So many times I see players out on the courts who go all the time to play their club league tennis, or play the same people every week. They never practice, but only play – and generally doubles. There’s a simple reason why these people will never get any better.
The time you spend can either be used for training and getting better, or for playing games in a low-key social atmosphere. You can’t expect to get better by playing in a low key social atmosphere. That’s just for fun, and you have to recognize that. If anything, it will make you worse because everyone else there is being lazy and you’re picking up bad habits. You also aren’t being fed the same shot over and over so you can practice. You can’t change your technique during a game. So you have to decide – what proportion of my time am I going to spend training and improving my game, and what proportion will I use to simply have fun? There’s no right or wrong answer, but the trade-off is clear. Improvement comes from proper practice. Testing what you practice is fun in game settings, but too much social game playing can cause stagnation or deterioration of your game. For optimal improvement while maintaining “match readiness” I would recommend at least 3 on-court practice sessions before you start playing a match for that week.
I suppose for some people, they have no desire to really get better. They aren’t interested in being the best that they can be. They only want to be good enough to play around and socialize with the other people at their local club. But that’s not who I’m addressing on this site. For people who want to get better, they need to train with a purpose. Every time you get on the court, you have to be working hard to get better. Your intensity has to be high. Each shot in practice has to be of higher quality and intensity than you would want in a game. Focus on improving one aspect of each shot and repeat that aspect until you have it down pat, then move on to the next thing, etc. In a game situation you will do what you practice, so you want every shot to be pure quality with your best effort.