Friday, August 31, 2012

Cone Catch Relay

I have three teaching aids that stay on my cart: clothes pins, throw down spots, and cones. I use one or more of them at just about every lesson - very handy! Here's one for cones and you can probably see how the spots and pins could easily come into play as well. This game is played on the 36-foot courts. The goal is to encourage players to move forward to the ball. Thanks PTR Kids Tennis Manual for the idea.

Two players face off across the net from each other at about volley location (within racquet length from net although no racquets are used in this activity). Ball hopper is at net post. One cone is on each service line.
Cones - check.
Pins (under racquet) - check.
Spots (under pins) - check.
Maybe I need a bigger cart.

  • When coach says 'Go!', one player runs to fetch his/her cone from service line and returns to net area. 
  • The other player runs to hopper, gets one ball, runs back to volley area and tosses ball underhand to player with cone. 
  • Player with cone retrieves ball into cone after first bounce. 
  • Roles are now reversed - player who tossed ball runs back to service line to fetch his/her cone, and player who caught ball with cone runs back to service line, puts cone down, runs to hopper for a ball, goes back to volley position and tosses ball underhand to other player. 

You can time this activity or ask for X amount of completions. If you have a large group and have several courts going at once, set a goal number of X rotations to be completed. First pair to complete X number wins.

For young players you may find you will need to slow this down and direct them step by step to avoid confusion.

For older players this could easily be turned into a team based activity with a true relay action - players rotating in, taking turns at the net.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Photo Finish

Great effort but FAIL
in our Photo Finish game
Photo Finish is a great warm-up activity that encourages cooperation rather than competition. No equipment required - yay! Any number of players, any age, any ability works great - yay!

All players begin at starting point. The net or one of the sidelines is a natural. At your command, all players race to designated finish line. Baseline or opposite sideline is perfect. Here's the catch: all players must finish at the same time! Genius! Repeat until they get it right.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Short and Deep

This game is from a PTR Kids Tennis manual, where it is called This & That. But I just couldn't see the connection between the name and the activity so I am simplifying things. This activity improves focus and the player's ability to judge where an oncoming ball will land. Works for all ages.

Coach or another player feeds ball across net. Other players are across net, ideally in a receiving position. They take turns calling out 'Short' or 'Deep' to predict where the ball will bounce. Any ball landing between the net and the service line is a 'Short' ball. Any ball landing between the service line and the baseline is a 'Deep' ball. Points are earned for each correct call. This game can easily be converted to a team activity.

Easiest: No rallies. Receiving players catch ball.
Harder: Players self-feed and play out the point, calling out 'Short' or 'Deep' for each ball as they play.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mr. Freeze

This activity is another jewel from my PTR Kids Tennis manual. It demonstrates the disadvantages of staying in one spot after hitting the ball. Great for players of all ages, so I hope to see it during some adult clinics as well!

Players play out points but must stay put after hitting their ball until their opponent hits the ball. In other words, no 'recovering' to the middle of the court or other smart movement strategies. The takeaway should be twofold:
1) standing in place/not reacting after hitting a shot should be an obvious no-no
2) player should learn the huge advantage one reaps from a non-moving opponent and hit to the open spaces

Too hard for your students? Start with throwing/catching instead of rallying.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Caught Red Handed

Perfect for this game
Caught Red Handed will test your players' motor skills. Best in groups of 4 or larger.

Players stand in a circle facing forward. One player is designated 'It' and stands in the middle. Players in circle pass a tennis ball around. Player in middle stands with eyes closed and counts aloud '1-2-3'. On the count of 3, he/she may open his/her eyes and try to decide who in the circle has the tennis ball. Naturally the players in the circle know they have to have the ball hidden by the count of three. Ideally all will figure out to put their hands behind their backs, whether they actually have the ball or not.

If the player in the middle guesses correctly, they join the circle and the player who had the ball is now 'It'.

If you suspect the player in the middle is 'peeking', be prepared to play this game with a smaller object such as a golf ball, quarter, marble, etc.  If you are lucky and are a pack rat, you may have one of those tiny tennis balls used as key fobs.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pick-up Tag

One of our summer camp coaches, Eli Ortiz, came up with this clever idea to speed up the ball pick-up.

One player is 'it' and has to tag other players. Other players are safe if they are transporting a ball to the ball hopper. Once a ball is picked up it must be taken straight to the hopper because it loses its safe powers soon after it is picked up. Any player tagged becomes the new 'it'.

No fair holding on to one ball the whole time. No fair picking balls out of the hopper.

