Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Lob - easy as 1, 2, 3

Wildwood RC has some tips on the bunt lob
So many tennis students spend their clinic time grinding out ground strokes. While important, players should not live by groundies alone. Encourage your students to build an all-court game by introducing them to other shots like volleys, overheads and lobs. Here's an easy exercise to hone their lobbing skills. This is from a QuickStart coaches resource booklet.

You will need three players, or two players and a coach feeding balls. Station one player at each baseline and a third (or the coach) at the net as feeder. Feeder underhand tossed ball to baseline player across net. Baseline player hits lob over feeder's head. Other baseline player catches after one bounce. Rotate positions so that everyone gets a turn at lobbing or catching.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Win In 5 (or die trying)

Bust out your untangling skills for this drill
This may be the most complicated activity I have seen included in a QuickStart booklet. I had to put on my thinking cap to figure it out. It would be a challenge for any adult clinic, so feel free to give it a try there also.

I like the concept. Its intention is to create an understanding of how to build points. It is for more experienced players who are able to place shots.  It says you will need five players per team, which I disagree with - see below. If you don't have five, you can have the players rotate relay-fashion but this will make an already complicated game even more difficult.

Assign each player per team a number 1-5. Each player is responsible for a different shot. For example let's say our teams are Red Team and Blue Team. Player #1 on Red Team, aka Red 1, serves from deuce. Player #1 on Blue Team aka Blue 1, returns from deuce side serve straight ahead. Meanwhile after Red 1 has served, they get out of the way and Red 2 pops in to the court on the ad side to take the straight ahead return from Blue 1.

Red 2 must hit a cross court shot. Blue 2 is now on their own ad court ready for it since Blue 1 hit their return and got off the court.

Are you confused yet??

Blue 2 hits down the line to Red 3 who is ready and waiting at their own deuce side baseline.

Red 3 hits cross court. Blue 3 is at their deuce side wide, awaiting the shot.

After Red 3 hits cross court, this completes the cycle of 5 shots alluded to in the title. To recap, here are the five shots:
Serve (hit by Red 1)
Return (hit by Blue 1)
Cross Court (hit by Red 2)
Down the Line (hit by Blue 2)
Cross Court (hit by Red 3)

As if that weren't confusing enough, here's the scoring strategy. If Red 3's fifth shot ends the point, the Red Team wins 5 points. If it is not a winner and play continues, so be it, but whichever team wins that point only gets one point. First team to 25 wins.

It is not clear from the instructions but it appears if Red 3's shot does not end the point, play continues between Red 3 and Blue 3 - no further player rotation is needed in that point. Also I assume the next point is begun by Red 4 serving with Blue 4 returning and the other players maintaining their original order in line. Again, not clear from the instructions.

Seems to me this would be better with three players per side so they can work on specific shots each time. For instance Blue 2 is working on their down the line shot while Red 3 is working on their cross court ground stroke. Play one game to 25 with all six players in the position the entire game. Once that game is complete, players move to a different spot so they can work on a different shot.

The graphic included for this game causes even more confusion. It looks like a plate of court diagram spaghetti! It will be easier to understand walking through it with one player on court at a time and IMO having them focus on one shot each per game rather than worry about where they are in the rotation after every hit ball.

I agree with their suggestions on variations to make this easier.
  • Reduce number of shots required to win point to 3 - serve, return, and 3rd shot.
  • Eliminate 1 point scoring feature and award 5 points to winning team no matter how it is won (as long as the minimum number of balls has been played, of course). 
Good grief! Good luck!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

4 Corners

Pat Etcheberry demonstrating the
4 Corners warm-up
I found this warm-up at a site featuring tennis fitness expert Pat Etcheberry. Four cones are set up at the corners of an imaginary box with the player standing in the middle. The cones should be far enough apart that the player must shuffle step 3-4 steps from the center to reach the cones. On the coach's command the player moves to each cone, then back to the center. The goal is to move quickly, staying low with good balance and eyes facing forward.

