Friday, November 30, 2012

Skill Pyramid

Skill Pyramid is similar to the 5 Points drill but on steroids. Which of course I do not support in any way. But you get my meaning. Students take turns hitting 5 balls as instructed. There will be five rounds of 5 balls, each round progressively more difficult.

Students each get fed 5 balls. What they are to do with their ball depends on what you are working on during the lesson - forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, etc.

In Round 1, the challenge is to hit each of the 5 over the net and in play
Round 2 - ball must be hit directionally per coach's instruction (deuce, ad, center)
Round 3 - ball must be hit to depth per coach's instruction (short or deep)
Round 4 - ball must be hit with spin per coach's instruction (flat, topspin, slice)
Round 5 - ball must be hit with correct amount of power per coach's instruction (drop shot, screaming winner, aggressive approach, etc.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

On Court Tantrums: What's Your Policy?

John McEnroe, the undisputed king of the on-court tantrum.
 Photo from
I am a closet softy when it comes to on-court tears. Tantrums, not so much. Absolutely Not Tolerated. I follow the tennis rules Point Penalty System structure: a verbal warning, then a penalty (usually a brief time out in a safe area nearby), followed by possibility of a default (meaning if behavior is going to be an ongoing problem, maybe it is time to take a break from tennis - or at least tennis with me).

A word about safety: safety comes first. Is the tantrum thrower also a racquet thrower? Any physical misbehavior toward equipment, court, or other players is Absolutely Not Tolerated. If a time out is needed, do you have a spot that is sheltered, where they will not be in the path of students or balls as the activity continues, but you can still keep a close eye on them during their 'break'? And also where they are plainly visible so that you don't forget about them? When I have a student taking a break, I am frequently calling out to them to see how they are doing and if they are ready to return to the group.

This may seem like a hard-nosed stance on tantrums, but it is often moderated by one of the following.
  • age - perhaps the biggest factor. My reaction to a 5-year-old tantrum is quite different from that to a 10-year-old. For the former, mercy is a possibility. For the latter, not so much. 
  • conditions - is it hot? is it chilly? Even windy conditions can cause frustration and discomfort for very young players. I make sure everyone is comfortable for conditions. In South Carolina, where I live, it is usually a heat situation so I make sure everyone is hydrated and we take a shade break if necessary.
  • duration - our clinics for under 8s are 45 minute sessions, and sometimes that is stretching things. If your classes are much longer, don't be surprised when kids get tired. If they get tired, they get cranky. And it can go downhill from there very quickly.
So when things occasionally take an unexpected turn during your lesson, just remember you are there to set an example as well as teach tennis. Keeping your cool can be a challenge, whether you live in South Carolina or South Dakota. Hang in there! I'm rooting for you!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stepping Out

Here's a warm-up to improve side and angle movement. Two players pair up facing each other. One player will be rolling balls; the other will be retrieving them.

Retrieving player sets up in ready position. Rolling player may kneel or sit. Rolling player rolls ball out wide to retrieving player's forehand side. Retrieving player split steps, then steps out to retrieve ball and rolls it back, then returns to recover spot and ready position. Rolling player then rolls ball out wide to backhand side. Continue for X amount of reps or set time period, then switch roles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


This game is harder than it seems. It is easily adaptable for different size groups and abilities.

Divide players into two groups at one of the baselines. Have a set number of balls for each team. One at a time, players dribble a tennis ball with their racquets up to the service line and hit it over the net. Note they must dribble continuously and hit the ball over the net without stopping the dribbling - the hit over the net must be off a dribbled ball.  If the ball does not go over the net, player must return to baseline and repeat attempt. First team to hit all of their balls over the net and in play wins.

For small groups, play as individuals rather than as teams.

Easiest Have players dribble by hand with the 'bounce, catch' and toss ball over net.
Harder Divide target court into sections, awarding varying numbers of points. For example, ball landing in the service box is one point. Past the service line is two points. No Man's Land or deeper is three points. Team with most points when all balls are played wins. Another option: team's ball must land in team's half of opposite court.
Hardest Smaller, more specific targets are the only way players can earn points. For example, place hula hoops or cone circles at various positions on the court. Ball must land in the target to earn a point.

