Too Old To Learn?

While giving some tips to a couple of friends who were going off to play a National Grass Court tournament, another friend said, “Just play the game you know… we are too old to learn new stuff.”


There is a Japanese business philosophy that has been loosely translated as “improve or die.”  In business terms, that means you must continue to make improvements in the way you design, produce and sell your product … or else your business will fail.

In human terms, for me, it means we must continue to keep our minds and bodies active and LEARNING, otherwise we will wither on the vine.

Age Is a Factor

Sure, we will all slow down, have ailments (like new hips!), and slower reflexes; but that doesn’t mean that we cannot strive to improve parts of our tennis game.  Maybe it means just the opposite … because we are aging we HAVE TO learn to play smarter and implement strategies that take into account our current abilities.

If you are playing doubles and getting lobbed, you have to adapt and either have your serving partner stay back and cover the lob or you start back further from the net.

If your strength is your forehand groundstroke, try playing Aussie while serving in the ad court to give you the stroke you want.

TRY, TRY, TRY.  That is MY philosophy.  What is yours??

John Newcombe’s Tennis Fantasy Camp

This Sunday, we fly AirBerry to Texas and our annual week at Newk’s ranch in New Braunfels.  While Naples is experiencing record HIGH temps in the 90’s (“feels like 100”) … my last check in Texas showed it at 47 degrees (and “feels like 39”!!!).  So if you are going, pack warm stuff.

If all goes according to normal, I will be posting daily words of wisdom from the likes of Newk, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, etc. So, stayed tuned … or turn it off.

Know someone who should read this?  Send them a link and if you are not on my “new posting alert email list” and want to be (I promise, no other uses of your email address!), just drop me a note at

My Book: if you’d like to get a copy of “Senior Tennis”, just click on the link on the upper right of this web page to go to, look at the list of places under “My Book” on the bar above, or ask me what clubs are carrying it!

8 thoughts on “Too Old To Learn?

  1. We also await words of wisdom Mr. Wachtel, based on the rich experiences we so enjoy each year at Newk’s. See you soon, George.

    Joel, haven’t heard from you in a while! see you Sunday. george

  2. “Every day can be a school day “. Learn something everyday.

    Howie, Amen! Play well next week at the Nationals. george

  3. There are always things to try provided they are in the realm of reason. I think it would be rather difficult to go from a continental to a full western at age 60 to try and hit the ball like Nadal because it involves much more than just a grip change.

    As I have started to transition from right to left handed due to my end stage arthritis there certain elements in my LH semi western forehand (which is surprisingly natural to me) that I have incorporated with some degree of success into my RH eastern forehand making it more reliable.

    One should always try to improve their footwork. While we loose our foot speed there’s no reason why one can’t work on dynamic or in tight footwork which can be a big asset in doubles as you don’t have to cover as much ground and lets you be more aggressive from the backcourt. It has allowed me to remain competitive in doubles with people who I wouldn’t have much success against in singles.

    My biggest problem with movement now is that I don’t recover as well. I can still get to most balls but I’m sort of like a Zero pilot on a one way trip. Newk once commented that I was a particularly bad player given the amount of balls that I could get to, lol.

    Chris, i agree on the goal of working on movement. As we age, becomes more and more critical. I also find that i can still track down the wide shot, but the next ball back to where i was usually goes for a winner. Thanks, george

  4. I’ve had many of my students , especially senior players who have been playing longer than I have, use the expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. My response is ” You can teach an old dog, but you can’t teach a stubborn one!!” Too often players get set in their ways and are reluctant to leave their comfort zone. I ask “Would you rather lose playing your game or win playing a different game?” Unless you always win playing your game, you’ll need to have a plan A, B and often C. Stop learning and stop living!!

    Steve, and one of my little frustrations is playing doubles with one of those Old Dogs! Thanks. George

  5. I still take lessons on a regular basis from a variety of coaches. The issue is not being able to learn something new……. it’s the time and effort required to change old/bad technique. Most of us seniors have 40+ years of muscle memory to change. That doesn’t happen without a lot of work and repetition. A lot of us would rather just play and not really work at it.

    Tom, but there is a great sense of fulfillment when we actually CAN master something new in our “old age”! thanks, george

  6. While all of us age, get slower, and don’t hit the ball as hard as we used to, I find that I have to start using the brain more, instead of the brawn. We may have to develop a better backhand instead of running around to hit a forehand. Instead of hitting smashing lobs, crosscourt angles may be a better choice; drop volleys may be better than crisp net put aways. Cross court shorter shots may open the court for easier passing shots. These are just a few of the ideas that I have thought about. Now I will try to put them into play before I can’t play anymore. Oh yes, going after every ball can be tiring. Sometimes a great shot by your opponent just needs a clap of hands and a “nice shot” call.

    Jim, with my hip, I have been saying “nice shot” for months! Thanks. George

  7. If I am too old to learn new things in my tennis game, I have certainly been wasting a lot of time. On the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Rick, keep on learning! Thanks. George

  8. I find when I am working on something I look forward to playing more. I am currently working at making a higher percentage shot selection. My decision making can be very frustrating but makes me look forward to going to the court because I know I am becoming better. Must be a bit of Masochism in some of us.
    Randy Beerman

    Randy, on that learning point, Paul Annacone says, “on a big point, hit an aggressive shot to a conservative location.” thanks, george

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