The only tweak I have on this great warm-up is on directing the players to the cones. I usually have more than one player on court with me in a lesson (thank goodness!!) so if I had to direct each player individually as shown in the video I would have players waiting around. Not good! My tweak would be to have an agreed upon command for each corner, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, or A, B, C, D. Different colored cones/targets would be great. Then, I could call out the commands and multiple kids could be doing the 4 Corners drill at the same time. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

PlayDays Coming Soon To A Court Near You

Here's a list of some upcoming PlayDays. Thanks Midwest Section for making a comprehensive list for your section. Other sections please hook us up - don't make it so hard to find this stuff online!

July 20 Elm Grove WI - Western Racquet Club
July 24 Akron OH - Towpath TC
July 27 Mequon WI - Mequon Elite
July 27 St. Joseph MI -  South  Shore Health & Racquet Club
July 28 Racine WI - J I Case HS
July 28 Washington DC - Kastles Stadium
Aug 2 Cincinnati OH - Queen City Racquet & Fitness
Aug 3 Elm Grove WI - Western Racquet Club
Aug 4 Cincinnati OH - Mercy HealthPlex Anderson
Aug 4 Copley OH - Copley HS
Aug 6 Whitefish Bay WI - Whitefish Bay Rec
Aug 8 Whitefish Bay WI - Whitefish Bay Rec
Aug 10 Mequon WI - Mequon Elite
Aug 11 Munster IN -  Munster HS
Aug 11 Jacksonville FL - Florida Yacht Club
Aug 12 West Lafayette IN - Schwartz TC
Aug 14 Akron OH -  Towpath Tennis Center
Aug 15 Petoskey MI - Petoskey High School
Aug 25 Kenosha - WI East Side Tennis & Fitness; West Side Tennis & Swim
Aug 26 Powell OH  - Wedgewood Golf & CC
Sep 15 St. Claire Shores MI - Bon Brae Center
Sep 22 Cincinnati OH - Mercy Healthplex Anderson

Team Serving

Kids serving it up at a USTA camp offered by
Battle Creek Tennis Association
Team Serving is similar to the Keep It Deep activity in that there are targets set up in the service box across the net. However, in Team Serving, points are accumulated as a team rather than individually. I saw this variation in a QuickStart Coaches Resource booklet.

Create two teams per court. Each player is given three balls. One point awarded for every target hit. Points are combined to come up with a team total.

Here are some progression ideas.
Easiest: entire service box is your target - just get the ball over the net and into the correct service box.
Harder: allow only one serve per player. Or, have them 'call' their target before they serve.

A note about using cones as targets: I use the cones as a visual but the actual target is more of a zone. For example a cone at the 'T' is actually part of a zone consisting of the rectangle or square along the dividing line of the service box. Unless my players are very high level and the cones are very large I don't expect them to hit the cone, but I do expect them to aim for/hit the zone (down the middle, in the body, or out wide). If anyone actually does hit a cone, instant winner! Game or round is over.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Two Ball Toss

I found this drill through a LinkedIn post by Alan Wright of CETA Tennis. Players attempt this individually so it is great for small or odd numbers of players.

Player performs a regular overhand serve with one important difference: he/she tosses TWO balls instead of one. Hit one as a serve; then after the other ball has bounced once, hit it with a forehand. The link has a handy video which explains it well.

This looks like a great activity for focus and coordination. Mr. Wright adds it encourages a proper toss high and out front. In his video a very advanced player is performing the activity. I am curious to try it with my advanced beginner juniors.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I have seen Superstar demonstrated a couple of times. Haven't used it yet, but it is working its way up the queue. Props to those of you who can do this well. I am not sure I have the multitasking skills to both feed and holler commands at the same time. <g>

Coach feeds balls across net to players. Coach calls out various commands after feeding ball, and player must hit ball as commanded. This list is limited only by your imagination. Sample commands:

  • Forehand
  • Backhand
  • Catch Right
  • Catch Left
  • Kick Right
  • Kick Left
  • Head
  • Between Legs

This is a real coordination challenge for both player and coach. Great for improving focus!

