Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Favorite New Training Aid

A few months ago I picked up a set of these pop-up mesh baskets at a local consignment shop, thinking they might come in handy on the court for something. Oh how I wish I had not let several months go by before using them - they are awesome! I used them recently for two different clinics with kids of different ages and they worked great. The set I found came in different colors and sizes, so they were perfect for targets. The kids are absolutely delighted when one of their balls bounces in, and stays in! They are spring form so they compress nicely for very efficient storage. They are also very lightweight - one of my intrepid 4 year old students found them useful as well as entertaining for ball pickup. And the entire set only cost me $2 so shazzam! Start checking those thrift shops and if you don't get lucky like I did, you can find them here but they will be more than $2!

Ready, Aim, Volley!

I developed this activity recently by blending the Happy Feet warm-up with Capture the Net.

  • Scatter some tennis balls at the net.
  • Place some spots at volley distance from the net.
  • Have players leave their racquets at the net.
  • Adjourn to the baseline.
  • Coach will give two verbal commands.
    • Coach says 'Happy Feet!'. Players start moving their feet as described in the blog post on Happy Feet.
    • Coach says 'Go!' or whatever the special word of the day is. On this signal, players rush to net, collect racquet, collect one ball, and self-feed to volley it over the net. Once ball has been hit, player(s) put racquet down and return to baseline.

Encourage players to try different spots each time. Remind them to face sideways and start with their racquets held high to hit their volleys.

(Singly or in some combination)
  • Add targets across the court. 
  • Have player call their target and aim for it with their self-fed volley.
  • Work as teams to hit each target at least once before all balls are eliminated from player side of net. 
  • Coach feeds balls from across court. Add spots for one or two ground strokes before progressing to net volley. 
Note: very young players may have difficulty hitting the volley over the net with a self-feed (toss). Encourage them to keep working on this as it progresses nicely to an overhand serve. However if they are having trouble, transition to #4 above and toss the ball to them once they have arrived at the net.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Space Invaders

Here's a fun drill that develops both ground strokes and net play. Plus I have fond memories of the old video game of the same name so I like this already! I found it at Scott Baker's Tennis4You site. I plan to use it soon in a junior clinic. It would also work great for an adult clinic.
Good times!

Scott's example recommended 6 players at net and one across net at baseline. For safety reasons I think this might be a few to many but I will try it out soon and let you know. Anyway all players but one are at the net; one is across the net at the baseline. However many players are at the net, the baseline player gets that many balls/chances. So in Scott's example, with six players at net, baseline player gets six balls/chances. Coach feeds balls to baseline player one at a time. If net player misses, they sit down. Object of game is for baseline player to get all net players out with however many balls they are allotted.

Scott's example did not say if lobs are allowed. I am guessing not, unless you are working on improving lobs.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ring Around The Rosie

No children's game is safe from
 being converted to a tennis activity!
I found this game at Scott Baker's Tennis4You website. I like the concept and plan to try it during a lesson soon. I will let you know how it works out once it is battle-tested.

This activity is best with 3 or more players. Players form a large circle with instructor in the middle. Instructor gently bounce feeds balls to players one at a time. Ball bounces between them; player gently hits ball back to instructor. Ball must bounce in front of instructor. If player misses, he/she sits down. Last player standing wins.

Folks, we instructors are not miracle workers. If the ball bounces behind the instructor or outside of the circle, it is considered a miss.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Happy Feet

Enjoy USA women's soccer team keeper Hope Solo
demonstrating some extremely happy feet
in this video.
If you have attended a QuickStart or Recreational Coaches Workshop, you know about  Happy Feet. Happy Feet is keeping your feet moving quickly up and down, as if the tennis court was bongo drums and you were playing them with your feet instead of your hands.  In many of the tennis drills taught at the workshops, Happy Feet is a given and we are encouraged to remind the players frequently to keep their feet moving. In addition to a quick demo by the coach and encouraging the players to follow suit, you can also incorporate some fun activities that emphasize Happy Feet.