Players may pick up as many balls at a time as they like. Be warned: this game becomes very intense as the number of balls to be picked up dwindles.
Ball pick-up - always a challenge

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Try to keep a straight face!
artwork by Larry Wright
Hagoo is a simple ice-breaking exercise, great for first day of camp. I found it at the Central Washington University's website. Hagoo is the Tlinglit word for 'come here'. 'Gauntlet' would also work well for this game if Hagoo is too exotic for your taste.

Players are evenly divided into two groups and stand facing each other 3-4 feet apart. Opposite sides of the doubles alley is ideal. One of the groups is designated as the Hagoo side. One player from each side is chosen to walk slowly between the two groups from one end to the other. Each starts at opposite ends. They will pass each other in the middle. The players lining each side try to make the walking players smile/laugh as they walk through. Noises, gestures and faces may be made but no one can touch the two walkers in the middle. If either of the walkers smiles before they pass through the entire line, they join the Hagoo side. If they make it through without smiling, they join the other side. This is repeated until all players are in one of the two lines.

If this is not tennis-y enough for you, easy to add tennis-related options. Have the walkers balance a tennis ball on their racquets, or dribbling downs or ups as they pass by. Instead of trying to make them smile, you are trying to make them miss. Make sure players have plenty of room to pass safely. Remember, no touching of the walking players is permitted.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Jazz hands!
I recently learned this warm-up from one of our summer camp coaches, Natalie Cook. I don't know if the campers had ever seen it before. By the time they got to the end of the warm-up, they were having a ball.

No equipment needed - yay! Works with any number of kids - the bigger group, the better. Yay!

Players stand in a circle. Leader picks a number to count down from based on age of players. The younger the players, the lower the number. The day I saw it, we had about 20 players ages 4-10 and Natalie chose 10 as the countdown number.

Starting with the right hand, everyone shakes their right hand in the air while counting down from 10 to zero. Once that is done, they repeat the countdown from 10 to zero, shaking their left hand in the air instead. Then they move on to the right leg, then the left leg.

Once all four limbs have been shaken, repeat the process starting with 9 and counting down with all four limbs, one limb at a time.

Repeat, beginning with 8. And so forth until you get to 1. At the finish, you should end up shouting a quick One! One! One! One! as you shake your right hand, left hand, right leg and left leg.

This was fun. The lower the countdown got, the quicker it went and the more animated the kids became.  Even if they hadn't seen it done before, they caught on quickly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fing Fong Fooey

R-P-S is so yesterday!
This is a great variation on Rock Paper Scissors for groups larger than two, or when you need to select individual players at random for whatever task you are doing.

You and your players form a circle. All make a similar hand motion like Rock, Paper Scissors. But instead of saying Rock Paper Scissors, you say 'Fing, Fong, Fooey!'. At the word Fooey, everyone holds out either one, two or three fingers. Count up the total number of fingers showing. Starting with yourself, count around the circle that number of people. Whoever is the person at that number is 'it'.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Countdown is a simple warm-up idea from the nice folks at Central Washington University. I am modifying it slightly to make it a little more active. No equipment is needed.

Players gather, not necessarily in a circle. However many players there are, the countdown begins with that number. So if there are 10 players, start the countdown at 10. Someone is designated the Mission Commander. The Mission Commander says 'Countdown' and someone begins with the highest number. One at a time, players say each lower number until the group gets to zero. Important: they are not going around the circle in order. The randomness of who is calling out the numbers is the point of the exercise. If two or more players say the same number at the same time, the Mission Commander cancels the launch and begins again. If there is too long of a delay between numbers, ditto. Make sure everyone is participating.

My tweak is to have the players jump up or otherwise do some sort of activity when they call out their number to add some physicality to the warm-up.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Group Juggling

Graphic from WeJuggle2
Group Juggling will test any player's focus and coordination. Best with groups of 4 or more. Players should be old enough to toss and catch consistently. You will need one tennis ball for each player.

Players stand in a circle. Start with one ball. First player tosses ball across circle. Catching player tosses to different player (not first player) and so forth until all in circle have caught and received ball one time each. Important: players must remember who they threw to and who threw to them to establish a pattern. Repeat this pattern until you are satisfied everyone knows it. Once they are comfortable with the pattern, add a second ball.  Continue until there is one ball in play for the number of players in the circle. For example, if you have 8 players in the circle, at the end of this activity there should be eight balls in play.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tri Team Challenge

Tri Team Challenge is a great activity for players of all ages from advanced beginners and up, so I hope you will consider this for a future adult social or league in addition to your junior clinics. I will be using this format as a mini-tournament every 6-8 weeks in place of a regular clinic session. Thanks PTR Kids Tennis Manual for this game.

