Monday, December 31, 2012

Round Trip

Of the three videos in's series, Round Trip is my fave.

Two players begin across the net from each other at their service lines. They begin hitting volleys to each other, moving in with each shot. As they get to the net, they reverse and move back toward the service line with each shot.

Too hard? Have your students toss the ball rather than hit with the racquet.
Too easy? Specify which volley is to be hit (forehand/backhand) or alternate forehand/backhand volleys.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cross Country

Thanks for this series of three net skills videos. Cross Country is a simple but effective drill that focuses on lateral movement at the net.

Two players face each other across the net at one of the sidelines. As they volley to each other, they move laterally to the opposite sideline and back.


  • Specify which volley is to be hit (forehand or backhand) or alternate the two.
  • Perform at varying distances from the net to work on timing and touch.
Too hard? have your beginners perform by tossing and catching rather than hitting the ball.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Passport recently offered the Passport drill video on their website. I like it and plan to modify it for Red and Orange ball players to get them comfortable with coming to the net.

It is a simple activity, as you will discover if you watch the video. Coach is at baseline. Player is across the net at service line. Coach feeds a ball that bounces in front of player. Player hits it after it bounces, comes in, taps net with racquet, and returns to service line. This reinforces the idea of following a short ball in.

Player takes ball out of air (volley) rather than letting it bounce before they hit it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mystery Ball

Inspired by yesterday's Fruit Salad game, Mystery Ball also uses a variety of ball types. Fill a hopper with foam, red, orange, green, and yellow balls.

Players play singles against each other with one end of the court designated as the Champions side. Players need to win only one point to become the new Champion. Coach feeds first ball to challenger from the net post. Coach picks blind out of the hopper and announces to the players which ball will be used for that point. Players must play corresponding court size accordingly. So for example if a red or foam ball is picked, they play the service boxes only. Orange ball = blended line 60 foot court. Green or yellow ball = full 78 foot court. Player who is Champion when all balls from hopper have been played is the winner.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fruit Salad

I came up with this game on the spur of the moment recently when I had a mix of playing levels in class. It was a big hit. Fill a hopper with a mix of red, orange, green and yellow balls. If you have foam balls, yes, add those also. Play either mini tennis or Squirrel Crossing depending on the number of players. Coach feeds first ball quickly. Players must adjust their game quickly also to whichever ball is fed. If you are playing mini tennis with an even number of players and therefore no need for player rotation, give each player 10 points and take one away each time an error is made. Last one standing is the winner. If you are playing Squirrel Crossing, no need for points, just play until the basket is empty.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three Rallies

Here's another great consistency drill from Daniel Spatz. Simple, no extra equipment needed, and you can work on it as long as you have time for.

The goal is simple: ask your player to complete three rallies, five times in a row. If you have time, keep working on this until the goal is met. If you have a large group or limited time, keep track of how many times the student is able to complete the task. Once? Twice? None? Either way you have a simple but achievable goal for them to work on.

This would also be a great warm-up activity between players for larger groups. Have all working on this as a singles drill. First court to complete it successfully wins, and signals the end of the warm-up period.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Master and Servant

Sometimes it's hard to tell
who is in charge
This drill is for more advanced players. They will need to be able to rally as well as direct the ball. I saw it on the website.

Two players play singles against each other, beginning on respective deuce halves of court. One player is Master; the other is of course Servant. Coach feeds first ball to Master. Master must hit shots to Servant alternating between deuce and ad sides. Servant may only hit back to Master at deuce side. First player to 15 points wins. Switch roles. After both players have had a chance to play both roles, switch to ad side of court and repeat.

As you have probably figured out, the Servant will be doing a lot more running!

Easier: for young beginners, have them tossing and catching the balls rather than hitting with racquets.
Harder: require X number of rallies before points are awarded.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

5 Ball

Daniel Spatz
Here's a simple drill to improve consistency. I saw it at Daniel Spatz' YouTube channel so click here if you want to see the entire video - it's only 6 minutes or so.

Coach feeds balls from across net. The goal is for the player to hit 30 rallies. Coach gives them 5 balls to complete this task. So for example let's say coach feeds first ball, player hits it back to coach twice before  making an error. This counts as two points, and the coach then feeds the second of the five balls.

Easier: reduce total number of rallies (from 30 to 20 or 10); or increase number of chances from 5 balls to 7, 10, etc.)
Harder: just the opposite - ask for more rallies or allow fewer chances


  • Ask for all forehands, or all cross court, or whatever shot you are working on.
  • Have students work on this together as a singles activity, no coach feeding necessary.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Miss three and: SEE YA!
OUT is another variation of Tag Team Tennis aka Relay Tennis. Great for just about any ability level, large groups, odd numbers.

Divide players into two teams. They play singles against each other, one player at a time, one ball at a time. So for example, with Team A vs Team B, the first player of Team A is fed a ball. He/she hits the ball across the net and runs to the end of his/her line so that the second player can step in and play the ball returned by Team B's first player. So all players 'hit and run', as I like to tell my students.

Here's the twist: if a player misses, they get a letter. First time: letter O. Second time: letter U. And you can probably see where this is going: if a player gets the third letter, T, they are O-U-T and sit out while the game continues. Last player left standing wins.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks trains players to exploit the opportunity they create by driving the opponent off the net with a well-hit lob. Advanced beginners and up. Minimum 4 players.

Play begins with one doubles team at net and the other at baseline. Coach feeds first ball to baseline team. When baseline team is at baseline, they may only lob - no passing shots. If their lob is successful, they should move forward to exploit their opportunity as their opponents are moving back to retrieve and play the lobbed ball. First team to 21 wins.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Moon Ball

Moon Ball is a fun and useful activity for groups of 6 or more, advanced beginners and up. It will improve lobbing, overhead, and net play skills.

Divide players into teams of 3 or more. Six players at a time are on court, three at each end of court.  If you have odd numbers, that's fine - all will get a chance to rotate in. Two are at the baseline and the third is in the middle of the net. The two players at each baseline may only hit lobs, or 'moon balls'. Coach is at net post feeding first ball to baseline player. Players play out the point. The object is to avoid the net players. The net players may not retreat past the service line.  Rotate positions after every point so that all players have a chance to play both net and lob positions. First team to 21 wins.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Monkey in the Middle

Monkey in the Middle is another playground game that works great for tennis activities. It is easily adaptable for all levels. Minimum 3 players or 2 players and coach.

Young beginners, foam or red ball - have them working on their underhand tossing and catching skills. Tossing/catching players are across the net from each other no further back than service line; Monkey is near the net. Players must avoid Monkey. Work on proper tossing and ball tracking techniques (step with opposite foot, release toward target). Catcher must catch in air or after one bounce only.