I first heard about this activity from Kim Ozmon, my BFF at Rock Hill Tennis Center. I think she calls it Alligator. Have your players line up against the fence. You and your trusty ball cart are facing them 10 or so feet away, maybe at the baseline if your facility has plenty of room between baseline and fence. Instruct the players to hop up and down as you quickly roll balls in their direction. Anyone who gets hit with a ball must hop on one foot. Anyone getting hit twice is out and may join you in rolling balls. Last remaining player is the winner. Kim tells me this game is very popular, especially with younger players. I have used it and I agree they think it is great fun.

A progression for Alligator resembles those old Westerns where the villain makes the good guy 'dance' by shooting at his feet. Have your players stand ready with racquets in hand. From across the net, hand-feed balls near their feet and have them adjust their positions to avoid being hit. Remember, safety first! So give them enough time between feeds to reset and clear any balls that may pose a danger.

My boss also uses Happy Feet as part of other tennis drills to eliminate players (or keep the playing field equal). In just about any activity you are using, in addition whatever skill they are working on, require the players to maintain Happy Feet throughout. Any player caught flat-footed may be eliminated, regardless of how great their tennis shots are.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Don't Be That Kid

Our club was the site of a big junior tournament last weekend. High level 10-year-olds came from all over the section to compete. They played with orange low compression balls on 60-foot courts. It was impressive to see such great tennis skills from such young players.

Young Federer had quite a temper.
Who knew?
What was not great was to see That Kid with a serious attitude problem. Keep in mind I saw dozens of kids competing while I was teaching that morning, so That Kid represented a tiny minority. Sadly, this was not the first time I have seen such on-court behavior. Between volunteering at tournaments and a few years spent as an official, I have seen my share. They always stand out in my mind because they are the exceptions, thank goodness. If I were a football or hockey referee, things might be different. But in tennis, we all know some level of decorum and etiquette is expected and encouraged from the first day one steps onto the court with racquet in hand. 

That Kid first got my attention with his loud agonizing over missed shots. During a break between lessons I wandered over to his court to see what the problem was. That Kid was pulling his hair out whenever he missed a shot, giving himself a real tongue-lashing. In fact, he was so disruptive, he attracted the attention of one of the officials. In a tournament like this, there is one official for every 4-6 courts so That Kid had to be pretty loud to attract the official from several courts over. The official arrived just as the players were switching ends. I heard him tell the player why his behavior was not appropriate.

So the match continues and the players end up in a set tiebreak. Much drama, much pressure, and slowly but surely That Kid renewed his outbursts. Oddly, the official was standing right there and never corrected him again, at least while I was watching. The tiebreaker went on and on, very exciting and high quality tennis. That Kid continued berating himself. That Kid's fan base at least once loudly cheered a netted ball by his opponent, which, sadly, didn't surprise me. 

I don't know what the outcome of this match was. I don't know the player. I don't know the parents. I could look it up on TennisLink but whoever won or lost is not my point here. My point is this: what must a parent be thinking as they watch their player embarrass themselves like that? My kids were no angels, but they never acted like that on the court (volleyball) or field (soccer). I like to think I would have jerked them out of play quicker than you can say John McEnroe, but thankfully I was never  faced with that decision. Maybe because soccer and volleyball are team sports? IDK. Is that outrageous self-abuse masquerading as intensity something to be proud of and tacitly encouraged by the parents' lack of discipline? Are they willing to overlook any behavior as long as the player brings home the hardware? Would they have been so understanding if the opponent was the one with the unacceptable behavior? 

Maybe it is just a matter of style. The McEnroe/Connors/Djokovic style does nothing for me. Talent? Loads. Class? None. I can't deny their level of skill, but neither can I admire them when they win. In fact, I root against them. And as a role model? Fugghedaboudit. What sane parent would want their child to emulate that hot mess?  Give me maturity and style any day. As has been said of Djokovic, act like you've been there before. 

Let me also add a few kind words about That Kid's opponent. He was cool as a cucumber. Never said a word, never banged his racquet or shook his fist or gnashed his teeth. He showed maturity beyond his tender years under tremendous pressure from the high level of competition as well as the behavior of his opponent and fans. Well done, sir. Well done.