Adapted from The Tennis Drills Book by Tina Hoskins.

Update: I was astonished at the level of cheating during this activity. Things to watch for:

  • Players carrying multiple balls to the service line. 
  • Players ignoring/not replaying their net balls. 
  • Players hand-feeding or otherwise handling the ball with their hands. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

5 Biggest Junior Tennis Instruction Myths

Take these 'tips' with a grain of salt
Formal tennis instruction can speed up the learning process.  But it doesn't hurt to have multiple viewpoints on some of the information still being offered out there. Here are a few things you may hear from your child's instructor that don't bear up under close inspection.

Tennis should be your #1 priority.
At some point most advanced level junior players narrow their focus to one sport. The question is, when should that be? Conventional tennis wisdom used to say the earlier, the better. Stick a racquet in their hands at age 4 and never let them touch a bat or a golf club. Recent research is proving otherwise for tennis. It seems tennis is what is known as a 'late specialization' sport. Youngsters should be encouraged to sample as many different activities as time and family schedule will allow. Even just running around in the back yard will do! This helps them become good all around athletes, which helps them become better tennis players. Focusing on tennis exclusively too early runs the risk of skipping this important step. If a player decides tennis is for them, the early teens are a great time to make tennis the priority. Here's a great article by Paul Lubbers with the biomechanical details.

If your young player can't handle yellow balls and full 78 foot courts, forget it - they will never be much of a tennis player.
Like everything else on earth, tennis instruction is evolving. Here in America, this is a relatively recent event. As world rankings tell us, the rest of the tennis world is far ahead of us in their evolutionary path. In Europe and elsewhere, the progressive method of instruction has been around for years. Young players learn with modified equipment (lower nets, smaller racquets, slower balls). As they master each level, they move up until they are physically ready for the full courts and 'real' (yellow) balls. Are there some 5-year-olds who can bang the ball from the 78 foot baseline? Sure, just like there are a few Tiger Woods and Andre Agassis. Are they a tiny minority of total players? Yes. If your child is assigned to a 'red ball' or 'orange ball' class, do not despair - rejoice! They will be learning improved techniques faster, will spend less time unlearning things they learned to help them cope with oversized equipment , and will be less likely to drop out due to frustration. Still not convinced? Watch this video.

Private lessons are the quickest path to the pros.
Certainly PLs can be an important component of instruction. But players need a well-rounded tennis experience that includes private and group instruction, team play, match play, and just plain old recreational 'pick up' play. The more you play, the better you will get. But that doesn't necessarily mean you need a private lesson five days a week. Conversely, lots of matches without instruction does not always lead to improvement. Much depends on your tennis goals. Players hoping to reach the top 100 will have different priorities from players hoping to make the high school team. Here's a good article on this topic.

Your student should be hitting 300+ balls per one hour lesson.
Back in the olden days, a tennis coach stood across the net next to a ball cart and fed balls to the students for 50 minutes (the other 10 were devoted to two ball pick-up sessions). Times have changed. Today's coaches realize the importance of live ball drills and match play, both of which greatly reduce the number of balls fed/hit per hour. Does this mean your student is getting less instruction? No! It means they are getting a well-rounded tennis experience that includes more realistic on-court situational play.

Lessons and tournaments and hard work will all but guarantee a college tennis scholarship. 
This is not exactly a myth, but if you do the math, you will find only a very small percentage of players in any sport actually end up getting a sports scholarship. This article by CBS MoneyWatch puts the number at around 2% of high school athletes (regardless of sport) getting an NCAA college scholarship. My estimate for tennis is around 5%. So if your high school team has 20 players, one of them will get a scholarship. However, there is some good news. Tennis is a sport that can be enjoyed at any age. Also, just because you have not been offered a scholarship does not  mean you cannot play team or club tennis for your school. And of course the USTA's 700,000 members are waiting to welcome you with open arms when you enter the world of adult league play.

