Monday, December 31, 2012

Round Trip

Of the three videos in's series, Round Trip is my fave.

Two players begin across the net from each other at their service lines. They begin hitting volleys to each other, moving in with each shot. As they get to the net, they reverse and move back toward the service line with each shot.

Too hard? Have your students toss the ball rather than hit with the racquet.
Too easy? Specify which volley is to be hit (forehand/backhand) or alternate forehand/backhand volleys.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Cross Country

Thanks for this series of three net skills videos. Cross Country is a simple but effective drill that focuses on lateral movement at the net.

Two players face each other across the net at one of the sidelines. As they volley to each other, they move laterally to the opposite sideline and back.


  • Specify which volley is to be hit (forehand or backhand) or alternate the two.
  • Perform at varying distances from the net to work on timing and touch.
Too hard? have your beginners perform by tossing and catching rather than hitting the ball.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Passport recently offered the Passport drill video on their website. I like it and plan to modify it for Red and Orange ball players to get them comfortable with coming to the net.

It is a simple activity, as you will discover if you watch the video. Coach is at baseline. Player is across the net at service line. Coach feeds a ball that bounces in front of player. Player hits it after it bounces, comes in, taps net with racquet, and returns to service line. This reinforces the idea of following a short ball in.

Player takes ball out of air (volley) rather than letting it bounce before they hit it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mystery Ball

Inspired by yesterday's Fruit Salad game, Mystery Ball also uses a variety of ball types. Fill a hopper with foam, red, orange, green, and yellow balls.

Players play singles against each other with one end of the court designated as the Champions side. Players need to win only one point to become the new Champion. Coach feeds first ball to challenger from the net post. Coach picks blind out of the hopper and announces to the players which ball will be used for that point. Players must play corresponding court size accordingly. So for example if a red or foam ball is picked, they play the service boxes only. Orange ball = blended line 60 foot court. Green or yellow ball = full 78 foot court. Player who is Champion when all balls from hopper have been played is the winner.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fruit Salad

I came up with this game on the spur of the moment recently when I had a mix of playing levels in class. It was a big hit. Fill a hopper with a mix of red, orange, green and yellow balls. If you have foam balls, yes, add those also. Play either mini tennis or Squirrel Crossing depending on the number of players. Coach feeds first ball quickly. Players must adjust their game quickly also to whichever ball is fed. If you are playing mini tennis with an even number of players and therefore no need for player rotation, give each player 10 points and take one away each time an error is made. Last one standing is the winner. If you are playing Squirrel Crossing, no need for points, just play until the basket is empty.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three Rallies

Here's another great consistency drill from Daniel Spatz. Simple, no extra equipment needed, and you can work on it as long as you have time for.

The goal is simple: ask your player to complete three rallies, five times in a row. If you have time, keep working on this until the goal is met. If you have a large group or limited time, keep track of how many times the student is able to complete the task. Once? Twice? None? Either way you have a simple but achievable goal for them to work on.

This would also be a great warm-up activity between players for larger groups. Have all working on this as a singles drill. First court to complete it successfully wins, and signals the end of the warm-up period.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Master and Servant

Sometimes it's hard to tell
who is in charge
This drill is for more advanced players. They will need to be able to rally as well as direct the ball. I saw it on the website.

Two players play singles against each other, beginning on respective deuce halves of court. One player is Master; the other is of course Servant. Coach feeds first ball to Master. Master must hit shots to Servant alternating between deuce and ad sides. Servant may only hit back to Master at deuce side. First player to 15 points wins. Switch roles. After both players have had a chance to play both roles, switch to ad side of court and repeat.

As you have probably figured out, the Servant will be doing a lot more running!

Easier: for young beginners, have them tossing and catching the balls rather than hitting with racquets.
Harder: require X number of rallies before points are awarded.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

5 Ball

Daniel Spatz
Here's a simple drill to improve consistency. I saw it at Daniel Spatz' YouTube channel so click here if you want to see the entire video - it's only 6 minutes or so.

Coach feeds balls from across net. The goal is for the player to hit 30 rallies. Coach gives them 5 balls to complete this task. So for example let's say coach feeds first ball, player hits it back to coach twice before  making an error. This counts as two points, and the coach then feeds the second of the five balls.

