis into their 80s. When my uncle was in high school and his car was on fire, he saved his tennis racquet instead of his textbooks (good choice iwbh). So me not playing was at least an anomaly.

I did a few clinics in elementary school, and maybe a lesson in middle and high school where both times the instructor told me I’d be pretty good if I committed myself to practicing. When a few friends walked on to the high school tennis team, I thought about joining them (but didn’t, I wasn’t a fan of the six-day-a-week commitment).

Fast forward to 2020. I spent a lot of time with my family in Maryland, and we started to go down to the local tennis courts and play doubles. Not incredibly frequently – maybe 10 times in total across 2020-2021. But I enjoyed it each time, and to my surprise, despite no formal training and little practice, I was doing fairly well at keeping the ball in play.

So when I had some time off work in spring 2022, one of the things I said I’d try was a tennis clinic. Philly’s options in the city were a bit disappointing – really the only option I considered was the Penn Tennis Center, which has a big indoor and outdoor facility. I called ahead and asked the folks at the desk which level clinic I should sign up for, and they suggested one of the lower-level intermediates.

Clinic 1

Fast forward to the clinic. There were a dozen of us, and we found partners to warm up. There were three courts, so each pair had half a court.

My warmup partner had pretty good control of the ball. I did not. Every third shot or so, I’d fail to return. The instructor basically took one look at my swing, and (kind of condescendingly) asked me if I was in the right place. I explained that the front desk recommended I sign up for this clinic, and he immediately shook his head and said they had no idea what they’re talking about. He said he’d watch me for a little longer before deciding what to do.

A few swings later, he returned. I was banished…to the beginner clinic next door. As someone who’s super competitive, it was disappointing to be demoted to the beginner clinic, but fair. By the looks of warmups, I was clearly a tier below the rest of the players in fundamentals.

Clinic 2

From the expanse of three courts at the intermediate clinic, the beginners were on one court. And they were only using a quarter of it. When I joined a few minutes late, everyone was in a line, taking turns swinging forehand at underhand lobs from the instructor.

It seemed maybe too remedial for me. So, naturally, I didn’t do a very good job at that, either. For whatever reason, I was much better at tracking the ball off someone else’s racquet than with an underhand lob (I was the same way in baseball). There were a few whiffs and general inconsistency in my form, and I realized that, no, I didn’t wake up one day with no formal training or practice and have good tennis fundamentals. Of the 12 people at the clinic, my swing probably ranked 10th or 11th.

We transitioned into King of the Court. With King of the Court, one person is the incumbent (King) and takes on a challenger, who needed to win two points in a row to overtake them.

Starting with doubles, I did better in this section. A few times, my tandems became King and held on for a few rounds.

Then we switched to singles. This is where things took a turn. I made it to King quickly, and I didn’t lose.

At first, it was like a oh, go Jacob! You’re on a nice streak to okay who’s going to beat Jacob to we’re not ending the clinic until someone beats Jacob. We had two singles games going at once – folks were mainly alternating lines when they lost, but most players gave up and started to stay in the other line. I was down to the same two challengers who had the competitive spirit to keep trying. And eventually, one of them succeeded and drew cheers from the entire group (myself included).

The clinic ends, and I chat for a few minutes afterwards with the instructor. I don’t think he was allowed to tell me not to come back, but he strongly implied that it wasn’t fair for the rest of the beginner clinic if I returned, and that I’d be better off getting a few private lessons to work on my swing before trying to rejoin the intermediate.

Alright, so I guess I wasn’t kicked out of two clinics. Kicked out of one, and suggested to not return to the other.


Why am I telling you this story? Well, mainly because it’s kinda funny. The first edition of this post had an eye-rolling takeaway, which I have removed. And if you’re wondering, I’m still playing tennis.