Now that you’ve taken some lessons, even participated in a clinic or two, comparing and improving your strokes and footwork – that’s great.

But consider this: Has most of your tennis experience been in a controlled environment, having balls fed to you by a pro, a ball machine, or hitting against the practice wall, or with a practice partner?

All of these things help to improve your game. But now it’s time for a real jump in your tennis abilities, and competition is the key.

I like to call it “playing in real time,” and it’s one of the quickest ways to recognize your individual strengths and weaknesses.

Whether playing social, friendly competition, or participating in league or tournament play, testing your skills in a competitive envi-ronment forces you to make improvements.

Let’s face it, you can practice a shot hundreds of times on the practice courts, but until you put yourself in a win-lose situation, you’ll never know how you perform under pressure.

Couple that with playing against the myriad of different types of opponents and styles they possess, and you might be in for one heck of a learning experience – and opportunity.

Competition stimulates improvement by testing your game, motivating you to do better the next time around. It shows you what areas of your game might need work, and also points out your strengths.

Maybe your serve was strong but your backhand wasn’t and your opponent exploited it. Now you have a goal to practice toward: tweak that backhand to be a more reliable shot.

Consider this: Setting and achieving goals brings a sense of fulfillment to your everyday life.

According to a study done at Southern Connecticut State University, tennis players scored higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes or non-athletes.

There are plenty of ways to find all types of tennis competition. Here are some suggestions:

  • Contact your local tennis club or facility and inquire about league opportunities. Our area is a virtual tennis mecca, having all sorts of events from tennis ladders, social and inter-club leagues, to USTA league play.
  • Enter a tournament. The greater Hilton Head Island and Bluffton area hosts a ton of tournaments throughout the year. You can find a lot of this info by getting on the following email list:

.com. Simply send an email message requesting to be added.

  • Find a virtual partner. There are websites that can help you find tennis matches near you. Try and, which are two of the best ones. You can search for players around your zip code, check out their profiles to see if they’re at your level, and challenge them to a game.

Whatever you choose, get out there and play some “real time” tennis.

Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and youth tennis coach who lives, teaches and provides custom-hybrid racquet service in the Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area.