Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tennis Bowling

There are some tennis instructors out there who turn up their noses at using formats from other sports. Tennis is a great sport on its own, they say. No need to stray from net-service line-baseline. What they really fear is that by borrowing from these other sports, players may be seduced to the other sport entirely. I have two things to say about that. 1) Coaches who disdain playing a little Tennis Baseball or Tennis Bowling have never coached anyone under 8 years old; and 2) I have enough confidence in tennis that I don't worry too much about the inevitable competition from other sports.

I first saw Tennis Bowling when I volunteered at a Kids Day at Family Circle Cup a few years ago. Imagine one full size court converted to six QuickStart courts thanks to numerous rolls of caution tape and 3M blue painters tape (this was before permanent 36 foot courts were all the rage). Now imagine hundreds of kids funneled through the various stations at the six courts, most of whom have never held a racquet in their hands. Chaos? You betcha. Fun? Absolutely. I lucked out and was placed at the Tennis Bowling station which turned out to be the most popular station because there was CANDY.

You will need twelve empty tennis ball cans, so start saving them now. Set up the cans in a triangle array as if they were bowling pins. Make sure there is some space between the cans - don't want to make it TOO easy. Player is some distance away. Object is to hit one or more of the cans with the ball. You may find it handy to have a throw down stripe or spot to mark where the player should be standing.

For your youngest players, have them fairly close to the target, maybe 6-10 feet. Use foam balls and have them toss ball to target underhand.

Something like this is easily available
at Wally World and inexpensive. 
Some variations for when a ball hits a can: award a point and make it into a tennis scoring exercise (first to 4), or remove each can as it is hit, making it more difficult as you go along. In the second example this could be played as individuals or teams with first to eliminate all cans or last can as winner.

If tossing foam balls is too easy, here are some progressions.

  • move player farther from target
  • move player across net from target
  • use different balls - red, orange, green, yellow (in order from easiest to hardest)
  • use racquet to hit ball to target rather than tossing underhand. Ball can be drop-fed by coach or self-fed.

If you are like me and hesitate to introduce candy into your instruction, that's fine. This is plenty fun without the candy. But if you want to use candy occasionally, it makes this activity extra special. Load the empty tennis cans with penny candy. Wide variety is best. If a can is hit, player gets to go over and select ONE piece of candy from that can. Let me tell you folks, that candy creates a level of focus unseen since the Hubble telescope went into space.

Hint: if you use candy, marking the spot where the player stands is extra important as you will tend to get some Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eaters trying to move a little closer to their target.