You will need at least six players. Form teams of three players and number each player 1, 2 or 3. Play three rounds consisting of whatever format works best for your players. For example, if you are using this for young players, play best two out of three 7 point games. For an adult social, consider 4 game short sets.

Round 1: Player 1 plays singles; Player 2 and 3 play doubles.
Round 2: Player 2 plays singles; Player 1 and 3 play doubles.
Round 3: Player 3 plays singles; Player 1 and 2 play doubles.

Record scores for each team based on number of games won. Team with most games won at end of Round 3 wins.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fox and Squirrel

Another reason to have lots of
different types of ball on hand
Here's a fun but challenging warm-up activity. Best with at least 3-4 players; more is better. You will need two balls of one type and a third ball of a different type; for example, two orange balls and one foam ball.

Have all players stand in a circle. Designate the single ball as the Squirrel and the two other balls as the Foxes. Players pass the Fox around hand to hand to adjacent players only. Changing direction is allowed. The Squirrel may be tossed to any player. Players call out Fox or Squirrel as they pass the balls, depending on which one they are passing.

Object of the game is to tag the player holding the Squirrel with one or both of the Foxes.

With younger players you might want to break this into two phases. Have them start with Foxes only, without the tagging component. Once they understand how to pass properly, up the stakes by adding the Squirrel.

I found this game on the Central Washington University website.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Team Shootout

Hula hoops - an old toy with plenty
of handy new uses on court
Team Shootout is similar to the Singles Shootout game. I first saw this game in a PTR junior tennis manual. It is best for medium to large groups. Players should be able to rally. Great for all court sizes - 36, 60 or 78. Works for adult socials also.

Divide players into two teams. They do not need to be exactly even. Have two score keeping areas nearby, easily seen by all. You can use hoops or wire hoppers as containers and tennis balls for scorekeepers. Clothespins on the net cord will also work.

Players take turns playing singles. Whoever wins the point places a ball in their hoop/hopper or a clothespin on the net cord for their team. Play to a set number of points or for a set time period.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Star Catcher

What's not to like?
Thank you NatGeo for the pretty pic
I first saw Star Catcher demonstrated at a USTA Community Tennis Development Workshop. It works best with large groups playing across multiple courts, especially if you have 36-foot courts set up adjacent to each other to make switching courts simple and quick. P.E. teachers: this activity works great in the gym.

Assign one side of the courts as the Star side and send one player per court to that side. All other players will be challenging the Stars to become the new Star. Challengers take turns playing singles against the Star players. As soon as a point is complete, the challenger rotates to a different court and a new challenger comes in. Make sure challengers understand this and don't hang out at one court to earn all their points.

Challengers must earn three points to become a Star. When the third point is earned, the challenger takes the place of whichever Star player they have beaten to earn the third point. That Star player now becomes a challenger. There is no need for the Star players to keep track of points earned. They just need to keep winning to remain a Star.

I played this recently with beginners ages 6-9 on 36-foot courts with red balls. Although most were new to tennis and the rallies did not last long, they picked up the concept very quickly and enjoyed playing it. Everyone had an opportunity to be a Star. I had the challengers bounce feed to start the point. If they were unable to get the ball in play after two tries, they were out and someone else came in to try.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Rally Racers

Here's the tennis version of rally racing. No cars needed and you shouldn't get too dirty. You will need a couple of throw down spots or strips. Players should be able to rally.

Singles players begin three racquet lengths from the net (throw down the spots here). They attempt to complete 10 rallies without an error. When ten rallies are completed, they move their spots back one racquet length from the net and repeat. Game is complete when players reach baseline. If multiple courts are playing at the same time, first team making it to baseline wins.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

3 Ball Rally

This is a great activity to help your students improve their consistency. Consider documenting results over several weeks to demonstrate their improvement.

Give singles players three balls between them. They rally, counting the number of rallies before an error is made. When an error is made, they feed the second ball. When another error is made, they feed the third ball. Total number of rallies for the three balls is the number to be recorded.

As with the other activity, you can increase the level of difficulty by restricting the type of shot to be rallied or the area of court to be played.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Black Hole

Building on the Tap Up activity, here's another drill that encourages your students to direct and place the ball. This game is best with advanced beginners and up who are able to rally. I first saw this game in a PTR Kids Tennis handbook.

Each side of the court is divided into 4 boxes: the two service boxes, plus the two halves of the back court. Players play out a short tiebreaker, first to 5. Rather than reward the winner, this game gives an equalizer to the loser as follows: the losing player chooses one of his/her own four boxes to be blacked out. In other words, none of the opponent's balls may land in the blacked out box.