The ice caps are shrinking, temperatures are rising, Burma is now Myanmar, and the Twinkie is no more. Everywhere we look, things are changing, and that includes tennis. If you don't believe it, just check how many different types of tennis balls are hanging on the display at your local sporting goods store! When you get new information on the court, do your homework. Do some Googling or check with a tennis professional you trust before making any major decisions.


Here's a fun variation on the 'tennis ball sandwich' ball pickup game which turns it into a fun team relay. Best for large groups.

Divide players into teams at one baseline. Players layer balls between racquets, starting with a minimum of three racquets (two balls). They move together to the net and back without spilling. If they succeed, they add another racquet and ball to their stack. If they fail, they return to the baseline and try again. First team to move successfully up and back with the highest 'skyscraper' wins.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Friday, November 23, 2012


As soon as I read about this activity, I got excited to try it next time we are working on volleys in class.  Best with groups.

Divide players into two teams and have them in two lines at one of the baselines. Coach is at the opposite end of the court feeding balls. One player at a time comes up to the net. Player spins around in a circle. Coach feeds them a forehand volley. Player spins in opposite direction. Coach feeds them a backhand volley. Player spins a third time. Coach feeds them an overhead. If player does not miss, they go to the end of their team's line and the next player is up. If they miss any of the three, they are still up until they succeed. However, coach alternates feeding turns between teams so if they have to try again, they have to wait until after the other team's turn. In other words do not have the same player attempting their turn over and over until they succeed or they might get seasick with all that spinning!

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Update: I used this recently and my players loved it. They didn't want to stop. I paired it with Singles Go since they had their overheads warmed up with this game. It was a bit of a feeding challenge as the class has a disproportionate number of lefties.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Scoop and Scoot

These buckets come in handy, don't they?
This fun drill helps your players with their consistency and direction. There is also a handy fitness component. Best for groups.

Divide players into two groups at the baseline on the same end of the court. Each group has an equal number of balls and one racquet piled at the service line. Across the net each group has a bucket, hopper, or other container. Each team sends one player across the net as their first Chaser. Each team sends another player to service line. This player bounce feeds one ball across net to their Chaser. Chaser retrieves ball and puts it into their own team's container. Chaser then runs to end of his/her team's line. Player who had just hit the bounce feed is the new Chaser and runs to other side of net. First team to get all of their balls into their container wins.

Stipulate what type of feed teams may use: forehand, backhand, underhand serve (no bounce), serve, non-dominant hand, etc.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wacky Knees

If your students are struggling with the mechanics of the serve, take a break from all that technical talk and play this fun game instead.

Divide players into two teams. Place a pile of ten balls at the baseline for each team. One at a time, players get a ball from the pile and place it between their knees. They then move to the service line and using the ball between their knees, serve it over the net. This player returns to the end of their team's line and next player in line takes their turn. First team to get all balls over the net wins.

The instructions do not explain what happens if the served ball does not make it over the net. Suggest player keep trying until ball goes over.

  • If you have a small group, have players compete individually rather than on teams.
  • Ball may be carried at chin, under arm, between two players at hip or knee. Use your imagination!

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Update: My Red Ball class enjoyed this activity. But watch for players trying to gain an advantage by carrying the ball higher than the knees.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Minute to Win It

There's not a tennis coach out there that hasn't had their students eager to challenge them on the court. Here's a fun way to drop it into the lesson plan every now and then without having it take over the entire lesson. You will need a timekeeping device of some sort.

Coach takes on all comers one at a time either in singles or Australian doubles (2 v 1). If playing Australian, doubles team must keep their balls on the coach's half of the court (including alley). So if coach is playing on deuce side, all of challengers' balls must land in deuce half of court. Challengers have one minute to prevail against the coach. That's it. Whatever the score is at the end of one minute, that's it, game over.

No stalling! 20 second rule max between points strictly enforced.

Hint: if you have a loud alarm on your phone (I use the one that sounds like a nuclear device meltdown), or an egg timer or something similar, this greatly adds to the fun.

