Monday, May 7, 2012

Jail Break - Most Popular Tennis Activity Ever?

When all else fails, break out the Jail Break. If I were to design a curriculum for Tennis Pro 101, it would begin with a class on how to run this game. I have used this activity many times, often by request, for hundreds of players, and only once had a player who didn't like it. She was unable to bear the disgrace of going to Jail, dissolved into very affecting 6-year-old tears and of course was immediately released by the soft-hearted jailer (me). Those are pretty good stats, so I keep playing it.

It's camouflaged as a bunch of rowdy fun, but Jail Break does offer some hidden teaching opportunities. At its heart it is another exercise in consistency. Also excellent for ball tracking skills.

  • All players line up single file on far side of court. 
  • Coach is across the net at about the service line. 
  • Coach feeds ball across net. 
  • Player hits ball. If ball lands in playable area across net, they are safe and go to end of line. If anything other than a playable ball is hit, player goes to Jail. They must relinquish their racquet and come over to the coach's side of the court. 
  • Last player left on the free side of the court who hits safely is the winner.

There is a catch (Ha. Ha.) - while in Jail, players may regain their freedom by catching any playable ball in the air. If they do catch a ball, they are released from jail and return to the hitting side of the court. The player whose ball they caught then comes to Jail.

Safety tip: jailed players should stand no closer to the net than even with coach (as I mentioned earlier, at about the service line). You don't want them up at the net getting beaned either from a fed or a hit ball.


  • Caught ball may be caught in the air or after one bounce. 
  • In order to prolong the game, Coach may stage a Jail Break at any time. Prefer doing this with low compression balls only. Coach yells 'Jail Break!' and starts throwing balls (gently) at any players in Jail. Jailed players make a break for the free side. Any players hit must remain in Jail. 
  • Coach's choice on offering a second chance at a fed ball. I usually only offer one chance unless I feed an absolutely horrendous feed. 

Jail Break is a great activity for large groups of varying abilities. The great equalizer: spice up the game by feeding more difficult balls to the stronger players.

Keep up a lively pace, having the players hustling back and forth and feeding quickly but safely.

I have also heard this game called by the kinder, gentler name of Dog Pound. But most of my players prefer the traditional name, and I agree.