As you may have figured out from some of my other blog posts, Federer is my guy for many reasons, not the least of which is his demeanor on and off court. He is a living breathing example that nice guys can finish first, over and over again. Yes, he lost his cool at the French Open recently, but that was a rare exception. I have heard he was That Kid when he was young, a racquet-breaking screaming banshee. His dad put a stop to it, forbidding him from playing until he straightened his act out. Apparently it worked, judging from the mountain of titles and endorsements he has amassed - not to mention frequent speculation that he may be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

Maybe That Kid last weekend will have an equally frank conversation with his parents this week and get his attitude in order soon. Then he will have a great backstory when he is making tennis headlines in about 10 years. I hope so.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Stack 'Em

Attention summer camp coaches: stash this activity away for later in camp when you have run dry of original game ideas. Remember those empty tennis ball cans you saved for your Tennis Bowling game? You will need them for Stack 'Em, too. How many is up to you, as long as you have an equal amount for both teams. Minimum 3 cans each team. To make stacking them easier, place a tennis ball in each can. Hope you still have the lids!

Teams play any format you desire: singles, doubles, relay tennis, cross court, etc. Team that wins the point gets one can to start their stack. Play continues and teams compete to see who gets the most cans and builds the highest stack. First team to stack all of their allotted cans, wins.

Stack can be built anywhere on the court. Light bulb should be going on for you here. If you are working on specific shots or strategies, integrate into your Stack 'Em game. For example if you are working on keeping rally balls in the middle of the court, designate the T as your official stack location. If you are feeling really daring, let the kids decide where they want to build their stack.

Knocking down the other team's stack is allowed and encouraged. If stack is knocked down, too bad, so sad - other team has to start over. So this game really shines as a timed activity. Consider using it at the end of  a segment/day/week. Expect to have trouble getting them to stop playing.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Freeze Tag

One of the many reasons I live in the south
photo source
Recall we discussed recycling playground games for tennis use. Here's another one: Freeze Tag. Check out this video to see it in action.

Players are free to move around anywhere on the court, dribbling "downs" with a tennis ball (bouncing ball on ground using racquet). In the video, the coach is 'It'. Anyone the coach touches must freeze. Frozen players may be unfrozen if touched by any other player still roaming around. Game ends when all players are frozen.

In the video you will notice there was a major snag in the game; namely, the players were getting frozen very quickly and were not remembering or able to un-freeze other frozen players. The coaches realized this and made a quick adjustment. They changed the rules so that players could freeze coaches as well as other players. And if all coaches were frozen before all players, players win. The players loved that idea as you will hear from the cheer in the video.

Note this video was submitted in 2007. All youngsters but not a low compression ball in sight. :)

One change I suggest is to have a player as "It" rather than a coach. Last one frozen gets to be "It" in the next round.


  • To make this game easier, use low compression balls.
  • If dribbling is too difficult, have them balance the ball on the racquet strings instead.
  • For your youngest beginners, eliminate the racquet and have them moving about doing Bounce, Catch! instead of dribbling with the racquets. 

Thanks ipodtennispros via for submitting this fun warm-up.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Give A Ball

Don't have one? Get one here.
Here's a fun warm-up from OncourtOffcourt I found on YouTube. It is similar to Ball Thief but as we all know, it is better to give than to thieve. Works with any number of players, but three or more is best. If you have a very large group, it's okay to break them into smaller groups.

Players form a large circle and place their racquets on the ground. Coach places a number of balls on each racquet, same number of balls per player, let's say . . . 5 balls each. On coach's command, players work to give their balls away. They must place one ball at a time on another player's racquet. They must go to a different player each time. First player to empty their racquet wins. If they are winning too quickly, put more balls on each racquet.

Hint: the facilitator in the YouTube video had a wooden train whistle as a prop to begin and end activities. How fun and what a nice change from the piercing referee whistle! Pretty sure I have one packed away in my son's old toy box. I also loved his suggestion about using specific words to begin the activity. In his example, his 'go' word was 'strawberry'. But he ran through several different fruits just to make sure the group was paying attention. Genius!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are Your Tennis Priorities In Order?

Psych students will recognize
 Mr. Maslow's work here
A few years ago when I took my first PTR certification test, the instructor (Scott Mitchell formerly of Charlotte Country Club, now at The Landings in Savannah GA) had many words of wisdom during the two-day workshop. When we were discussing teaching the serve, he went over five basic skills students should master. You may be surprised to learn that speed/power was the LAST of the five. The other four were (in order):

  • Consistency: get it over the net, in the correct box. Your goal should be at least 7 of 10 in the box.
  • Depth: once you are getting them in, can you place them deep or short at will?
  • Location: if you can get them in and get them deep, then you are ready to start placing them (wide, T, body)
  • Spin: how do you make contact with the ball - topspin? slice? flat? 