Players play another breaker. If the same player loses, he/she may add a second blacked out box. Any time a player with any number of blacked out boxes wins, all blacked out boxes are cleared and full court is played. Blacked out boxes do not effect serve.

You may find some throw down spots handy in this activity to mark the various boxes as they are blacked out.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tap Up

Nice tap up!
Once your players are able to self-rally (tap ball into air, let bounce on ground, repeat), they are ready for Tap Up. Two players play inside a single service box. They rally with each other by tapping the ball up into the air. Ball must bounce each time, and must bounce within said service box. First to however many points you choose is the winner.

The purpose of this game is to create an awareness of the value of being able to move the ball away from the opponent. Note blocking out or otherwise interfering with the opposing player is not allowed.

Easier: have players toss ball up and catch barehanded rather than using their racquets.
Harder: introduce the net into the equation - players play across the net from each other.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Two Bounce

I found this activity in a
 PTR Kids Tennis manual
Timing is so critical in most sports. In tennis we should be teaching awareness of bounce as soon as possible. Timing the stroke off the bounce is a very handy skill to have!

With very young players this can be done with visual and verbal cues (see Bounce Catch activity). Two Bounce can be considered a progression from that one. Once players are able to rally, challenge them to allow two bounces. Keep this a mini-tennis activity if possible - soft hands, close to the net, within the service boxes.


  • Once this skill is mastered, allow one player two bounces but their opponent may only have one.
  • Coach or designated player determines how many bounces by calling out '1' or '2' as ball is hit. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Modified Match Play

Limpsfield LTC
There are so many great sports instruction sites online. These tips are inspired by a site called Y-Coach. It offers tips for many sports in addition to tennis.

I'm a big believer in getting students playing in actual matches or something approximating match play as soon as possible. Sad but true, sometimes their only opportunity will be during their lessons. These tips will help you keep things fresh while giving your students plenty of match play opportunities during your clinics. Also excellent for adult clinics and socials!

  • Ace wins game; double fault loses game.
  • Want to improve your serving consistency? Allow only one serve per point (eliminate second serve).
  • Want to serve more aggressively? Give three serves per point instead of two.

Game awareness
  • Learn how to close out a match OR come from behind by starting the match with the score at 4-1
  • Learn to convert with this twist: once at 40, player must win point or game score goes back to 0-0.
  • Server serves midway between service line and baseline to give returner practice returning harder/faster serves.
  • Server serves underhand to give returner practice returning soft serves.
The all-court game
  • Player must serve and volley at least once per game
  • Three balls rally complete before any points are awarded
  • Player must approach net on any ball hit inside of service line
  • Extra points given for winning points at the net

The mental game
  • Have two or four players playing singles/doubles with all others watching, divided into cheering sections for each side. Losing player(s) and their fans do all pickup at end of lesson. 
  • Each player is allowed two intentional bad calls per set. Caution: for young students, make sure they understand this is NOT encouraged and is for the benefit of the other player in learning how to deal with bad calls. If you want to add another layer of learning here, have them make bad calls with you as the on court referee to demonstrate possible consequences during an officiated match.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Team Bounce

Here's a game that combines a warm-up for your ABC's (Agility, Balance, Coordination) with a team-based activity. Great for large groups. I found it in a QuickStart coaches resource booklet.

Place an equal number of cones across the net from each other along the two sidelines of one side of the court. For example 4 cones each across the net from each other along the sideline for a total of 8 cones. 

Divide players into two equal groups and have them form two lines on the opposite sidelines so that each team is across the court from their set of 4 cones.

For each cone, plan an activity to be performed by each team member. For example for the first cone, players must balance a ball on his/her racquet strings across the court, around cone #1 and back. When he/she returns, second player on team does the same around cone #1 until all players on team have completed this task.

In the meantime, player #1 then moves on to cone #2 which would have a different challenge such as dribbling the ball on the court. Cone #3 might be dribbling the ball in the air, and perhaps cone #4 is a self rally (ball bounced up off strings into air, then bounce on ground, and repeat). 

So what you want is a constant stream of players moving back and forth sideline to sideline performing whatever task is required at each cone. Make sure the cones are spread out to allow plenty of room for players moving back and forth. Players must return to sideline opposite cones before beginning new task for new cone. First team to complete all cones successfully wins.

