Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ball Trap

Ahh, the ball trap drill - ding! ding! ding! - another favorite of Yours Truly! This has been demonstrated at virtually every on-court 10 and Under training I have ever been to, and I have attended many. Deservedly so. This is a very valuable teaching tool. If you are not using it yet, you should be.

This drill requires two people, either two players or a player and a coach. They stand facing each other 5-6 feet apart. One is tossing; the other is receiving. Receiver has a racquet; tosser does not. Traditionally one starts with the forehand side as the backhand side is a little trickier. For very young players this can be done first without the barrier of a net between the two. Otherwise, do it with the net in between.

Forehand trap
Racquet is held in right hand for a right-handed player
Left hand covers or 'traps' ball
as it arrives on strings
  • Ask the receiving player to 'show me a target' meaning hold the racquet down low to one side and out in front of the body. 
  • Once a good target is in place, the other person tosses the ball gently, underhand, so that it will bounce before reaching the receiver. For very young players you may have to demonstrate an underhand toss. They will want to throw it overhand, especially if there is a net between them and their partner. They do not trust that an underhand will make it over. Oh ye of little faith! :)
  • Receiver traps ball by letting it arrive on his racquet strings, then covering it or 'trapping' it with the off hand. 
  • Receiver gently tosses ball back to partner. 
  • Repeat. 
  • Once the pair has completed X amount of toss and trap, they high 5 and switch roles (not necessarily places!).  
  • Once both have had a chance to trap, they stop and raise their hands to signal they have completed their task.
This drill is a thing of beauty. So much of benefit going on here.
  • Receiver must show a good target, and becomes trained to the idea of keeping the racquet out in front. They will quickly discover this task is magnitudes more difficult if they let the ball get behind them.
  • Watching the ball - receiver must watch the ball carefully. Track from toss, time the bounce. This seems easy but you would be surprised how difficult it is to keep the ball from springing off the strings once it gets there.
  • Tossing - the underhand motion is so close to what we want to see in a nice full swing. Soft hands, leading the ball to a target. 
  • Teamwork - who doesn't want to be the first to complete the task??? So they learn teamwork and cooperation.
Backhand trap for a right-handed player
Racquet is held in right hand; left hand comes
over top of racquet from behind to trap ball
Once you have completed the exercise on the forehand side, it's time for the backhand. The backhand side is a little trickier because the off hand has to reach over the racquet to trap the ball. Tip: don't bother trying to explain this. Just show them. In this case, a visual is worth many valuable lesson minutes. 

And now, it's time for the Caution:
In each of the on-court presentations I mentioned above, it is strongly encouraged that you will have two players paired up to perform this activity: one tossing and one receiving. This is great in theory because we are all trying to get away from boring lessons with lots of standing around in lines waiting to hit the ball. Totally agree! 

However.

The very young players, say, 6 and under, probably will not be able to toss the ball gently enough and accurately enough to give the receiving player any chance at all of trapping this ball. It will either go into the net or sky high or a myriad of other places NOT on target. I agree this is the ultimate goal (to have two players partnering on the activity). Certainly try it this way first. But if you see that it is failing due to an issue with the underhand toss, quickly step in and start tossing it yourself. The value of the receiving portion of the activity is well worth the trade-off. I would much rather have you fudge a little bit on the tossing rather than disregard this valuable activity altogether because the tossing part isn't working.
Final note: I totally use this activity with beginners of all ages as well as return to it when strokes start to go awry with my non-beginners. It helps us get back on track and reinforces the importance of catching that ball out in front.