Only when you can demonstrate a mastery of the above four components should you attempt to add power/speed to your serve.

This really hit home with me as practically everyone I know is trying to hit it harder/faster FIRST. If they can hit a killer serve, they don't care if it is only 1 of 10 or 1 of 100 - they will keep trying for that long shot. I immediately included this advice in all of my serve lessons as well as in my own quest to improve my serve. It has served me well (groan) and has resulted in giving me a more reliable serve if perhaps not a faster one.

So I was delighted to learn at a recent Recreational Coaches Workshop that this philosophy has been officially expanded to other aspects of tennis instruction. Hooray! Doesn't matter if you are working on a forehand, a backhand, a volley, an overhead, whatever - consistency first!  This does a couple of things for the student as well as the instructor. It allows the student to PLAY tennis quickly. In the olden days when coaches were more focused on the correct grip and technique, it might be weeks/months/years before a student actually played out some points. They spent their lesson time hitting fed balls until the coach was satisfied with their form. No more! At least, not on my court. Get the ball over the net, within playable area, however you can. Get playing! Once students are playing, we can move to the next levels (placement, depth, spin, power).  This also makes the coach's job easier - if the student can at least get balls over the net fairly reliably, teaching a new skill such as direction or spin will be less frustrating for everyone.

To emphasize the importance of having the correct priorities, I am adding these five components to my blog labels effective immediately. So if you have students who are becoming more consistent and are ready to tackle depth or spin, you can quickly search for those activities.

Good luck with your instruction and here's to consistency, the structurally sound base for your tennis skill pyramid.

Quicksand (until we come up with a better name)

Hate the name
Love the picture!
This activity has a lot going for it, with one big drawback which I will get to in a minute. It's flexible with a great (and easy!) visual to reinforce and motivate.

You can use this rally ball activity for singles, doubles, individuals, or team play. To begin, determine how many rallies you want the players to achieve. Let's say you decide on three. Place three balls on the ground at the net. Players must achieve a 3 ball rally. Once they rally successfully 3 times, another ball is added to those sitting at the net,which would now be 4 balls. This indicates they are now going for a 4 ball rally. As they increase their number of successful rallies, they keep adding balls.

Those balls at the net are an excellent motivator, especially when this is a team activity and adjacent courts can see how the competition is doing. Also good for young players who may not be great at counting yet, or are not easily motivated by a number existing only in their imaginations.

Points are not awarded, but obviously the players are trying to get as many rallies as possible.  You can make this a team activity by having adjacent courts compete to see who can get the most balls at the net within a given time period.


  • To make it simpler, play with lower compression balls and shorten the court (have them play mini-tennis within the service boxes)
  • Make it more difficult by
    • having players use different balls
    • rally from baseline
    • rally straight ahead within one half of the court
    • volleys only

Now to the drawback: this is a good activity with a lousy name. Nothing against the word itself, but can anyone tell me what this activity has to do with quicksand? I'm stumped.

Monday, June 11, 2012

On The March

This player was down two sets, 1-5 in the third,
and came back to win this Wimbledon semi match.
On The March is similar to Capture The Net in that it emphasizes all-court play (tennis-speak for Get Your Booty To The Net). This activity works for any number of players. If you have more than two players, divide into teams.

There are three positions available to play from: baseline; service line; and net.  For the first point of the game, both singles players begin from baseline. They play a singles point.  Winning team moves forward one position after each point; losing team moves back (unless they are at baseline, in which case they remain there). If you are playing this as a team activity, new players come in after every point. If you have an even number of players, be sure to have them switch around the playing order so that they are playing different opponents. An easy way to do this is to have two spots/lines per side for the waiting players (either far behind the baseline or at the net posts) and have them alternate which spot/line they are waiting in. They then alternate spots/lines feeding next player up.