Play with racquets instead of tossing; begin with a bounce feed. Helps develop lob and passing shots.

Any time the Monkey makes a play on the ball, the player responsible for hitting that ball to the Monkey is the new Monkey.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Clean Sweep

Azarenka demonstrates
either the 'out' signal
or reminding us she's
been  #1
I concocted this game to help my youngest students work on serve and return of serve. Specifically, to help them watch the serve and improve calling it 'out' when appropriate.

Two players face each other across the net. One is server. Server has a small hopper or other supply of balls, 20-30 max. Non-serving player is across net with an empty container. They must retrieve the served balls and put them into the empty container. They DO NOT have to retrieve any ball that does not land in the correct service box. Ideally they will watch the lines carefully and call 'out' and give the proper hand signal (index finger in air) when serves are out.

Continue until all balls have been served; switch roles and repeat. Repeat entire cycle on other half of court. Or, move server to other side of court (not end) halfway through the process.

If server serves into the net or whiffs, he/she may retrieve that ball and try again.

You may add a competitive element by counting how many of the balls end up in the retrieving player's hopper (indicating how many of total balls have been hit into correct service box).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Tennis 1%

Thomas Jefferson and Cheryl Crow may not appear to have much in common - one a historic figure and founding father dead lo these 200 years, the other a successful modern day singer/songwriter still very much alive and kickin'. But there is at least one thing they agree on: in Ms. Crow's words, 'change will do you good'. Mr. Jefferson put it more eloquently, suggesting revolutionary change every twenty years or so. And what we are seeing now in the realm of junior tennis is change indeed. Whether or not it qualifies as revolutionary remains to be seen.

The United States Tennis Association is promoting two big changes to junior instruction and competition. Both are being met with varying degrees of acceptance and resistance from players, parents, and coaches. The USTA's proposed change to the structure of junior competition (tournaments) is the more recent and most hotly contested. Because it is more relevant to older players, I will direct you to the Parenting Aces blog for further information. The second change regards teaching methods geared toward players ages 10 and under. Hey - that's the title of this blog! So let's discuss.

Who knew a little different
colored felt would cause
 such a kerfuffle?
The 10 and Under Tennis Revolution (formerly known as Play N Stay and QuickStart among other names) has been around under the USTA label for a few years, slowly gathering momentum. They are throwing all kinds of money and promos at this program. Fancy marketing materials, commercials during the US Open, tennis with the First Lady, community grant money, training sessions, you name it. The genesis of the program appears to be the realization that A) Americans are falling far behind in the world tennis rankings, and B) in researching the cause for A, it has been discovered that other cultures have been taking a different approach to teaching instruction for decades. Basically, someone on this side of the Atlantic decided if it was working for the Euro nations, maybe we better have a look-see. So 10 and Under Tennis was born. Mini nets, small racquets, slower balls, and updated teaching methods (No Laps! No Lines! No Lectures!) descended on the tennis world over the last decade. The logic is that other sports don't expect small players to begin on full size courts or fields, so why should tennis? Tee ball is often mentioned as the baseball analogy. This video explains the concept well. Equipment and courts should be sized to the player to get them playing successfully sooner and avoid attrition due to frustration.The goal is to get more kids interested in tennis, keep them interested longer, have more talent in the talent pool, regain some dominance in professional tennis, and create lots of future adult league players/USTA members in the process.

The stink that has resulted is in the form of some resistance from certain sectors of teaching professionals, and a few parents as well. They don't believe the lower compression balls, smaller courts, and smaller racquets provide any benefit. Their kid/student learns just fine on full size courts with yellow balls, thank you very much. The implication is that if your kid isn't thriving with regular equipment, either your kid or your instructor (or both) leave something to be desired in the tennis department. We've seen these fads come and go, they say. It's a marketing gimmick by the equipment manufacturers. Don't waste your money! Just be patient and this too, shall pass.

Since this is an editorial, and this is MY blog, here's my 2 cents. Your comments are welcome below BTW. I am fairly new to tennis instruction. I did not come up through the junior development ranks. My highest rating when I was still playing league tennis was 4.0. I became interested in tennis instruction as a volunteer Jr. Team Tennis coordinator. I discovered I much preferred spending my tennis volunteer time on the court introducing beginners of all ages to tennis than sitting in cramped committee meetings watching uninspiring Power Point presentations. So I took it to the next level, attended lots of on-court workshops, got certified, and here I am, living the life. Those of you who teach tennis part time will recognize a teensy bit of sarcasm there.

Setting all sarcasm aside - in my experience the last several years, having seen literally hundreds of kids float through my court in Jr. Team Tennis, summer camps, group clinics, private instruction, Play Days, etc. etc., I can think of exactly 1.5 kids (one definitely, one maybe) who I thought, with minimal instruction, would be playing better than me very quickly. With yellow balls on a full size court. In my somewhat math-challenged mind I estimate about one percent of the kids I have seen could go straight to yellow ball, do not pass go, do not collect $200. That means 99% of the kids I have seen have benefited from a kinder, gentler introduction to tennis, earlier sense of mastery, and frankly just plain fun, because spending an hour swinging and whiffing at yellow balls flying past is no fun.

There is an ongoing debate about restricting tournament play to particular color balls, court sizes, etc. The parents whose kids are doing well with yellow balls (the 1 percent) chafe at the idea of going backward, of having to play with red or orange balls when that stage is clearly behind (or beneath) them. I also suspect the instructors feel somehow diminished by being asked to lower themselves to admit tennis is difficult and some of their students are not up to the task and could use a little help getting started. But I am not particularly proud. If using modified equipment is going to help my students 'get it' quicker, I am all for it. I have seen it over and over again. It takes time (but less time than if we were using yellow balls!), but progress is made at every lesson. When I imagine any of my red ball students trying to do what they do now (rally, serve, play) on a full size court with yellow balls, frankly it just would not be possible, and after our last lesson, they would be off to the soccer field before I got all the balls picked up.

I am not particularly interested in foisting 10 and Under Tennis onto other teaching pros, just as I am not interested in them foisting their allegiance to the yellow ball onto me. But if you are coming to my club for junior instruction, unless you are Andre Freaking Agassi, you are gonna get 10 and Under Tennis until you show me you are ready for the next level. After all, like the woman said, change will do you good.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Overhead Champs

Classic overhead prepartion
Turn and Point
This is a variation of Champs and Chumps, King of the Court, or any other activity where the winner occupies a specified end of the court. It is designed for doubles but can be played as singles if you desire or if numbers dictate.