This also works great in an open challenge format with player vs. player to wind down the clinic.


With these two handy, I can fix just about anything
that does not involve a tennis racquet
Ever notice how analyzing sports is so easy when you are on the sidelines, but not so easy when you are out there playing? Fixit is an activity to bridge the two experiences. The goal is for players to observe and learn from the mistakes of others and translate that knowledge to their own games. Great for odd numbers of players. At its simplest it can be managed by all but the youngest beginners.

Players on court playing out singles or doubles points. Leftover players in line at net post. Players at net post replace player making error. When point is over, first player in line at net post gives their opinion on what just transpired to end the point - error, winner, etc. Extra credit for depth of observation. For example if point ended on an error, ball hit wide, what caused the ball to be hit wide and what is the solution? Footwork? Point of contact? Positioning? Once they have rendered their opinion, they are free to rotate in and next point is played out.

Give the player making the error a chance to express what he/she thinks caused the error. It is often illuminating to hear the different viewpoints between players and observers.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Thanks Texas Longhorns water ski team for the graphic.
Yellow and green are your throw down spots.
Red is path of player.
I have seen many sports co-opted for tennis drills (games borrowed from soccer, hockey, and baseball can be found in this blog), but this is the first one I have seen related to skiing. Makes me wonder what other sports we may have overlooked that have potential for fun tennis drills. Scuba diving? NASCAR?

Place six pairs of flat targets three feet apart along the baseline. Envision a gate in a slalom race. Players balance a tennis ball on their racquet strings. They must move laterally weaving in and out of the targets, completing the slalom course without dropping the ball in under 20 seconds. If they drop their ball, they must return to the starting line.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


For this game, I was thinking more of my
Prince Black Team racquet and plenty of sunscreen
Survivor is similar to Singles Shootout with an added component of mercy in the form of additional chances or 'lives'. Perfect for large groups.

Two groups of players are formed. However they are not playing together as teams - every player keeps track of their own points/score individually. 

All players receive a set number of points to begin the game. For this example, let's say 7 points. The two groups are sent to respective baselines. Singles points are played. Losing player loses one of their 7 points. Both players go to the end of their lines after point is played out and next two players repeat.

Players bounce feed. Side losing previous point feeds next point.

Players losing all of their points are out. Last player standing wins.

If you have an even number of players, consider an 'on deck' spot at ONE end of the court to keep the pairings fresh. Any player losing a point must wait at the on deck spot for one point rotation before returning to the playing line.

Have players go to end of line at other end of court after they finish their point for an added fitness component.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Flub requires massive amounts of FOCUS
Flub is all about focus-focus-focus. Initially I was going to recommend this for higher level players but I think I have a way to make it work for anyone.

Flub is easiest to manage with four players. If you have more and need them to rotate positions frequently, that ratchets up the focus component. They must remember where each position is expected to hit to.

Four players take the court, two at each baseline. Each of the four playing positions is assigned a number, letter, or color. Let's say for this example we use 1, 2, 3, and 4. Player 1 drop feeds or serves to Player 2. Player 2 hits to Player 3. Player 3 hits to Player 4. Player 4 hits to Player 1. Pattern must not be altered. You will find the butterfly pattern useful here:

  • Server/1 feeds/serves cross court to 2. 
  • 2 hits straight ahead to 3. 
  • 3 hits cross court to 4. 
  • 4 hits straight ahead to 1.

Scoring: all players begin with a set number of points. Any player making an error either in execution or target loses a point. At end of playing period, player retaining most points wins.

Too hard - have players tossing ball rather than hitting with racquet.Too easy - I can't think of any group of players that would find this too easy, but if you must make it harder, have players rotating positions after every point, even rotating 'Around the World' to the other side of the court.
Multiplayer rotation - rather than deducting points on errors, have players making errors replaced with waiting players.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tennis Report Cards

For all you teaching pros out there - is anyone doing regular, documented objective player evaluations? My intent is to have some hard data to back up any feedback or input I give them regarding their progress. Also, many of my students are eager to progress to the next color ball. If they are not ready IMO, I think of this as a sort of tennis report card to help explain where they need to improve. Here's a form I put together recently for my players. I am willing to update and adapt. In fact, it is already 2.0.

