I’ve been playing tennis for the majority of my life at this point. But I’ve only been playing adult tournaments and leagues for 3 years now. It still amazes me, how people who have been doing this for so long, can be such bad doubles partners!
For the most part, everyone is a good partner but every 6 months or so I’ll play against a team who has me beat, only to blow it because one or both partners suck to each other :O
So this lesson, I’m going to tell you exactly how to be a good doubles partner, and get the most out of anyone you play with.
There are a few characteristics that make up a good partner in tennis. You may be thinking that you’re already a good doubles partner, but keep reading to make sure you check all the boxes. You may still have room for improving your overall doubles game.
Here are a few things to focus on with your partner, especially if you’re the stronger player.
Before the match, you and your partner should know each other’s strengths and preferences. Knowing this will help you create a good strategy for the match.
A few questions you might ask a new partner before the match.
Getting to know your doubles partner with questions like these will help you both put each other in a better position and win more matches.
Whether you’re the stronger player or not, you need to help your partner get in the best position for their doubles style based on their strengths as a tennis player. That might mean changing your doubles strategy.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re playing a team who has really good lobs. Your partner is more of a net doubles player. It’s a bad idea in this scenario, to ask your partner to stay back at the baseline. Even if they do keep getting lobbed, you need to find a way as a team, to get your partner to the net. Maybe find the weaker players backhand, which is usually the weakest lob, before having your partner charge the net.
Especially if you’re the stronger player, you need to find a way to help your partner get in positions where they are most comfortable. This will help them take advantage of their strengths and help your doubles team win.
Staying positive and being encouraging to your partner seems obvious but a lot of doubles teams don’t do this. The key is to ALWAYS be encouraging your partner.
This encouragement is crucial for a good doubles team. Most people think:
Positive Thoughts → Better Performance
This is true, so we have to think our way into playing better tennis. But this is hard. Instead, we can actually use our words and physical energy and posture to accelerate this.
Positive Language/Energy → Positive Thoughts → Better Performance
If we can consciously force the positive phrases and energy, we can start a cycle that will lead to better performance. This is why you see people blow up on the court, they start with negative language and energy.
Side Note: If you’re interested in how this process works, check out this article on how posture affects mood by fast company. Most people think thoughts and mood affect physical energy and posture. We can actually flip this around. Simply changing your physical energy and posture will improve your mood.
The best example of staying positive in recent memory is Kevin Anderson. If you watch him between every point win or lose, he is encouraging himself. As a result, he’s had the best year of his life, making two grand slam finals.
Taking ownership or blame of a lost point or game is uncommon in many doubles teams. When you’re the stronger player especially, you should be taking the pressure off your partner and letting them play their game. To do this you need to “blame” yourself or take ownership.
This is a controversial topic because people have shown that blaming yourself can negatively impact performance, so you have to be careful. Don’t be negative with yourself, but don’t let your partner do that either.
For example, if you’re partner misses an overhead, you can say something like “no problem, I should have ended the point earlier on that volley. My bad. I’ll get the next one.” Do not say things like “that’s my fault. I’m blowing it.”
Always ending language on a positive note is important.
Taking ownership on the court shows your partner a few things:
This will take pressure off your doubles partner, help them feel supported, and let them play with confidence.
Communication is obviously very important with your doubles partner. One characteristic of a good leader is that the people around them feel like a team, on the same level. This is true in doubles too.
One easy tip for becoming a better doubles partner is to avoid the word “you” in any negative context. Doubles is a team effort so it almost always should be “we.”
This mostly applies to bad situations since, as we’ll find out, bad partners are only bad when they’re losing. Here’s a table to help you understand the difference.
|Match Situation||Good Doubles Partner||Bad Doubles Partner|
|Partner double faulted twice in a row.||“We’re good, just keep hitting.” or “No worries, barely missed. We’ll get this one.”||“Try fixing your toss” or SILENCE or Head Shaking|
|Partner missed a groundstroke.||“It’s alright, I probably should have ended the point on that volley. My bad.”||“Hit it to the other player next time.”|
|You want to change your strategy.||“What do you think if we start hitting every ball at that weaker player?”||“You need to start hitting every ball to that player.”|
|Partner is playing bad.||“You’re good, keep swinging and we’ll get this one.”||“What do you think you’re doing wrong?”|
It’s hard enough to learn how to be a good doubles partner. One way to become a better doubles partner, however, is by studying tennis players who do it wrong! Bad partners have a few things in common that you want to avoid. But how do you know if someone is being a bad partner?
What is the actual difference between a good doubles partner and a bad one?
To really find out, you have to go to the points that you lose!
Everyone is a good doubles partner when they’re winning and things are going well. It’s when a doubles match is NOT going your way that you can separate the good from the bad partners.
So what do bad doubles partners do when they start losing? A few things.
If you’re the stronger player especially, never ask your partner to do more than what they’re comfortable with. One of the fastest ways to lose is by trying to hit bigger serves and harder forehands than what you’re used to.
Let’s say your opponent has a weak backhand return, but your partner doesn’t have a great kick serve and struggles to serve it to the backhand. A bad partner might ask them to serve it to the opponent’s backhand anyways. This is a bad idea. Instead, you should tell them to hit their stronger serve and try to get the next shot to their backhand.
You should never ask your partner to start hitting shots that are weaknesses for them. Instead, play your game and use strategy to find ways beat the other team.
This isn’t always done directly, it’s more of a backhanded push with a less than pleasant tone to play differently than you’re playing now.
Common phrases I hear from bad partners:
In all of these, there is no positivity. It’s all putting pressure on the partner through blame or disappointment. No one performs better when they feel like their being blamed for something.
This one is a little trickier. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try new strategies. But you have to be careful about what you’re demanding from your partner during a match.
The middle of a match is a bad time to change their forehand or serve technique!
I’ve played doubles matches where my doubles opponent, especially the stronger player, help me win by over teaching their weaker partner. This can confuse your partner, make them feel blamed, and play much worse.
Here are a few situations to avoid.
In summary don’t be any of these guys…
Doubles is a team effort, and unless you support your partner, you could be in for a frustrating match. To recap, follow these tips to be a good doubles partner.
Following these guidelines on how to be a good doubles partner, combined with developing a good strategy, will help your doubles team win more tennis matches, and beat teams that are even more talented than you.
If you like this doubles lesson… then you’ll love my new doubles course, The Mental Game Masterclass. It includes a 30-day money back guarantee.
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Will Boucek is the Founder & CEO of The Tennis Tribe. He has played tennis for over two decades, including in college. Will has worked with ATP & WTA tour players and coaches. He currently lives in Austin TX where he plays USTA leagues & tournaments, writes about tennis, and teaches doubles workshops.