Tuesday, July 22, 2014


No, it's not Ebola, or acne. Breakout is my own mash-up of Jailbreak and Net Monster.

All players begin on one baseline. Coach feeds ball to one player at a time. If player misses, he/she comes over to coach's side and plays at the net. If net player hits a winner, he/she is back in line.

You can accommodate 5-6 players at net safely on 60- or 78-foot court; 4-5 on 36-foot court max. If you get more than this, don't do it - it isn't safe. Just have the extra players wait until a spot opens up for them when another player hits a winner and rejoins the line.

Goal is to be the last player standing on the original end (not the net side) and hit a ball in that is not intercepted by the net players.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Consistency Rally

Here's another rally drill from Lauren Stewart at The Woodlands. Again, suggested for 2.5 players but perfect for beginners of all ages. Another trait of 2.5 players is that they lack consistency. There's a drill for that. :)

Players pair up with a partner across the net and cross court. Play within the singles lines. Pairs/teams earn one point for every five ball rally achieved. First team to 5 points, wins. Switch sides (not ends) so players can get proficient on both sides of court.

If you have odd numbers of players, divide into teams and have them rotating in for whoever makes the error.

Play within service boxes with red or orange balls for easiest or for a good warm-up.
Start on 60 foot court with orange ball; progress to full court with green, then yellow balls.
Allow alleys. Two points for any ball landing in alley.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Backhand Rally

Here's the first of several drills from the recent USTA South Carolina coaches workshop at Cayce
Tennis & Fitness Center. This one is from Lauren Stewart, tennis pro at The Woodlands in Columbia SC.

Lauren's presentation was about drills for womens' teams of various levels. But I found all could easily be adapted for junior players.

Lauren had her drills organized by playing level: 2.5, 3.0-3.5, and 4.0. She said 2.5s often struggle with or avoid hitting their backhands, so she suggested this drill to build skill and confidence.

Partners pair up across the net from each other, behind the service line. One player may only hit backhands. The other may hit any shot they like. Players rally straight ahead. Ball must land in service box. If the designated backhand hitter hits something other than a backhand, that's a point for the other player. First to X points wins. Round Two: switch to hitting cross court.

Progression: move farther back or switch to a faster ball. For examply if you are hitting orange ball, change to green.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Case For No Cut

Lots of great info from the USTA South Carolina tennis coaches workshop I attended recently. New drills forthcoming. In the meantime I am taking a moment for a brief rant about 'no cut' tennis teams. If you are not into rants, just be patient and new drills will be posted over the next few days.

Rant Commences Here

When the workshop broke for lunch, I was fortunate to be sitting at a table with lots of great tennis folks
These fun portraits happen when you get
inducted into the SC Tennis Hall of Fame
including Barbara Jones from St. George SC and some of her pals who have done amazing things getting youth tennis going there. SC Tennis Hall of Famer Bernie McGuire also joined us. Bernie is the tennis coach at a private school called Hammond in Columbia, SC. I had never met Bernie in person, but had worked with him by proxy, coordinating a friendly with some of his players last fall through his assistant, Bob Crab. I introduced myself and we talked about Hammond a little bit. He mentioned he had 71 girls on his no cut tennis team.


While that is sinking in, let me 'splain. In case you are not familiar with 'no cut', it's exactly what it sounds like. No one is cut. Anyone can join the team, regardless of skill level. USTA has an official No Cut program and encourages schools to participate because obviously this has the potential to increase the tennis playing population. But in my experience, schools are reluctant to embrace no cut. Last year another coach (who will remain nameless) summed it up when she said she didn't like no cut because they didn't have enough coaches to handle large groups of kids. Okay, I get that. But she also had some tasteless remarks about the skill levels of the kids that no cut attracts. She basically didn't have the personality or patience to coach beginners, is what it boiled down to. She'd rather just cut them.