Easier: reduce total number of rallies (from 30 to 20 or 10); or increase number of chances from 5 balls to 7, 10, etc.)
Harder: just the opposite - ask for more rallies or allow fewer chances


  • Ask for all forehands, or all cross court, or whatever shot you are working on.
  • Have students work on this together as a singles activity, no coach feeding necessary.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Miss three and: SEE YA!
OUT is another variation of Tag Team Tennis aka Relay Tennis. Great for just about any ability level, large groups, odd numbers.

Divide players into two teams. They play singles against each other, one player at a time, one ball at a time. So for example, with Team A vs Team B, the first player of Team A is fed a ball. He/she hits the ball across the net and runs to the end of his/her line so that the second player can step in and play the ball returned by Team B's first player. So all players 'hit and run', as I like to tell my students.

Here's the twist: if a player misses, they get a letter. First time: letter O. Second time: letter U. And you can probably see where this is going: if a player gets the third letter, T, they are O-U-T and sit out while the game continues. Last player left standing wins.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks trains players to exploit the opportunity they create by driving the opponent off the net with a well-hit lob. Advanced beginners and up. Minimum 4 players.

Play begins with one doubles team at net and the other at baseline. Coach feeds first ball to baseline team. When baseline team is at baseline, they may only lob - no passing shots. If their lob is successful, they should move forward to exploit their opportunity as their opponents are moving back to retrieve and play the lobbed ball. First team to 21 wins.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins

Moon Ball

Moon Ball is a fun and useful activity for groups of 6 or more, advanced beginners and up. It will improve lobbing, overhead, and net play skills.

Divide players into teams of 3 or more. Six players at a time are on court, three at each end of court.  If you have odd numbers, that's fine - all will get a chance to rotate in. Two are at the baseline and the third is in the middle of the net. The two players at each baseline may only hit lobs, or 'moon balls'. Coach is at net post feeding first ball to baseline player. Players play out the point. The object is to avoid the net players. The net players may not retreat past the service line.  Rotate positions after every point so that all players have a chance to play both net and lob positions. First team to 21 wins.

Adapted from The Tennis Drill Book by Tina Hoskins.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Monkey in the Middle

Monkey in the Middle is another playground game that works great for tennis activities. It is easily adaptable for all levels. Minimum 3 players or 2 players and coach.

Young beginners, foam or red ball - have them working on their underhand tossing and catching skills. Tossing/catching players are across the net from each other no further back than service line; Monkey is near the net. Players must avoid Monkey. Work on proper tossing and ball tracking techniques (step with opposite foot, release toward target). Catcher must catch in air or after one bounce only.

Play with racquets instead of tossing; begin with a bounce feed. Helps develop lob and passing shots.

Any time the Monkey makes a play on the ball, the player responsible for hitting that ball to the Monkey is the new Monkey.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Clean Sweep

Azarenka demonstrates
either the 'out' signal
or reminding us she's
been  #1
I concocted this game to help my youngest students work on serve and return of serve. Specifically, to help them watch the serve and improve calling it 'out' when appropriate.

Two players face each other across the net. One is server. Server has a small hopper or other supply of balls, 20-30 max. Non-serving player is across net with an empty container. They must retrieve the served balls and put them into the empty container. They DO NOT have to retrieve any ball that does not land in the correct service box. Ideally they will watch the lines carefully and call 'out' and give the proper hand signal (index finger in air) when serves are out.

Continue until all balls have been served; switch roles and repeat. Repeat entire cycle on other half of court. Or, move server to other side of court (not end) halfway through the process.

If server serves into the net or whiffs, he/she may retrieve that ball and try again.

You may add a competitive element by counting how many of the balls end up in the retrieving player's hopper (indicating how many of total balls have been hit into correct service box).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Tennis 1%

Thomas Jefferson and Cheryl Crow may not appear to have much in common - one a historic figure and founding father dead lo these 200 years, the other a successful modern day singer/songwriter still very much alive and kickin'. But there is at least one thing they agree on: in Ms. Crow's words, 'change will do you good'. Mr. Jefferson put it more eloquently, suggesting revolutionary change every twenty years or so. And what we are seeing now in the realm of junior tennis is change indeed. Whether or not it qualifies as revolutionary remains to be seen.

The United States Tennis Association is promoting two big changes to junior instruction and competition. Both are being met with varying degrees of acceptance and resistance from players, parents, and coaches. The USTA's proposed change to the structure of junior competition (tournaments) is the more recent and most hotly contested. Because it is more relevant to older players, I will direct you to the Parenting Aces blog for further information. The second change regards teaching methods geared toward players ages 10 and under. Hey - that's the title of this blog! So let's discuss.

