Friday, October 5, 2012

Proximity Drill

Baseball players have it easy. They stand in one spot until someone throws a perfect ball for them to hit. If the ball is not in just the right spot, they don't have to hit it! Wouldn't it be lovely if the same rule applied in tennis?

I see lots of players of all ages struggling with a very important concept: proximity to the ball on contact. Other things look good such as their swing and their footwork, but they are not maximizing their results because they are not clear on where they should be standing and where the ball should be in relation to them when they hit it. I think part of the reason, especially in young players, is that so many of them start off by being asked to stand on a spot while balls are fed to them. They are not sure how to translate their newly found hitting skills to hitting while on the move. Or indeed, why they should have to move to hit the ball! So I have taken a common children's game and adapted it to my need for a Proximity Drill.

There's a simple warm-up on some of the tennis sites called Mirror, Mirror. It is played lots of places other than the tennis court but works well there, also. In Mirror, Mirror, two players face each other about 3 feet apart. One player mirrors everything the other does - arm/hand/foot movements, facial expressions, etc. - maintaining the 3 foot distance between them all the while.

Forehand example. Player on right
represents The Ball.
Borrowing the idea of maintaining a set amount of distance (Point of Contact!!), I have two players face each other. One is designated as The Ball. The other player has their racquet in hand, held at desired point of contact. Coach determines starting spot for ball, either forehand or backhand. So if we are working on forehands, the player should hold their racquet out in front of their dominant side at an angle, where they should be making contact with the ball. To begin, The Ball stands just at the edge of the other player's racquet. When coach says Go!, The Ball moves.

Safety tip: the player with the racquet never swings or attempts to hit the player acting as The Ball. 

As The Ball moves, the player with the racquet must constantly adjust his/her position to keep The Ball out in front of them at the optimum point of contact. Both players move with small - but quick! - adjusting steps. Player with racquet must be facing net, keeping The Ball between themselves and the net, at all times. After a few minutes of this, have players switch roles.

If done correctly, this drill will get hearts pounding quickly, so no need to overdo it. The goal is to help the players visualize the optimum point of contact more easily as they remember where their human-size ball was during this warm-up.