One end of court is designated as the champions' end. Two players are at champs' end; all others are on the other end, playing two at a time. Pro feeds from behind baseline on champs' end. The first feed is an approach shot. Point is played out. If champs win point, challengers go to end of challenger line. But if the challengers win the point, they move to net and pro gives them an overhead as their second feed. If they also win this point, they get a third lob/overhead. If they win all three points, they are the new champs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fuel For The Tennis Fire

Tournaments can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Lots of things to consider, including weather conditions (how hot or cold?), number of events entered (how often are you playing?), and caliber of opponents (how long are you on court?). These and other factors can vary wildly, and all impact the athlete, so best be prepared for anything.

Of course the best preparation is to eat healthy and maintain a good level of fitness on an ongoing basis, regardless of your tournament schedule. Common sense, people!
  • Just Say No to fast food. Please resist the urge to reward your children with trips to Mickey D's. As a former parent of young children, I completely understand the temptation. Their marketing machine is powerful. Do your best. If that is too much to ask, try some other strategies, such as: 
  • Avoid sugar, soft drinks and other empty calories. Think of them as no different than offering your child a cigarette.
  • Check with your school to see how much physical activity is offered throughout the day. If it is not daily, supplement with tennis, soccer, dance, neighborhood play with friends.
  • Encourage physical activity such as the NFL's Play 60 campaign
  • If your budget allows, the kinetic video games(Wii, Kinect, etc.) are fantastic. Easy, fun, and the kids love 'em. Great for mom and dad, too!
  • Encourage family outings that include physical activities such as walking around the zoo, local fitness trails, swims, bike rides, etc. It doesn't have to cost much. Just get off your butts. 
Lead By Example
As parents and coaches this may be the most important thing we can do to encourage healthy habits. Some things I do on court include:
  • encouraging hustle - my students are probably sick of hearing this from me, but too bad: "There's no walking in tennis!"
  • the athlete mentality - I take every opportunity to remind them they are athletes now - no dragging booty during ball pickup 'because you're an athlete'. When they ask if I will be giving candy as rewards or incentives like some other coaches or teachers, I say 'no, because you're an athlete and athletes shouldn't eat that stuff'.
  • lead by example - hey, I'm not perfect, and I have the body I deserve. But I try not to eat or drink candy or soda in front of my students. I do carry a large water bottle with me at all times, wear a hat and sunscreen, proper footwear, etc. I am constantly amazed at how much my students model my behavior and remember so many seemingly trivial things that I say and do on court. They are little sponges. So make sure they are soaking up lots of good behaviors from you.
Tournament Prep
In the days leading up to the tournament, do your homework.

I don't like sports drinks. A friend
introduced me to these instead.
Inexpensive, easy on the stomach,
 and available at most drug stores.
  • Look at the weather and plan clothing and accessories accordingly. This is not exactly a nutrition topic but since we are here:
    • If it is chilly, layer, layer, layer. 
      • Protect a major source of heat loss and discomfort when cold: your head. This is also a personal preference - I hate it when my ears get cold! 
      • Keep your torso warm. 
      • Gloves/pockets for hands as long as the glove will not interfere with your ability to grip the racquet. 
    • If it is warm, remember hat/visor/sunglasses, sunscreen, hand towel, fresh change of clothes.
    • Experiment with different types of socks far in advance. The day of the match is not the day to try new shoes/socks. Level of perspiration, thickness of sock and tightness or looseness of shoe are all important factors to avoid excessive sweating or excess movement within the shoe which can cause blisters. 
      • While we are talking about feet - maintain those toenails to avoid 'tennis toe'. Keep them clipped short but not so short that they get inflamed. All that stopping and starting, and carrying the weight on the front half of the foot causes a lot of forward motion in the shoe. Which is another reason to make sure your player has plenty of room in the toe of the shoe.
  • Plan hydration - water should be your primary source of hydration. Don't assume there will be water on the courts. 
  • Electrolytes - so what the heck is an electrolyte, anyway? why are they relevant to athletic competition? Here's the scoop: electrolytes help carry electrical impulses across cell membranes. They exist in the body as different types of salts including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. When you exercise and sweat, you lose these important ingredients as you sweat. This is a major contributor to heat cramping. Sports drinks have made it convenient to replace electrolytes with liquids if you don't like eating solid foods during physical activity. Other options are electrolyte tablets and easy-to-digest bananas (for potassium). Be careful about consuming too many sports drinks when you are not planning on being active - they also tend to have lots of sugar.
  • Carbohydrates - you will hear that carbs convert to energy faster than fats or proteins, which is why some athletes 'carbo load' by eating pasta or other carbs a day or two prior to competition. This may be useful to your player. But remember tennis consists of intermittent bursts of activity combined with periods of downtime/recovery, so all three of those food groups play a part in tournament stamina.
  • Sleep - is sooooo important to all aspects of activity, athlete or not. Be sure you are rested in the days leading up to and through the tournament. Healing and recovery happens during the sleep cycle.

Bottom line: eat well, sleep well, play well. Common sense fitness tips will see you through on the court as well as off it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?

The first time I saw this drill I thought it the concept was hilarious, adding some lighthearted brio to a no-frills singles exercise. But when I tried to get my young adult male players to play it, all but one rebelled. See if you have any better luck than I did. I am going to try it again and see if I get better results.

Regardless of number of players, only two are playing singles at a time. Both start at sideline. One is at the baseline (not in middle at hash mark). The other is on the other side of the net, also on same side of court as other player but entering court closer to service line (rather than baseline). Pro is off court on opposite side of court from players, feeding from across the net. Pro feeds straight ahead (simulating a passing shot) so that baseline player must run to get ball. Players play out the point. Pro feeds baseline player a second passing shot (anywhere), and second point is played out. After two points, players switch ends of court. First player to X number of points, wins.

Here's where the Who's You're Daddy? comes in: if either player wins both points, they can earn a bonus point by calling out 'Who's your daddy?'. This is where I had trouble selling this drill. My students were mortified. Only one had the nerve to try it. The others refused. So we finished the drill but IMO it was nowhere near as fun as it could have been. If you have the same problem, consider changing the bonus saying to something your players will embrace. 'Booya, Grandma' and 'Oh yeah!' have worked for me in other drills.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mid Court Crusher

Here's a fun dead ball drill from PTR Master Professional Jorge Capestany. You can see his video of it here. Good for any size class, any ability. Simple and effective.

Players begin at baseline. Coach is at T at service line. Coach tosses ball out wide to deuce side of court at service line. Player charges in from baseline and rips a shot, then returns to end of line. Next player does the same but from ad side.

