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I happened to walk by a man and woman casually playing informal unscored tennis, somewhat above beginner level, at a local park. It was immediately obvious the woman was waiting far too long before beginning her strokes, basically letting the ball almost reach her, even at the baseline, then attempting a quick, cramped stroke without much power or control. The couple was also doing something I see far too often at the park: frequently calling "out" and ending play instead of playing the ball anyway to try and keep the "game" going, keep up the rhythm, and getting in as much practice as possible instead of constantly stopping/restarting.

I was tempted to introduce myself, ask them if they wanted some unsolicited advice, and if so suggest the woman try to start her swing as soon as she sees what side of her body the ball will be arriving at (although she'd probably need practice changing her style but might end up with much better strokes), and also to simply try to continue playing when calling outs.

My wife said I should mind my own business, because I have no idea what sort of relationship, advice, practice, and coaching they've already gone through to reach a level of play they might be perfectly happy with. On the other hand, my personal experience, for life in general not just sports, is that I've rarely received unsolicited advice at all let alone bad advice, and what unsolicited advice I have managed to receive is usually very helpful. So from a "golden rule" perspective I would tend to want to give advice that I myself would want to receive.

What's the proper etiquette? Is there some best or proper way to offer playing advice to strangers? Or should I keep my mouth shut?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Fillet, Philip Kendall, Don_Biglia, New-To-IT, Ale Sep 14 '15 at 6:01

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I think this is more a matter of etiquette than sports, and any answer is likely to be just a personal opinion. There is an Area 51 Etiquette proposal, currently in definition stage: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/86480/etiquette – Fillet Sep 7 '15 at 7:11
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    @Fillet I'm unsure because we've had questions about etiquette before. We have this question about social etiquette in volleyball. This question is different in nature, but this is essentially social etiquette in tennis. – user527 Sep 8 '15 at 13:58
  • That said, welcome to Sports SE, OP. The "best" way to offer advice may be the reason why this is getting an "opinion-based" response. – user527 Sep 8 '15 at 14:00
  • This is a great question and is absolutely sports related. It should remain open. – Ben Miller Sep 8 '15 at 15:03
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This is an interesting question, one that I (have) had myself earlier in my tennis playing days. After a certain point, I was a good enough player to easily be able to see when someone had bad form, bad habits, or just not enough experience to know what to do to improve their game. You are probably at a similar experience/skill level yourself. Tennis seems to be a sport where people without any formal training or lessons can develop an untold number and variety of weird self-taught habits or quirks to their game in areas like you mentioned - racquet preparation, grips, balance, swing types, footwork, timing...the list goes on and on.

Before a big tennis club was built in the city I live in, I used to play at public park courts, often next to people that were new to the sport or played very infrequently - it was obvious by their gear and how they played the game. I wasn't annoyed by them or anything, I was just happy to see people enjoying the sport, really. Sometimes an opportunity would present itself for me to ask them if they wanted any pointers. Occasionally people would be interested, but usually they declined and said they were just out for some fun activity.

What I've come to learn about tennis and the people that play it - now that I've been around tennis as an adult for about 15 years - is that most people are as good at tennis as they care to be. If not being better really bothered them that much they would get lessons or somehow formally seek out help to improve. Maybe they would get in better shape physically or practice more often or pay for lessons. Whatever the case is - whether they accepted your help or not, it likely wouldn't have much of an impact on their tennis abilities. For that reason - I've come to just walk right past people I see playing, no matter what I notice about their play.

Tennis is such a technical sport with so many little things to get right that in most cases your advice might help a little (temporarily), but it's not likely to significantly make any kind of impact on them. Tennis is one of the most difficult sports to get good at, and typically takes many years to get decent at it to the point where you really have a fun time playing and you can actually do what you want with the ball.

So while I would do what your wife says, I wouldn't do it because of "minding my own business" - rather, because it's not really going to change much for the people you share the advice with.

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This scenario occurs throughout the world no matter the activity. You're more than likely going to get a variety of responses if you so choose to provide the advice.

For example beginner X would love advice and help from the other gym goes regarding his exercise form. Whereas beginner Y is very aware that they are a beginner and fear someone may comment/laugh at them.

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Personally if the person were to approach me in a polite manner to truly help me then I don't mind their advice.

Then again if it's regarding my golf game I have a personal coach and we're working toward a goal that's not entirely outcome focussed at this time. The last thing I want is for someone's "pointers" on a quick win!

If I were you just try to read the situation and expect people to be defensive about their sport.

  • I share my experience with the prospect of having more than one golf coach here, and although you and your personal coach are working toward a goal, I find nothing wrong with someone else playing an advisory role. If the advice helps, great. If the advice goes against what you and your coach is doing, thank him/her for the advice and carry on. – user527 Sep 9 '15 at 13:47
  • And although this happens throughout the world no matter the activity, the OP is asking specifically how to handle this scenario in tennis. Different sports may vary in the handling of this scenario. Eg, in golf, it may be commonplace for one golfer to provide advice to another golfer whereas the mentality of different sports may not promote such communication. – user527 Sep 9 '15 at 13:53

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