Who knew a little different
colored felt would cause
 such a kerfuffle?
The 10 and Under Tennis Revolution (formerly known as Play N Stay and QuickStart among other names) has been around under the USTA label for a few years, slowly gathering momentum. They are throwing all kinds of money and promos at this program. Fancy marketing materials, commercials during the US Open, tennis with the First Lady, community grant money, training sessions, you name it. The genesis of the program appears to be the realization that A) Americans are falling far behind in the world tennis rankings, and B) in researching the cause for A, it has been discovered that other cultures have been taking a different approach to teaching instruction for decades. Basically, someone on this side of the Atlantic decided if it was working for the Euro nations, maybe we better have a look-see. So 10 and Under Tennis was born. Mini nets, small racquets, slower balls, and updated teaching methods (No Laps! No Lines! No Lectures!) descended on the tennis world over the last decade. The logic is that other sports don't expect small players to begin on full size courts or fields, so why should tennis? Tee ball is often mentioned as the baseball analogy. This video explains the concept well. Equipment and courts should be sized to the player to get them playing successfully sooner and avoid attrition due to frustration.The goal is to get more kids interested in tennis, keep them interested longer, have more talent in the talent pool, regain some dominance in professional tennis, and create lots of future adult league players/USTA members in the process.

The stink that has resulted is in the form of some resistance from certain sectors of teaching professionals, and a few parents as well. They don't believe the lower compression balls, smaller courts, and smaller racquets provide any benefit. Their kid/student learns just fine on full size courts with yellow balls, thank you very much. The implication is that if your kid isn't thriving with regular equipment, either your kid or your instructor (or both) leave something to be desired in the tennis department. We've seen these fads come and go, they say. It's a marketing gimmick by the equipment manufacturers. Don't waste your money! Just be patient and this too, shall pass.

Since this is an editorial, and this is MY blog, here's my 2 cents. Your comments are welcome below BTW. I am fairly new to tennis instruction. I did not come up through the junior development ranks. My highest rating when I was still playing league tennis was 4.0. I became interested in tennis instruction as a volunteer Jr. Team Tennis coordinator. I discovered I much preferred spending my tennis volunteer time on the court introducing beginners of all ages to tennis than sitting in cramped committee meetings watching uninspiring Power Point presentations. So I took it to the next level, attended lots of on-court workshops, got certified, and here I am, living the life. Those of you who teach tennis part time will recognize a teensy bit of sarcasm there.

Setting all sarcasm aside - in my experience the last several years, having seen literally hundreds of kids float through my court in Jr. Team Tennis, summer camps, group clinics, private instruction, Play Days, etc. etc., I can think of exactly 1.5 kids (one definitely, one maybe) who I thought, with minimal instruction, would be playing better than me very quickly. With yellow balls on a full size court. In my somewhat math-challenged mind I estimate about one percent of the kids I have seen could go straight to yellow ball, do not pass go, do not collect $200. That means 99% of the kids I have seen have benefited from a kinder, gentler introduction to tennis, earlier sense of mastery, and frankly just plain fun, because spending an hour swinging and whiffing at yellow balls flying past is no fun.

There is an ongoing debate about restricting tournament play to particular color balls, court sizes, etc. The parents whose kids are doing well with yellow balls (the 1 percent) chafe at the idea of going backward, of having to play with red or orange balls when that stage is clearly behind (or beneath) them. I also suspect the instructors feel somehow diminished by being asked to lower themselves to admit tennis is difficult and some of their students are not up to the task and could use a little help getting started. But I am not particularly proud. If using modified equipment is going to help my students 'get it' quicker, I am all for it. I have seen it over and over again. It takes time (but less time than if we were using yellow balls!), but progress is made at every lesson. When I imagine any of my red ball students trying to do what they do now (rally, serve, play) on a full size court with yellow balls, frankly it just would not be possible, and after our last lesson, they would be off to the soccer field before I got all the balls picked up.