Maintain high energy, 'happy feet' and hustle. Goal is to recognize an invitation to move into the court and hit an aggressive shot.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Skill Pyramid

Skill Pyramid is similar to the 5 Points drill but on steroids. Which of course I do not support in any way. But you get my meaning. Students take turns hitting 5 balls as instructed. There will be five rounds of 5 balls, each round progressively more difficult.

Students each get fed 5 balls. What they are to do with their ball depends on what you are working on during the lesson - forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, etc.

In Round 1, the challenge is to hit each of the 5 over the net and in play
Round 2 - ball must be hit directionally per coach's instruction (deuce, ad, center)
Round 3 - ball must be hit to depth per coach's instruction (short or deep)
Round 4 - ball must be hit with spin per coach's instruction (flat, topspin, slice)
Round 5 - ball must be hit with correct amount of power per coach's instruction (drop shot, screaming winner, aggressive approach, etc.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Court Tantrums: What's Your Policy?

John McEnroe, the undisputed king of the on-court tantrum.
 Photo from
I am a closet softy when it comes to on-court tears. Tantrums, not so much. Absolutely Not Tolerated. I follow the tennis rules Point Penalty System structure: a verbal warning, then a penalty (usually a brief time out in a safe area nearby), followed by possibility of a default (meaning if behavior is going to be an ongoing problem, maybe it is time to take a break from tennis - or at least tennis with me).

A word about safety: safety comes first. Is the tantrum thrower also a racquet thrower? Any physical misbehavior toward equipment, court, or other players is Absolutely Not Tolerated. If a time out is needed, do you have a spot that is sheltered, where they will not be in the path of students or balls as the activity continues, but you can still keep a close eye on them during their 'break'? And also where they are plainly visible so that you don't forget about them? When I have a student taking a break, I am frequently calling out to them to see how they are doing and if they are ready to return to the group.

This may seem like a hard-nosed stance on tantrums, but it is often moderated by one of the following.
  • age - perhaps the biggest factor. My reaction to a 5-year-old tantrum is quite different from that to a 10-year-old. For the former, mercy is a possibility. For the latter, not so much. 
  • conditions - is it hot? is it chilly? Even windy conditions can cause frustration and discomfort for very young players. I make sure everyone is comfortable for conditions. In South Carolina, where I live, it is usually a heat situation so I make sure everyone is hydrated and we take a shade break if necessary.
  • duration - our clinics for under 8s are 45 minute sessions, and sometimes that is stretching things. If your classes are much longer, don't be surprised when kids get tired. If they get tired, they get cranky. And it can go downhill from there very quickly.
So when things occasionally take an unexpected turn during your lesson, just remember you are there to set an example as well as teach tennis. Keeping your cool can be a challenge, whether you live in South Carolina or South Dakota. Hang in there! I'm rooting for you!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stepping Out

Here's a warm-up to improve side and angle movement. Two players pair up facing each other. One player will be rolling balls; the other will be retrieving them.

Retrieving player sets up in ready position. Rolling player may kneel or sit. Rolling player rolls ball out wide to retrieving player's forehand side. Retrieving player split steps, then steps out to retrieve ball and rolls it back, then returns to recover spot and ready position. Rolling player then rolls ball out wide to backhand side. Continue for X amount of reps or set time period, then switch roles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


This game is harder than it seems. It is easily adaptable for different size groups and abilities.

Divide players into two groups at one of the baselines. Have a set number of balls for each team. One at a time, players dribble a tennis ball with their racquets up to the service line and hit it over the net. Note they must dribble continuously and hit the ball over the net without stopping the dribbling - the hit over the net must be off a dribbled ball.  If the ball does not go over the net, player must return to baseline and repeat attempt. First team to hit all of their balls over the net and in play wins.

For small groups, play as individuals rather than as teams.

Easiest Have players dribble by hand with the 'bounce, catch' and toss ball over net.
Harder Divide target court into sections, awarding varying numbers of points. For example, ball landing in the service box is one point. Past the service line is two points. No Man's Land or deeper is three points. Team with most points when all balls are played wins. Another option: team's ball must land in team's half of opposite court.
Hardest Smaller, more specific targets are the only way players can earn points. For example, place hula hoops or cone circles at various positions on the court. Ball must land in the target to earn a point.

Adapted from The Tennis Drills Book by Tina Hoskins.

Update: I was astonished at the level of cheating during this activity. Things to watch for:

  • Players carrying multiple balls to the service line. 
  • Players ignoring/not replaying their net balls. 
  • Players hand-feeding or otherwise handling the ball with their hands. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

5 Biggest Junior Tennis Instruction Myths

Take these 'tips' with a grain of salt
Formal tennis instruction can speed up the learning process.  But it doesn't hurt to have multiple viewpoints on some of the information still being offered out there. Here are a few things you may hear from your child's instructor that don't bear up under close inspection.

Tennis should be your #1 priority.
At some point most advanced level junior players narrow their focus to one sport. The question is, when should that be? Conventional tennis wisdom used to say the earlier, the better. Stick a racquet in their hands at age 4 and never let them touch a bat or a golf club. Recent research is proving otherwise for tennis. It seems tennis is what is known as a 'late specialization' sport. Youngsters should be encouraged to sample as many different activities as time and family schedule will allow. Even just running around in the back yard will do! This helps them become good all around athletes, which helps them become better tennis players. Focusing on tennis exclusively too early runs the risk of skipping this important step. If a player decides tennis is for them, the early teens are a great time to make tennis the priority. Here's a great article by Paul Lubbers with the biomechanical details.

If your young player can't handle yellow balls and full 78 foot courts, forget it - they will never be much of a tennis player.
Like everything else on earth, tennis instruction is evolving. Here in America, this is a relatively recent event. As world rankings tell us, the rest of the tennis world is far ahead of us in their evolutionary path. In Europe and elsewhere, the progressive method of instruction has been around for years. Young players learn with modified equipment (lower nets, smaller racquets, slower balls). As they master each level, they move up until they are physically ready for the full courts and 'real' (yellow) balls. Are there some 5-year-olds who can bang the ball from the 78 foot baseline? Sure, just like there are a few Tiger Woods and Andre Agassis. Are they a tiny minority of total players? Yes. If your child is assigned to a 'red ball' or 'orange ball' class, do not despair - rejoice! They will be learning improved techniques faster, will spend less time unlearning things they learned to help them cope with oversized equipment , and will be less likely to drop out due to frustration. Still not convinced? Watch this video.

