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.