With this conversation in mind, I asked Coach Bernie how he handles staggering numbers like 71 kids on a team. He said he just recruits volunteer coaches through parents, friends and staff members who have tennis skills. And that was that. No complex methods or explanations. No whining or complaining. Just asks for help, finds help, finds a way to not turn away 50 kids who want to play tennis.

Doesn't that sound simple? Yeah, but you and I both know it's never that simple. It's a lot of work. But if you have what it takes, the rewards are worth it. Reach out to your state USTA reps, your local tennis professionals, parents, staff, neighbors. Ask for resources. Ask for help. Put a racquet in a kid's hand. The magic of no cut is providing an outlet for kids to play a sport whose main roadblock to playing a sport is the dread of being cut, of being told you're not good enough. High school has enough soul-devouring experiences over four years. Anxiety over making a sports team, which is supposed to be about playing a GAME for crying out loud, supposed to be FUN, should not be one of them.

And all you parents out there worried a no cut team will dilute the coaching talent too much and your little Andy Roddick wannabe won't get his share of coaching time - you and I both know the junior development coaching does not occur on the high school courts, so get over it. If you don't know that, and you're depending on the high school team experience to get your player to Wimbledon, you don't know much about tennis. You're doing it wrong.

Rant Concludes Here

So props to Coach Bernie and all the other great no cut high school teams out there. I'm impressed. You're doing it right.
Photo from USTA Midwest section No Cut page

Monday, June 23, 2014

Serve Caterpillar

I can't believe I haven't posted this activity before, but I can't find it anywhere. I use it frequently with many variations. You will need some spots.

Throw down the spots outside the court sidelines about five feet apart starting at net position and progressing until the last spot is behind the baseline in the usual serving position. Players take turn serving from positions within the court aligned with the spots, starting with the 'head' of the caterpillar (the position closest to the net). Players move back one position for each serve hit in. A missed serve means player goes all the way back to the first position closest to the net. First player to reach baseline and hit a serve in, wins.

This game is easily converted to a team activity, with players on each team taking turns hitting. In other words, no fair having the same person on the team hitting all the serves! Whether playing individual or team, play best two out of three and switch sides (deuce/ad) each round.

Hint: when you are laying down the spots, try not to put two of the same colors together. It gets confusing trying to remember who should be serving from which spot/color. Having each position a different colored spot helps everyone keep track.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Getting The Word Out

How do you get the word out about your tennis business? I teach at two county-owned facilities. We use a variety of methods, low- and high-tech.

Low tech:
  • County recreation catalog - it's very well done and comes out a few times a year. I listed this under Low Tech because although the link takes you to a PDF online, it is also printed and mailed in paper format. Tennis is listed along with all the other activities offered by the county. The catalog gets in front of lots of eyeballs.
  • Flyers - both facilities have different flyers describing the various tennis clinics offered. 
High tech:
  • Websites - both facilities have their own websites here and here.
  • Social Networking - both facilities have Facebook pages here and here. One also has a Twitter account @caycetennisfit and a Google+ page. Facebook is updated fairly often; the others, less so.
  • QR Codes - one facility has used QR codes on flyers in the past. Not sure if they have any effect, but it costs nothing to include them, so if we have room, we use them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Slam Bang Serve & Return

I cooked up this drill idea the other day while running a serve caterpillar. I often have players returning serve during serve drills to reduce time spent in line and of course work on the second most important shot of the game. This drill will put extra pressure on the returner when the server is serving from up close.

Two players face each other across the net. One is serving; the other is returning. Serving player is doing a serve caterpillar, meaning they are working their way back from the net to the baseline. Server is serving from four stations: mid service box, service line, 60 ft. blended line/no man's land, and baseline. Returning player is just trying to get their own returns in play. Players do not play out the point. Activity should move quickly to get new players rotated in.

One point is awarded for every ball correctly hit. Server has one chance per position. Any misses by the server = a point for the returner. Winner stays and switches roles. Ties are broken with a serve from the baseline until someone wins.

Since players do not play out point, up to 4 players could be playing simultaneously per court with additional players waiting to rotate in.