  • fewer cones
  • shorter distance
  • eliminate racquets and have players focus on types of movement (skip, hop, side shuffle) and manipulate ball with hands (bounce, catch, clap) instead
  • more cones
  • increase distance by having cones in middle of court on either side of net and have teams moving from baseline to net rather than sideline to sideline
  • have player put racquet in non-dominant hand

Thursday, August 2, 2012


These booklets are handy!
Here's another useful activity thanks to the nice folks at USTA and their uber handy QuickStart coaches resource booklets. It is presented as a serve drill, but as you will see it can be adapted to supplement just about anything your students need to work on.

Form two teams. Number or otherwise organize the players so that a serving rotation is established - you don't want the same person serving all the time. Teams play out regular singles points against each other. Whichever team wins the point earns the letter 'C' and continues serving with the next player in rotation taking the next turn serving. First team to spell out 'Champs' wins.

Easier: have players throwing ball instead of hitting with racquet. Or use foam or lower compression balls.
Harder: only one serve allowed - no second serves. Or establish a minimum number of rallies to be completed before points can be won. This second may remind  you of the 3 Monkeys drill which could be incorporated here also. You could establish a minimum number of rallies, or have them hit a particular shot like all forehands, or some combination.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

College Tennis $$ - Do The Math

If you have a child in a 10 and Under Tennis program, chances are you have wondered if a college tennis scholarship may be in their future to help you get a return on your tennis investment. I did a little digging and here's what I found.

According to a recent presentation about the USTA's Tennis On Campus program, there are about 300,000 kids who play on their high school tennis team nationwide. The presenter estimated about 15,000 of them actually make it on to a college team somewhere.

After doing a little research, I think the number is a little higher than 15,000.  Around 1700 Division I, II and III schools have tennis teams (men and womens' combined).  NAIA and junior colleges add another 400 teams. Let's say there's an average of 10 players per team. That gets us up to 21,000 players. You can see this number will vary depending on how many players are on a team. They can get by with a minimum of 6 (three doubles courts, six singles courts per match).

But let's assume the presenter knows way more about this than I do and the number is 15,000. Whoa! That is a sobering number right there. That means only 5% of high school players actually make it onto a college team. Probably fewer than that because many elite tennis players don't play on their high school teams - they spend their time in lessons and on the tournament circuit.

Let's say your child is one of the lucky 5%. What are the chances they will earn a scholarship? Scholarships vary depending on division (4.5 per team for the men and either 8 or 6 for the women). So of approximately 15,000 (or 21,000) college players, DI, DII, NAIA and some junior colleges offer about 8200 scholarships to all of those students (At schools where athletic scholarships are not offered, academic scholarships may be available to student athletes).  At best that is just over half. At worst, around 40%.

At the beginning of this post we had an nice healthy number to work with: 300,000 kids nationwide playing on high school teams. Here we are now with only 8200 of them getting some money to play in college. Looking at it that way is kind of depressing - less than 3% of high school players will end up getting any money to play tennis in college. But I hope you will consider the bigger picture.

  • There are 300,000 kids playing high school tennis and probably room for more. Many schools participate in USTA's No Cut program.
  • If they don't make the college team, the Tennis On Campus program is very robust with 35,000 players nationwide at over 500 schools. 
  • Tennis, unlike many other high school sports, is 'the sport of a lifetime'. It is a gift that will continue to give from age 5 to 85.
  • These numbers are no less encouraging in other sports. About 2% of high school athletes get a sports scholarship to an NCAA school, regardless of sport. Percentage of high school athletes making it onto an NCAA college team, regardless of scholarship:
    • Football: 6%
    • Baseball: 6% 
    • Basketball: 3%
    • Soccer: 5%
So the tennis numbers are about average. Besides, wouldn't you rather go with the non-concussion option??

The University of South CarolinaTennis On Campus team
Seriously, folks - if you are trying to plan your child's tennis future, be aware of the numbers and of your child's ability and willingness to work. If the high school team is their goal, under 10 is the perfect age to get started. If the college team is their goal, be prepared to work and play harder and better than 95% of all the other kids out there.

Game Over

I found this game in a QuickStart
coaches resource booklet
Here's another activity to build all-court skills in your students. This one encourages quality net play.

Four players play out a normal doubles point - doubles positions, one player serves, regular scoring, etc. First team to four games wins. However: any team, at the appropriate time, may win the game if they both approach the net and one of them hits a winning volley. If this happens, GAME OVER.

It is important that the players learn when to come in. But if they don't know when to come in and you find they are charging the net on every ball just to get the Game Over bonus, no worries. Savvy opponents will gain a new appreciation for the value of the lob at this time, and this is also a very useful lesson.

This activity is also useful played as singles.