You can structure the winning activity either by number of points won first, or by time limit. Hint: if the players are self-feeding, crafty players (they come in all ages!) will try to feed a lousy first ball to get an easy point. Insist on a quality first ball, or feed it yourself if this is not an option.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Deep Desperation

This game requires some hustle.
Photo available as wallpaper here
Deep Desperation is another drill included in the Top 10 games we coaches are supposed to know. It is similar to Butts and Elbows in that the first ball is fed by the coach and is a lob. Both feature one doubles team starting at baseline. In DD, rather than have the other doubles team starting at the net, players are lined up at the net post and the first two in line do not enter the court until the lob is fed. Play out the point. Winners stay; losers go to end of line at net post.

This drill increases the level of difficulty of Butts and Elbows in two ways:
  • The players have a little farther to run since they are at the net post rather than on court at the net.
  • They must communicate effectively to avoid initial on-court chaos since they are not starting from clearly defined positions on court.
Hint: if you have an even number of players, the same players will be paired together throughout this activity unless you intervene in the line-forming process. This could be good, or could be bad. Adjust as needed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

One Ball

Here's another Top 10 activity for your players. You can find it here known as One Ball Live. I have also seen it as One Ball-Two Ball. IMO it is just easier to call it One Ball and be done with it.

Four players begin on court at service line. They begin play with two balls, playing singles straight ahead with the opponent directly in front of them. As soon as someone misses, they call out 'One Ball!' and the point is played out as a doubles point. Notice they continue playing - they do not stop between the switch from straight-ahead singles to full court doubles.

So this game calls for consistency and control while playing half court singles straight ahead, and quick thinking when One Ball is called. Points may be incorporated into this activity. Points are only awarded for the doubles point. The singles point error reducing play to one ball is immaterial and does not result in any points or penalties.

To increase the level of difficulty, have players begin at the baseline.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Triples is a great activity for those times you have an odd number of players and want to reduce waiting time. It is also good for your beginner level players who benefit greatly from having a little extra help covering the court. Triples is also one of the games anointed as a Top 10.

In Triples, three players are on each side of the court in a triangle shape. One player is at the top of the triangle, up front in the middle of the service boxes; the other two form the base of the triangle on the baseline. For you math purists, equilateral or isosceles triangles only, please. Your triangle may be scalene at the end of the point, but please don't start that way. :)

Coach feeds first ball to one of the deep players. Point is played out using full doubles court. Any extra players are waiting behind baseline and rotate in after every point. First team to 10 points wins.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Leave your opponent hanging!
photo from
This game is for intermediate and higher level players as it requires a certain level of control. Two players play out singles points. They must stay within the boundaries of the singles court.  Yes this includes inside the baseline! The object of Cliffhanger is to move the opponent around on the court so that he/she must step outside the boundaries of the singles court to play the ball. Points are awarded as usual in singles, one point per opponent's error. However if one player succeeds in pulling the other player off the court by virtue of his/her ball placement, 5 points are awarded. These points are awarded to the player luring their opponent off-court, even if opponent returns ball in play.

If players have sufficient control to move the ball around on the court, this activity will highlight the advantages to be gained by forcing your opponent out of their comfort zone. Let's say one player hits a nice cross court forehand deep. IF the opponent is able to abide by the rules and stay within court boundaries to hit the return shot, chances are good it will be a lousy shot due to the contortion required to hit the shot from a less than optimal position (forced by them having to stay within court boundaries).

Play to a predetermined number of points, or for a set time period. Easily converted to a team activity.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Butts and Elbows

Notice his "Uh-oh!" face
Photo from
Butts and Elbows is a great activity for older junior players, advanced beginner and up. I even like it for adult clinics, especially Cardio Tennis. Yeah, get ready to run!

Two players start at net. I like to have them actually touching the net with their racquets to make it a little more challenging. Two other players are across the net at the baseline. Coach feeds a lob over the heads of the net players. They run it down and play out the point. Here's the trick of it: when the baseline players see the 'butts and elbows' of the net players as they are running down the lob, that is their cue to run in as they play out the point. Repeat by alternating which side is running down the lob.

So in addition to emphasizing the timing and communication needed to effectively run down the lob, Butts and Elbows helps the baseline players recognize a prime opportunity to close in on the net. And of course the name will get plenty of giggles from your junior students.