Does a Tennis Report Card
spoil the fun?
Click here for a PDF of this form.
Initially I set up the first week of every month as evaluation week, where the clinic time would be spent on evaluations until all students had been evaluated. I jettisoned this approach fairly quickly as it was taking too much time per student in the larger classes. Plus I felt too much like I was teaching to the test. Also I did not have a standard form to work with - I was just winging it with simple dead ball feed exercises customized to the abilities of each student. It became obvious after looking at my initial documented results that this was not fair to the students. Why should one red ball student get hand-tossed balls while another gets racquet-fed balls? My desire to see them succeed was competing with my need for a fair, objective test of their skills. So, Plan B.

I created the form based on the skill pyramid suggested by PTR and others. I also made the evaluations optional and outside of clinic time. My students now have the option to request an evaluation by me no more often than once per month.  They are tested on the basics. I ask them to get at least 7 of 10 balls in play. They have three chances to get their 7 of 10.

The form is a work in progress. My intention is to increase the difficulty after they have mastered each level. So for example once they demonstrate better than 70% at the basic level (Consistency), at future evals they will be asked to demonstrate directional ability, then depth, then spin, etc.

One thing I am already considering changing is how many chances they get to achieve the 7 out of 10. With three chances of ten balls each on forehands, backhands, fh and bh volleys, and ad/deuce serves, each eval is taking about 30 minutes. It feels too long. Maybe they should get only one chance?

Any input appreciated. Is this type of evaluation useful? Does it have a role in junior tennis instruction, or should the students' performance against peers (tournaments, match play) be enough?

Peg-Leg Doubles

aka Black Beardy the
You never know
 what you are going to find
when Googling for
10U10S graphics
Peg-Leg Doubles requires directional skill, so advanced beginners and up. Players set up in traditional formation. Play is restricted to cross-court only. So if the first server serves from deuce side, all balls must land in the respective deuce courts. Net players may poach after the serve but their volleys must land in the correct court. Alleys are allowed since this is a doubles activity.

For more advanced players, have them play out a set in this fashion. For younger or less advanced players, you may find a couple of throw down spots will come in handy to remind players which parts of the courts are 'legal'.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pizza Serve

This activity will help young players visualize the three major targets within the service box. Envision the service box containing half a pizza (three slices) of pizza, pointy ends toward net. Throw down lines will be handy if you want to take the time to actually form some 'slices' in the service box. If not, just use your imagination.

Place a spot or cone in the center of each 'slice' representing the pepperoni or topping of your choice. Assign each slice a number, or have each cone/spot a different color. One should be out wide; one in the middle or 'to the body'; and the third down the T. Players take turns trying to serve to one of the three targets.

Too hard? Have players toss ball to target before attempting to serve.
Too easy? Have players call their shot first, then try to make the target they themselves have called.

Add a point competition, team or individual. Some point play options:
  • One point for any serve cross court and in the correct service box; zero points for any serve over the net but not in correct box; minus one for any serve in the net
  • Isolate one of the three slices; points awarded only if that slice is hit
Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Friday, November 9, 2012

Singles Go

Singles Go has elements of other drills, think Champs and Chumps + Around the World with a little Deep Desperation thrown in for good measure. It will improve your players' overheads, net game, and fitness. Coaches, get your lob feeding skills in order.

One player is selected as first Champ and begins at center of court in net position. All other Challengers are at opposite baseline. One at a time they step in to play singles against the Champ. Feeder/coach feeds first ball to Champ as a high lob.

If Champ wins the point, they stay. Losing Challenger goes to end of Challenger line and next Challenger takes a turn.

If the Champ loses the point, they run to end of Challenger line. The winning Challenger runs to Champ side of court as Feeder is feeding another high lob for them to play.