Private lessons are the quickest path to the pros.
Certainly PLs can be an important component of instruction. But players need a well-rounded tennis experience that includes private and group instruction, team play, match play, and just plain old recreational 'pick up' play. The more you play, the better you will get. But that doesn't necessarily mean you need a private lesson five days a week. Conversely, lots of matches without instruction does not always lead to improvement. Much depends on your tennis goals. Players hoping to reach the top 100 will have different priorities from players hoping to make the high school team. Here's a good article on this topic.

Your student should be hitting 300+ balls per one hour lesson.
Back in the olden days, a tennis coach stood across the net next to a ball cart and fed balls to the students for 50 minutes (the other 10 were devoted to two ball pick-up sessions). Times have changed. Today's coaches realize the importance of live ball drills and match play, both of which greatly reduce the number of balls fed/hit per hour. Does this mean your student is getting less instruction? No! It means they are getting a well-rounded tennis experience that includes more realistic on-court situational play.

Lessons and tournaments and hard work will all but guarantee a college tennis scholarship. 
This is not exactly a myth, but if you do the math, you will find only a very small percentage of players in any sport actually end up getting a sports scholarship. This article by CBS MoneyWatch puts the number at around 2% of high school athletes (regardless of sport) getting an NCAA college scholarship. My estimate for tennis is around 5%. So if your high school team has 20 players, one of them will get a scholarship. However, there is some good news. Tennis is a sport that can be enjoyed at any age. Also, just because you have not been offered a scholarship does not  mean you cannot play team or club tennis for your school. And of course the USTA's 700,000 members are waiting to welcome you with open arms when you enter the world of adult league play.

The ice caps are shrinking, temperatures are rising, Burma is now Myanmar, and the Twinkie is no more. Everywhere we look, things are changing, and that includes tennis. If you don't believe it, just check how many different types of tennis balls are hanging on the display at your local sporting goods store! When you get new information on the court, do your homework. Do some Googling or check with a tennis professional you trust before making any major decisions.


Here's a fun variation on the 'tennis ball sandwich' ball pickup game which turns it into a fun team relay. Best for large groups.

Divide players into teams at one baseline. Players layer balls between racquets, starting with a minimum of three racquets (two balls). They move together to the net and back without spilling. If they succeed, they add another racquet and ball to their stack. If they fail, they return to the baseline and try again. First team to move successfully up and back with the highest 'skyscraper' wins.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Friday, November 23, 2012


As soon as I read about this activity, I got excited to try it next time we are working on volleys in class.  Best with groups.

Divide players into two teams and have them in two lines at one of the baselines. Coach is at the opposite end of the court feeding balls. One player at a time comes up to the net. Player spins around in a circle. Coach feeds them a forehand volley. Player spins in opposite direction. Coach feeds them a backhand volley. Player spins a third time. Coach feeds them an overhead. If player does not miss, they go to the end of their team's line and the next player is up. If they miss any of the three, they are still up until they succeed. However, coach alternates feeding turns between teams so if they have to try again, they have to wait until after the other team's turn. In other words do not have the same player attempting their turn over and over until they succeed or they might get seasick with all that spinning!

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Update: I used this recently and my players loved it. They didn't want to stop. I paired it with Singles Go since they had their overheads warmed up with this game. It was a bit of a feeding challenge as the class has a disproportionate number of lefties.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Scoop and Scoot

These buckets come in handy, don't they?
This fun drill helps your players with their consistency and direction. There is also a handy fitness component. Best for groups.

Divide players into two groups at the baseline on the same end of the court. Each group has an equal number of balls and one racquet piled at the service line. Across the net each group has a bucket, hopper, or other container. Each team sends one player across the net as their first Chaser. Each team sends another player to service line. This player bounce feeds one ball across net to their Chaser. Chaser retrieves ball and puts it into their own team's container. Chaser then runs to end of his/her team's line. Player who had just hit the bounce feed is the new Chaser and runs to other side of net. First team to get all of their balls into their container wins.

Stipulate what type of feed teams may use: forehand, backhand, underhand serve (no bounce), serve, non-dominant hand, etc.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wacky Knees

If your students are struggling with the mechanics of the serve, take a break from all that technical talk and play this fun game instead.

Divide players into two teams. Place a pile of ten balls at the baseline for each team. One at a time, players get a ball from the pile and place it between their knees. They then move to the service line and using the ball between their knees, serve it over the net. This player returns to the end of their team's line and next player in line takes their turn. First team to get all balls over the net wins.

The instructions do not explain what happens if the served ball does not make it over the net. Suggest player keep trying until ball goes over.

  • If you have a small group, have players compete individually rather than on teams.
  • Ball may be carried at chin, under arm, between two players at hip or knee. Use your imagination!

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Update: My Red Ball class enjoyed this activity. But watch for players trying to gain an advantage by carrying the ball higher than the knees.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Minute to Win It

There's not a tennis coach out there that hasn't had their students eager to challenge them on the court. Here's a fun way to drop it into the lesson plan every now and then without having it take over the entire lesson. You will need a timekeeping device of some sort.

Coach takes on all comers one at a time either in singles or Australian doubles (2 v 1). If playing Australian, doubles team must keep their balls on the coach's half of the court (including alley). So if coach is playing on deuce side, all of challengers' balls must land in deuce half of court. Challengers have one minute to prevail against the coach. That's it. Whatever the score is at the end of one minute, that's it, game over.

No stalling! 20 second rule max between points strictly enforced.

Hint: if you have a loud alarm on your phone (I use the one that sounds like a nuclear device meltdown), or an egg timer or something similar, this greatly adds to the fun.

This also works great in an open challenge format with player vs. player to wind down the clinic.


With these two handy, I can fix just about anything
that does not involve a tennis racquet
Ever notice how analyzing sports is so easy when you are on the sidelines, but not so easy when you are out there playing? Fixit is an activity to bridge the two experiences. The goal is for players to observe and learn from the mistakes of others and translate that knowledge to their own games. Great for odd numbers of players. At its simplest it can be managed by all but the youngest beginners.

Players on court playing out singles or doubles points. Leftover players in line at net post. Players at net post replace player making error. When point is over, first player in line at net post gives their opinion on what just transpired to end the point - error, winner, etc. Extra credit for depth of observation. For example if point ended on an error, ball hit wide, what caused the ball to be hit wide and what is the solution? Footwork? Point of contact? Positioning? Once they have rendered their opinion, they are free to rotate in and next point is played out.

Give the player making the error a chance to express what he/she thinks caused the error. It is often illuminating to hear the different viewpoints between players and observers.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Thanks Texas Longhorns water ski team for the graphic.
Yellow and green are your throw down spots.
Red is path of player.
I have seen many sports co-opted for tennis drills (games borrowed from soccer, hockey, and baseball can be found in this blog), but this is the first one I have seen related to skiing. Makes me wonder what other sports we may have overlooked that have potential for fun tennis drills. Scuba diving? NASCAR?