Capture the Net

I can think of at least two American
players who have a good net game . . .
There's a lot of chatter these days about the state of American professional tennis. People who follow tennis think there should be more Americans in the top 10, heck in the top 20. Why this is not so is endlessly debated online, in the media, and I am guessing at your local club. One reason that bobs up frequently is the evolution of the American style of play.  Simply put, players don't learn an all-around game anymore. They are trained to stay back at the baseline, hit with power and topspin, and outlast or out-hit their opponents. Their net game, in a word, stinks. Whaddaya say we try to fix that? Here's a fun drill to encourage your players to come to the net. It also emphasizes consistency.

Place five balls at the net on each side of the court. Two players play out a singles point from the baseline (first ball fed is in addition to the ten balls sitting on court). Winning player comes to net, feeds one ball from the five on his/her side, and plays out the next point from the advantageous position at the net. Losing player stays at baseline. Repeat until one player has fed all five balls on their side and is declared winner.

Attention JTT coaches: this game is easily converted to a team competition.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Keep It Deep

Yellow x's = cone locations
Red numbers = the four service locations
I first learned this game from Brian Clark at one of his USC-Lancaster Lancers summer camps. Originally it was a serve activity. I have used it often and have added some variations because its principles apply to other strokes as well.

Let's discuss the original first. It is a serve activity primarily designed to encourage deep serves. The way the scoring system is set up, it also helps players learn how to keep score.

You will need some cones. Place them inside the two service boxes, along a line about 18" from the service line.

Players get two balls per serve, just as in a real tennis game. They take turns serving from one of the four service locations at the baseline (out wide ad, center ad, center deuce, and out wide deuce). After each player has served two balls from each of the four locations, that is a complete round.

Points are awarded based on where the serve lands: 2 points for behind cones; 1 for in front of cones. Zero points for anything not in the correct service box. Whoever earns the most points per round wins that round and gets one point. In case of a tie, have a one serve playoff until someone wins that round. Added bonus fun: anyone hitting one of the target cones automatically wins that round.

Here's where it can get tricky: as you accumulate points, you are keeping score the same as if you were playing tennis. So one point would be 15. Two would be 30, three would be 40, and four would be a complete game. Players compete to see how many 'games' they can win. Activity can either be timed or completed when one player wins 6 'games', which would be a complete set in real tennis.

A deep ball is a good ball regardless of if it is a serve, a forehand, a backhand, a volley, an overhead, etc. You can make this activity work for any of these strokes by adjusting your cones/markers. So if you are working on deep forehands, place the cones 18-24" inside the baseline. Cross court returns? No problem - restrict play to the deuce or ad half of the court.

Adjust this flexible game to fit your needs. Just remember to give extra points for the deeper targets.

The Leaky Bucket

A few years ago when I was working for a large national sports organization, one phrase/topic came up frequently and was cause for great concern at staff meetings and conferences: the Leaky Bucket. Attracting new players to our sport was paramount, and I think we were pretty good at that. We could design endless attractive and exciting activities with the best marketing money could buy and subsidize them to make them affordable to all. They were well-attended, successful events and we were mostly very pleased with the outcomes. But keeping those attendees coming back was always a challenge. Hence the Leaky Bucket analogy - there is always plenty of water flowing in, but there is always a certain amount flowing out, sometimes never to return. This was always considered a failure on our part, that we were unable to retain 100% of those we so successfully introduced to our sport.

I used to be very concerned about those Leaks. I took it very personally when my retention rates were not 100%. Heck, I took it personally if they were not above 50%! As time has passed my philosophy on the Leaky Bucket has changed. I would love to achieve and maintain 100% retention. That is my goal. I do everything I can to provide a quality product and enjoyable experience to my tennis students. But I also have become a realist. As a parent, as an instructor, as a citizen of the world, I know there are many other factors at play here (literally!). Busy schedules, tight finances, loads of competition from other activities (not just sports) are the main factors. Especially with my younger students, it is a miracle any child chooses any activity and sticks with it from pre-school to grad school.

I regret that my bucket is not perfect. But let's not forget about the water supply. Gotta have that flow coming in, even if a little more of it is escaping the bucket than we would like. It is critically important that we don't give up on promoting our sport and providing multiple opportunities for new players to give it a try. Even if a majority of tennis event participants are one-and-done, you never know when they might get the urge to pick up that racquet again and get back in the game. I believe as people age, the odds are much greater that they will return to a sport they once played rather than pick up something completely new. I also believe every kid should have the opportunity to have a racquet in their hand, on a real tennis court, at least once in their childhood.