I used this drill recently with my green ball players. We were working on backhands in this lesson, so I substituted a backhand feed for the overhead. I also added a point play component, first to 10 points wins. They loved it and begged to play it through the end of the clinic, thirty minutes straight.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Serve Everlasting

In the words of Tina Hoskins, 'the second serve must be as reliable as the rising of the sun'. This drill will help your students develop a sunny, reliable second serve.

Two players play singles. Only one serve is allowed - no second serves. First player to serve continues serving until receiving player wins a game. Once receiver has broken server, receiver becomes server and remains so until he/she is broken.

This can be adapted to accommodate larger numbers of players by making it a team or relay activity. You can either time it and announce a winner at the end of said time period, or after a set number of points is achieved by one of the teams. Limit the amount of time spent on this activity to avoid overtiring the server.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Drop Out

Drop Out is a combination of Squirrel Crossing and Hot Pepper. The goal is to improve volley skills, good hands, recovery, and reaction time. Players should be able to volley so advanced beginners and up. Five players or more is best. If you only have 3 or 4, restrict play to one half of court either straight ahead or diagonally.

Four players begin facing each other across the net. First ball is fed. Point is played out. Ball must not hit the ground. When point ends, whomever has made the error is out and a new player comes in.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hot Pepper Doubles

These bad boys will put a hurt on you
I love a good volley drill. This is a good warm-up as well. Players should have quick hands and be able to volley, so advanced beginners and up.

Four players on court at service line. Someone feeds a ball and point is played out. Players may not back up - point must be played out at or in front of service line. Points awarded as usual. Set a certain number of points to be achieved, then rotate positions or players.

Play should be fast-paced. Insist on good footwork and recovery.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Attack and Smack

Serve and volley in singles play was endangered for a while. It is definitely down but not out - you still see it occasionally. Like the lob, it is a rare event in professional tennis. But to the 99% of us who don't play professionally, and the majority of aging players trending into doubles, it can be useful. So put this drill in your tool box. If players are not using S&V, we don't want it to be because their coaches never taught it to them.

Serve and volley just means you pair a serve with charging into the net to play the next ball from there. Sure, you are taking a risk by leaving the back court open, which is why you want to deploy this at the proper time. But worrying about the 'when' is for another lesson. Attack and Smack is more about the basics of getting into the mindset of moving in behind your serve. This is so often an anomaly to players who are trained to recover and maintain a baseline position.

Your players will need to be advanced beginners or beyond. The concept is simple: server must serve and volley after every serve, or serving team loses point. End of story. Note it is easy to forget the serve and volley aspect until you have played out a few points. We are all so focused on point outcome, and rightly so. But for this game, make sure all players understand the point is lost if the server does not serve and volley, regardless of who actually wins the point.

From The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Put Your Hitting Wall To Work

Our big brown hitting wall
Just subscribed CAtennis to my Google Reader and am already reaping nice results. Suggest you check it out also. Today's golden nugget is a fun idea for those clubs who have hitting walls or back boards. In addition to encouraging your students to use them as a warm-up or practice tool, how about building an event around hitting wall activities? The blog entry at CAtennis lists ten different hitting wall activities, including:

  • the 5 minute challenge - how many rallies can you get in 5 minutes? We are already doing this on an ongoing basis. Results are posted on our Facebook page. Think of it as the hitting wall version of a ladder. 
  • Ping pong tennis (two players alternating shots)
  • Wipeout - group of players hitting relay style, player who misses is out
  • Target practice - get out the 3M painter's tape!
Put your underutilized hitting wall to work to keep players busy while they wait to play in your tournament. Or, make the hitting wall the star of your next event!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rising Star

Rising Star requires players who can control and direct the ball, so look for advanced beginners and up to play this game. Two players minimum; or, for a good private lesson activity, have the coach feeding all balls as Player A.

Player A stands at the baseline near the sideline. Player B is at the opposite baseline in the center of the court. Player A alternates feeding ball cross court and down the line to Player B. Player B must return all balls to Player A.

As you can see, this game also requires a certain level of fitness, so limit playing time accordingly.

I found this activity in The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins. I have a link to it on my Amazon store page here.