Place six pairs of flat targets three feet apart along the baseline. Envision a gate in a slalom race. Players balance a tennis ball on their racquet strings. They must move laterally weaving in and out of the targets, completing the slalom course without dropping the ball in under 20 seconds. If they drop their ball, they must return to the starting line.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


For this game, I was thinking more of my
Prince Black Team racquet and plenty of sunscreen
Survivor is similar to Singles Shootout with an added component of mercy in the form of additional chances or 'lives'. Perfect for large groups.

Two groups of players are formed. However they are not playing together as teams - every player keeps track of their own points/score individually. 

All players receive a set number of points to begin the game. For this example, let's say 7 points. The two groups are sent to respective baselines. Singles points are played. Losing player loses one of their 7 points. Both players go to the end of their lines after point is played out and next two players repeat.

Players bounce feed. Side losing previous point feeds next point.

Players losing all of their points are out. Last player standing wins.

If you have an even number of players, consider an 'on deck' spot at ONE end of the court to keep the pairings fresh. Any player losing a point must wait at the on deck spot for one point rotation before returning to the playing line.

Have players go to end of line at other end of court after they finish their point for an added fitness component.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Flub requires massive amounts of FOCUS
Flub is all about focus-focus-focus. Initially I was going to recommend this for higher level players but I think I have a way to make it work for anyone.

Flub is easiest to manage with four players. If you have more and need them to rotate positions frequently, that ratchets up the focus component. They must remember where each position is expected to hit to.

Four players take the court, two at each baseline. Each of the four playing positions is assigned a number, letter, or color. Let's say for this example we use 1, 2, 3, and 4. Player 1 drop feeds or serves to Player 2. Player 2 hits to Player 3. Player 3 hits to Player 4. Player 4 hits to Player 1. Pattern must not be altered. You will find the butterfly pattern useful here:

  • Server/1 feeds/serves cross court to 2. 
  • 2 hits straight ahead to 3. 
  • 3 hits cross court to 4. 
  • 4 hits straight ahead to 1.

Scoring: all players begin with a set number of points. Any player making an error either in execution or target loses a point. At end of playing period, player retaining most points wins.

Too hard - have players tossing ball rather than hitting with racquet.Too easy - I can't think of any group of players that would find this too easy, but if you must make it harder, have players rotating positions after every point, even rotating 'Around the World' to the other side of the court.
Multiplayer rotation - rather than deducting points on errors, have players making errors replaced with waiting players.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tennis Report Cards

For all you teaching pros out there - is anyone doing regular, documented objective player evaluations? My intent is to have some hard data to back up any feedback or input I give them regarding their progress. Also, many of my students are eager to progress to the next color ball. If they are not ready IMO, I think of this as a sort of tennis report card to help explain where they need to improve. Here's a form I put together recently for my players. I am willing to update and adapt. In fact, it is already 2.0.

Does a Tennis Report Card
spoil the fun?
Click here for a PDF of this form.
Initially I set up the first week of every month as evaluation week, where the clinic time would be spent on evaluations until all students had been evaluated. I jettisoned this approach fairly quickly as it was taking too much time per student in the larger classes. Plus I felt too much like I was teaching to the test. Also I did not have a standard form to work with - I was just winging it with simple dead ball feed exercises customized to the abilities of each student. It became obvious after looking at my initial documented results that this was not fair to the students. Why should one red ball student get hand-tossed balls while another gets racquet-fed balls? My desire to see them succeed was competing with my need for a fair, objective test of their skills. So, Plan B.

I created the form based on the skill pyramid suggested by PTR and others. I also made the evaluations optional and outside of clinic time. My students now have the option to request an evaluation by me no more often than once per month.  They are tested on the basics. I ask them to get at least 7 of 10 balls in play. They have three chances to get their 7 of 10.

The form is a work in progress. My intention is to increase the difficulty after they have mastered each level. So for example once they demonstrate better than 70% at the basic level (Consistency), at future evals they will be asked to demonstrate directional ability, then depth, then spin, etc.

One thing I am already considering changing is how many chances they get to achieve the 7 out of 10. With three chances of ten balls each on forehands, backhands, fh and bh volleys, and ad/deuce serves, each eval is taking about 30 minutes. It feels too long. Maybe they should get only one chance?

Any input appreciated. Is this type of evaluation useful? Does it have a role in junior tennis instruction, or should the students' performance against peers (tournaments, match play) be enough?

Peg-Leg Doubles

aka Black Beardy the
You never know
 what you are going to find
when Googling for
10U10S graphics
Peg-Leg Doubles requires directional skill, so advanced beginners and up. Players set up in traditional formation. Play is restricted to cross-court only. So if the first server serves from deuce side, all balls must land in the respective deuce courts. Net players may poach after the serve but their volleys must land in the correct court. Alleys are allowed since this is a doubles activity.

For more advanced players, have them play out a set in this fashion. For younger or less advanced players, you may find a couple of throw down spots will come in handy to remind players which parts of the courts are 'legal'.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pizza Serve

This activity will help young players visualize the three major targets within the service box. Envision the service box containing half a pizza (three slices) of pizza, pointy ends toward net. Throw down lines will be handy if you want to take the time to actually form some 'slices' in the service box. If not, just use your imagination.

Place a spot or cone in the center of each 'slice' representing the pepperoni or topping of your choice. Assign each slice a number, or have each cone/spot a different color. One should be out wide; one in the middle or 'to the body'; and the third down the T. Players take turns trying to serve to one of the three targets.

Too hard? Have players toss ball to target before attempting to serve.
Too easy? Have players call their shot first, then try to make the target they themselves have called.

Add a point competition, team or individual. Some point play options:
  • One point for any serve cross court and in the correct service box; zero points for any serve over the net but not in correct box; minus one for any serve in the net
  • Isolate one of the three slices; points awarded only if that slice is hit
Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Friday, November 9, 2012

Singles Go

Singles Go has elements of other drills, think Champs and Chumps + Around the World with a little Deep Desperation thrown in for good measure. It will improve your players' overheads, net game, and fitness. Coaches, get your lob feeding skills in order.

One player is selected as first Champ and begins at center of court in net position. All other Challengers are at opposite baseline. One at a time they step in to play singles against the Champ. Feeder/coach feeds first ball to Champ as a high lob.

If Champ wins the point, they stay. Losing Challenger goes to end of Challenger line and next Challenger takes a turn.