I guess what I am trying to say is maintain some balance as you are trying to grow your tennis activities. Retaining players is a worthy goal. Just don't forget to keep that water flowing.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Court Defender

Greatest Court Defender
 of All Time?
This game is from Web Tennis Drills. It requires two courts and at least six players.

  • Divide players into two teams. 
  • Each team selects one player as their Court Defender. 
  • Each Court Defender is then sent to play against the opposing team. They face each member of the opposition in singles, who are rotating through one point at a time. 
  • Points are only awarded to the Court Defender. The opposing team's job is to prevent the Court Defender from winning any points. 
  • First Court Defender to win 7 points wins one game for their team. A new Court Defender is then selected from both teams and play continues until one team has one 10 games.

I have not used this activity yet. I like the concept. My concern is that with very large groups there may be too much down time for the waiting players. Ideally you would have enough courts available to keep the waiting players' groups small, say 4 or fewer.

Update: I think I misunderstood how this works - there should be no 'waiting' players. Teams alternate playing against the Defenders, so everyone is playing. So for example Team A's Defender takes on Team B player (anyone but Defender B). Point ends. Then Team B's Defender plays someone from Team A (anyone but Defender A). So players are waiting briefly as each point is played out, but are not waiting the entire 7 point series.

Around The World

Talk about a nice shot!
Got a large group? Want them to run off a little energy? Around the World is just what the tennis doctor ordered. It's a variation of  Tag Team (or Relay) Tennis. Like Tag Team Tennis, players divide into two groups and take turns playing singles one ball at a time. Hit a ball, run to end of line, next player hits next ball, repeat. In Around the World, fitness is an added component. Player hits a ball, then runs to end of line ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COURT. Genius!

This game is easily adapted to any skill level. Young players can toss ball instead of using their racquets - they will love the extra running. It's perfect for older players also. I have seen it used many times in adult clinics as well as Cardio Tennis.

UPDATE: I used this activity recently with a Red Ball class of mixed abilities. It was a forehand day and we used this as a wrap-up activity. We had 5 players on a 36-foot court. I threw down five spots: one at each baseline, one at each net post, and the final spot waiting behind one of the baselines. Players rotate to a new spot after every point. I fed the first ball in to the forehand since we had been working on forehands in that lesson. I also added a point component: one point given for each ball hit into playable area, basically a Rallyball format. Player with most points when ball cart is empty, wins. The kids enjoyed it. They were picking up balls and filling the cart so it wouldn't get empty! Will definitely be using this again.


Lots of tennis activities related to numbers and here's a great one I just saw on Web Tennis Drills. When I first saw the name I thought it would be an attempt to rally 100 times. It is, but it isn't. Two players rally, counting the number of rallies as they play. When someone misses, the other player gets the number of points they had played to. So for example if they hit 12 balls and player A misses ball 13, Player B gets 12 points and they resume. First player to get 100 points wins.

This activity easily qualifies for my Frequently Used list. It is simple, it has consistency at its core, and it is easily adapted to any level player. Players can't rally yet? Let them toss underhanded. Too easy? Have them hit only forehands, or only volleys, or only cross-court. This activity would easily work for doubles or as a mini-tennis doubles warm-up. Perfect also for a team warm-up rather than that silly useless league warm-up everyone does these days. 100 takes too long? Surprise your players by having them select a number somewhat at random ("pick a number between 25 and 75"), and that will be the number of rallies needed to win.

Update: I used this activity yesterday with an odd number of students. At first I had them playing 2 vs 1, rotating frequently so no one was stuck as the Lone Ranger for too long. This does not work. The side with 2 players invariably skewed toward one player playing most of the balls and if there is an error made, that player gets the points. In fact one player figured this out and started hogging balls just so that if he forced an error, he got the points. So I switched it up so that no matter the number of players per side, only one was playing out the point, and rotate players after every point. Problem solved. We went with the number 38 rather than 100 due to a random choice by one of the players. These were 10U beginners and it took them more than 20 minutes to finish. Whew!