Update: I tried this recently and the kids enjoyed it - lots of giggles. I let them contribute a few ideas for our list. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

7-11 (serve/return)

7-11s were big where I grew up. Maybe
you had Circle K? Wawa? Kwik-E Mart?
If you are looking for an activity that focuses on the two most important strokes of the game, here ya go!  Two players compete; one is serving, the other is returning. The serving player must earn 11 points before the returner earns 7. That's it. Pretty simple, huh?

Note: the players DO NOT play out the point. Because they are not playing out the point, you can have four players per court playing this game simultaneously, cross-court of course.

Hint: consider pairing this with a serve warm-up activity like Outfield.

I like this game because in addition to emphasizing consistency, it also introduces the concept of pressure and mental toughness. Initially, if the returner is not getting the ball in play, it will be easy for the server to run away with the game. Note that because we are not playing out the point, all the returner has to do is get the ball back in play. Nothing fancy. Sometimes this is also the case in an actual match!

Likewise, the savvy server will figure out pretty quickly if he/she is just laying the ball in there, they will have a hard time winning due to the way the game is set up. So they may start trying to put a little more on their serve if they are facing a consistent returner.

I am always amazed at how clever my young students are. In this game you will have students who, when serving, try for more on their serves because they know if they miss, no biggie, no penalty - the opponent cannot earn a point unless the serve goes in. That's fine. Sometimes you want your students to stretch and go for a little more on their shots.  However, if you want to work on consistency (rather than power) on the serve, try this variation.

Before they begin, place a pile of balls in the alley near wherever the server will be serving from. It's okay - since they aren't playing out the point, it won't be underfoot. You choose the number of balls (I used 22, basically giving the server enough for two chances at every point to get to 11). Just make sure it is a small enough number to be effective, because what you want to do is introduce the concept of finite opportunities for the server. Very interesting how this changes the dynamic of the game by introducing more pressure on the server. Just the sight of that pile dwindling away ratchets up the stakes.

I encourage my students to envision that dwindling pile of balls when the pressure is on their opponent and it is so important that they take advantage of the opportunity by getting their own return in play and not give away any freebies. If the pressure is on them as the server, I encourage them to NOT look at, count, or otherwise obsess over the pile of balls (real or imaginary) and just play with confidence.

Final note: I have seen other games named 7-11. I will outline one more in a future blog post.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


No way am I putting a picture of a snake on my blog!
Sidewinder is a simple concept to help your players work on cross court shots. Players play out points cross court only. One point awarded after each rally UNLESS one player is forced to step into the alley, in which case the other player gets 5 points. If playing doubles, the 5 points is awarded if any player steps outside the court boundary. You can play to a specific point total or use it as a timed event.

Remember, even if the ball is returned in, if a player had to step outside the boundaries to hit it, point is over and awarded to opponent.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Similar size, seams,
throwing motion.
Coincidence? I think not.
Here's a serve warm-up activity flexible enough for any number of players.

  • Divide players into two more or less even teams. 
  • Have one player begin by throwing a ball overhand across the net. 
  • Ball must land in singles court. Ball must be caught in air or on one bounce. Player catching ball is next to throw. 

Points are awarded based on errors, just like in the real game. For example if the ball lands outside the singles court, or is not caught after one bounce, point goes to team not making the error. You can work to a specific point total or for a set time period. This game helps develop court sense - where should I throw this ball?? - and warms up the shoulder for serving.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two Racquets

Professor Don Mueller and his two racquet technique
I saw this mentioned on a LinkedIn tennis discussion group and thought it would be fun for my summer campers. It was! I used it as a segment wrap-up - you know, just before a break when the kids are ready for something fun after working hard on serious stuff. The kids were ages 7 and up, beginners to advanced beginners. We used junior racquets and orange balls, but because I wanted them to have plenty of space for safety reasons, we used the full 78-foot court. This activity can be done with 2-4 players per side per court; no more than that for safety reasons IMO.

Since each player had their hands full with two racquets, I fed the first ball from the net post. We played Champs and Chumps, the version where the chumps must win best 2 of 3 points to become the new champs. It was a good giggle, worth a try if you have enough racquets. If you don't have enough, players can play singles and share/rotate.