If the Champ loses the point, they run to end of Challenger line. The winning Challenger runs to Champ side of court as Feeder is feeding another high lob for them to play.

I used this drill recently with my green ball players. We were working on backhands in this lesson, so I substituted a backhand feed for the overhead. I also added a point play component, first to 10 points wins. They loved it and begged to play it through the end of the clinic, thirty minutes straight.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Serve Everlasting

In the words of Tina Hoskins, 'the second serve must be as reliable as the rising of the sun'. This drill will help your students develop a sunny, reliable second serve.

Two players play singles. Only one serve is allowed - no second serves. First player to serve continues serving until receiving player wins a game. Once receiver has broken server, receiver becomes server and remains so until he/she is broken.

This can be adapted to accommodate larger numbers of players by making it a team or relay activity. You can either time it and announce a winner at the end of said time period, or after a set number of points is achieved by one of the teams. Limit the amount of time spent on this activity to avoid overtiring the server.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Drop Out

Drop Out is a combination of Squirrel Crossing and Hot Pepper. The goal is to improve volley skills, good hands, recovery, and reaction time. Players should be able to volley so advanced beginners and up. Five players or more is best. If you only have 3 or 4, restrict play to one half of court either straight ahead or diagonally.

Four players begin facing each other across the net. First ball is fed. Point is played out. Ball must not hit the ground. When point ends, whomever has made the error is out and a new player comes in.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hot Pepper Doubles

These bad boys will put a hurt on you
I love a good volley drill. This is a good warm-up as well. Players should have quick hands and be able to volley, so advanced beginners and up.

Four players on court at service line. Someone feeds a ball and point is played out. Players may not back up - point must be played out at or in front of service line. Points awarded as usual. Set a certain number of points to be achieved, then rotate positions or players.

Play should be fast-paced. Insist on good footwork and recovery.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Attack and Smack

Serve and volley in singles play was endangered for a while. It is definitely down but not out - you still see it occasionally. Like the lob, it is a rare event in professional tennis. But to the 99% of us who don't play professionally, and the majority of aging players trending into doubles, it can be useful. So put this drill in your tool box. If players are not using S&V, we don't want it to be because their coaches never taught it to them.

Serve and volley just means you pair a serve with charging into the net to play the next ball from there. Sure, you are taking a risk by leaving the back court open, which is why you want to deploy this at the proper time. But worrying about the 'when' is for another lesson. Attack and Smack is more about the basics of getting into the mindset of moving in behind your serve. This is so often an anomaly to players who are trained to recover and maintain a baseline position.

Your players will need to be advanced beginners or beyond. The concept is simple: server must serve and volley after every serve, or serving team loses point. End of story. Note it is easy to forget the serve and volley aspect until you have played out a few points. We are all so focused on point outcome, and rightly so. But for this game, make sure all players understand the point is lost if the server does not serve and volley, regardless of who actually wins the point.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Put Your Hitting Wall To Work

Our big brown hitting wall
Just subscribed CAtennis to my Google Reader and am already reaping nice results. Suggest you check it out also. Today's golden nugget is a fun idea for those clubs who have hitting walls or back boards. In addition to encouraging your students to use them as a warm-up or practice tool, how about building an event around hitting wall activities? The blog entry at CAtennis lists ten different hitting wall activities, including:

  • the 5 minute challenge - how many rallies can you get in 5 minutes? We are already doing this on an ongoing basis. Results are posted on our Facebook page. Think of it as the hitting wall version of a ladder. 
  • Ping pong tennis (two players alternating shots)
  • Wipeout - group of players hitting relay style, player who misses is out
  • Target practice - get out the 3M painter's tape!
Put your underutilized hitting wall to work to keep players busy while they wait to play in your tournament. Or, make the hitting wall the star of your next event!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rising Star

Rising Star requires players who can control and direct the ball, so look for advanced beginners and up to play this game. Two players minimum; or, for a good private lesson activity, have the coach feeding all balls as Player A.

Player A stands at the baseline near the sideline. Player B is at the opposite baseline in the center of the court. Player A alternates feeding ball cross court and down the line to Player B. Player B must return all balls to Player A.

As you can see, this game also requires a certain level of fitness, so limit playing time accordingly.

I found this activity in The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins. I have a link to it on my Amazon store page here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monster Doubles

Hands down my favorite
movie monster
Monster Doubles is a variation of Australian doubles. The goal is to introduce or improve on poaching and signalling skills. Best for players 8 and up, advanced beginners or higher. Originally seen in The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins. I have a link to it on my Amazon store page here.

Traditional doubles formation has one player starting at the baseline on their half of the court (ad or deuce), either serving or receiving serve. Their partner is closer to the net on the other half of the court.  So if the server is on deuce side, server's partner is on ad side closer to net and vice versa. Receiver's partner is usually around the service line helping call the serve and ready to react to opponent's net player.

In Australian doubles, player are still on their half of the court (ad or deuce) but shade closer to the middle line. So for example if the server is serving from deuce, they are closer to the hash mark than the singles sideline. Their partner is still up at the net but is closer to the middle of the court on the ad side.

In Monster Doubles, the net player is straddling the line down the middle of the court when their partner is serving. The idea is to cause confusion for the opponents and work on poaching skills. Imperative the net player signal their serving partner EVERY point, letting them know which way they will be moving. This helps the server know which half of the court to cover more quickly. So part of the fun of this game is to let them come up with their own super secret hand signals.

Note: traditionally hand signals are given by the net player to their serving partner with their free hand behind their back. Also, traditionally the server gives a verbal signal to let their partner know they have seen and understood the signal without the net player having to turn around and confirm.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Half-Court Hustle

Slow feet need not apply
I found this activity in The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins. It's a great warm-up activity. BTW I have a link to the book on my Amazon store page here.

One player, or coach, stands at net. Second player stands across net at service line. Net player feeds soft angle volleys, forcing second player to hustle to get the ball. Net player feeds quickly and continuously for one minute before switching roles or rotating in next player.

Too hard? use a slower ball and hand toss rather than feeding/playing with racquet

Monday, October 29, 2012

10 Ball Singles

Feed nice or this could get Messi
10 Ball is an exercise in consistency as well as the Golden Rule. As ye feed, so shall ye receive!

Divide players into two groups. One group is feeding; the other is playing out the point. The object is for each player in the playing group to attain 10 consecutive rallies. Playing singles, first two players begin on baseline. Feeder may feed ball anywhere in court. Player gets one point for every ball hit in play and minus points for any misses. Once one of the playing players has achieved the 10 ball goal, players switch roles and the Feeders are now the Players.

If you have enough courts, two players per court can play this as singles. If you don't have room, use one court and rotate players in each group every point.


  • Coach is feeder; players take turns receiving/playing the fed ball and racking up their points. First to 10 wins.
  • Sharpen specific strokes by only awarding points for featured stroke - forehand, backhand, lob, volley, etc.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Choosing the Right Clinic For Your Player

The facility is gorgeous, but does the junior program fit your needs?
Bless you HootSuite, Twitter, Google Alerts and all other such technology. Thanks to them I have found so many wonderful resources on the Internet. Today's gem is a great article at CAtennis on how to evaluate the various junior tennis group clinics available in your area. You can't tell a book by its cover!

The article lists 10 important features of a quality junior tennis program. I wholeheartedly agree with most and have made some of the same points in a couple of earlier blog entries here and here and oh yeah here. I only have two pickies, as we used to say in my writing critique group:

Point #2 of the 10 discusses the number of balls hit during the lesson. They suggest 250-300 balls struck per student as a rule of thumb. I think that's too many for very young players. I would argue 250-300 total balls struck during the class, not per player, is more realistic for players under 7. As the authors note in a different point, tennis instruction is no longer all about 60 minutes of dead ball feeds. Live ball drills and match play reduce the number of balls struck. Even though this is so, these types of activities are more beneficial to the players IMO.

Plus, how on earth can a parent tell how many balls are being struck? I have a second rule of thumb for you. Large ball carts can hold about 300 regulation size balls, so just see how many pickups are done during the lesson. Multiply by 300 and divide by number of students. If they are using the small hoppers, estimate 60 balls.

Point #10 stung a little bit. As a non-traditional instructor coming late to the party, I resent the comment that certifications are 'largely meaningless'. The implication is that any goofball can get certified. While I did not go through a junior development program, and the highest playing level I achieved is 4.0, when I did commit to teaching junior tennis, I went to the trouble and expense of doing it right. I received and maintain my certification. While neither USPTA or PTR is perfect, I think they are on the right track and have the correct goals at center: to provide quality tennis instruction. I would argue if the facility's staff cannot be bothered with becoming certified (said certification achievable by any goofball), one has to wonder why.

Anyway, as I said, I agree with 8 out of the 10 points so be sure to check out the entire article. Thanks CAtennis for a great read.

Ball Drop

Ball Drop is a fun activity great for warm-ups and homework. It is great for sharpening focus on the ball and improving quickness and agility. I first saw it demonstrated at a Recreational Coaches Workshop. Appropriate for all ages. You will need two balls and at least two people.

Players face each other 3-5 feet apart. I usually have them face each other across the alley on court. One player has two balls, one in each hand. He/she holds the balls straight out to the side, forming a T shape. They drop one of the balls. The other player must retrieve the ball before it bounces twice.

  • Too easy? increase the distance between the players.
  • Too hard? Toss the ball into the air rather than dropping it, thus giving the retrieving player more time to react and retrieve. Or, allow more than once bounce. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tap N Toss

Note: this player is a lefty so she is tossing with her right arm
Tap N Toss is one of two activities I beg my students to use as their regular Tennis Homework (the other is Bounce, Catch). Once my students progress to overhand serves, it is imperative they have a consistent and high quality toss. Tap N Toss is a simple and effective way to acquire one. It can be done indoors with relative ease, so we avoid the excuse of not having a place to practice at home. All they need is a ball or any other item they can toss and catch easily and safely with one hand.

Find a line on the floor, or just imagine one in a space where you can toss and catch safely. Line up at this line as if it were the baseline - face sideways to the 'net' with your non-dominant side closest to the net. Hold the ball in your non-dominant hand. To begin the toss, lightly tap the back of your hand (the hand holding the ball) against the top of your thigh. Extend this arm straight up from your thigh. Arm should be straight - no bends at wrist or elbow. At the top of the extension, lightly toss the ball and catch it with the same hand that tossed it. Watch the ball the entire time, from tap to toss to catch.

That's it. Repeat 10-20 times until you can do this with zero drops. Do not overdo it. Stop if your arm/shoulder feels strain the first few times you try this. The strain should not indicate injury if you are doing this properly; it is just not yet used to doing this motion with this many reps.

Some tips:

  • If you are doing this correctly, you should not have to move your feet at all to chase after the ball. 
  • The ball should not be tossed a mile into the air. You want it to go about as high as you can reach with your racquet extended out in front of you at about 1 o'clock for righties, 11 o'clock for lefties. 
  • Take care not to toss the ball until your arm is at the top of its reach. 
  • Lift the ball into the air in a very mechanical, robotic motion. The less movement of elbows and wrists, the better. 
  • The less your ball spins as you toss it, the better. Spin introduces more chance of the toss going astray. If your ball is spinning madly, your wrist or fingers are too involved in the tossing motion. 
  • Tapping the thigh to start things off keeps your toss arm in alignment, preventing it from wandering around out to the side of the body, often resulting in an over-the-head toss.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Red Light, Green Light

Red Light, Green Light is great for teaching your youngest players to pay attention to your direction as well as other cues on court.

Players line up on the baseline. When you say Green Light, they move forward toward net. When you say Red Light, they must stop. First one to net wins.


  • Rather than saying Red Light or Green Light, hold up a red or green ball or other item
  • To make it a little more challenging, ask them to perform another task as they are moving.
    • Have the players balance a ball on their racquet as they are moving forward. Dropped ball = back to the starting line.
    • Carry a tennis ball between the knees.
    • Carry a tennis ball with a partner, ball wedged between outside of knees, hips, or shoulders

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tag You're It!

Tag, you're it!
Tag is the Gumby of children's playground games. Its flexibility is second to none. You can change it up lots of different ways to make it fit whatever activity you need, tennis or non. Plus, what kid doesn't love a game where there is plenty of running? Here's a couple of easy ways to use Tag to warm up your tennis class.

One player is designated It. This player is charged with tagging as many other players as possible within a given time limit and within set boundaries. Players may not leave boundaries to escape tag. Tennis courts are perfect for this thanks to all the lines.


  • Tagged players must freeze
  • Tagged players are now also It and help tag others
  • Free players may un-freeze tagged players
  • Restrict movement gradually as the rounds of Tag progress: first round is entire half of court. Second round is area between baseline and service line. Third round is service box. Last round is alley. 
  • Or, start small and end big
  • Restrict movement to specific footwork such as sidesteps
  • Have It tag the others by carrying a tennis ball and gently touching them with it
  • Have all players balance a ball on their racquet while playing
  • Have all players dribbling a ball with racquet while playing