I am not particularly interested in foisting 10 and Under Tennis onto other teaching pros, just as I am not interested in them foisting their allegiance to the yellow ball onto me. But if you are coming to my club for junior instruction, unless you are Andre Freaking Agassi, you are gonna get 10 and Under Tennis until you show me you are ready for the next level. After all, like the woman said, change will do you good.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Overhead Champs

Classic overhead prepartion
Turn and Point
This is a variation of Champs and Chumps, King of the Court, or any other activity where the winner occupies a specified end of the court. It is designed for doubles but can be played as singles if you desire or if numbers dictate.

One end of court is designated as the champions' end. Two players are at champs' end; all others are on the other end, playing two at a time. Pro feeds from behind baseline on champs' end. The first feed is an approach shot. Point is played out. If champs win point, challengers go to end of challenger line. But if the challengers win the point, they move to net and pro gives them an overhead as their second feed. If they also win this point, they get a third lob/overhead. If they win all three points, they are the new champs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fuel For The Tennis Fire

Tournaments can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Lots of things to consider, including weather conditions (how hot or cold?), number of events entered (how often are you playing?), and caliber of opponents (how long are you on court?). These and other factors can vary wildly, and all impact the athlete, so best be prepared for anything.

Of course the best preparation is to eat healthy and maintain a good level of fitness on an ongoing basis, regardless of your tournament schedule. Common sense, people!
  • Just Say No to fast food. Please resist the urge to reward your children with trips to Mickey D's. As a former parent of young children, I completely understand the temptation. Their marketing machine is powerful. Do your best. If that is too much to ask, try some other strategies, such as: 
  • Avoid sugar, soft drinks and other empty calories. Think of them as no different than offering your child a cigarette.
  • Check with your school to see how much physical activity is offered throughout the day. If it is not daily, supplement with tennis, soccer, dance, neighborhood play with friends.
  • Encourage physical activity such as the NFL's Play 60 campaign
  • If your budget allows, the kinetic video games(Wii, Kinect, etc.) are fantastic. Easy, fun, and the kids love 'em. Great for mom and dad, too!
  • Encourage family outings that include physical activities such as walking around the zoo, local fitness trails, swims, bike rides, etc. It doesn't have to cost much. Just get off your butts. 
Lead By Example
As parents and coaches this may be the most important thing we can do to encourage healthy habits. Some things I do on court include:
  • encouraging hustle - my students are probably sick of hearing this from me, but too bad: "There's no walking in tennis!"
  • the athlete mentality - I take every opportunity to remind them they are athletes now - no dragging booty during ball pickup 'because you're an athlete'. When they ask if I will be giving candy as rewards or incentives like some other coaches or teachers, I say 'no, because you're an athlete and athletes shouldn't eat that stuff'.
  • lead by example - hey, I'm not perfect, and I have the body I deserve. But I try not to eat or drink candy or soda in front of my students. I do carry a large water bottle with me at all times, wear a hat and sunscreen, proper footwear, etc. I am constantly amazed at how much my students model my behavior and remember so many seemingly trivial things that I say and do on court. They are little sponges. So make sure they are soaking up lots of good behaviors from you.
Tournament Prep
In the days leading up to the tournament, do your homework.

I don't like sports drinks. A friend
introduced me to these instead.
Inexpensive, easy on the stomach,
 and available at most drug stores.
  • Look at the weather and plan clothing and accessories accordingly. This is not exactly a nutrition topic but since we are here:
    • If it is chilly, layer, layer, layer. 
      • Protect a major source of heat loss and discomfort when cold: your head. This is also a personal preference - I hate it when my ears get cold! 
      • Keep your torso warm. 
      • Gloves/pockets for hands as long as the glove will not interfere with your ability to grip the racquet. 
    • If it is warm, remember hat/visor/sunglasses, sunscreen, hand towel, fresh change of clothes.
    • Experiment with different types of socks far in advance. The day of the match is not the day to try new shoes/socks. Level of perspiration, thickness of sock and tightness or looseness of shoe are all important factors to avoid excessive sweating or excess movement within the shoe which can cause blisters. 
      • While we are talking about feet - maintain those toenails to avoid 'tennis toe'. Keep them clipped short but not so short that they get inflamed. All that stopping and starting, and carrying the weight on the front half of the foot causes a lot of forward motion in the shoe. Which is another reason to make sure your player has plenty of room in the toe of the shoe.
  • Plan hydration - water should be your primary source of hydration. Don't assume there will be water on the courts. 
  • Electrolytes - so what the heck is an electrolyte, anyway? why are they relevant to athletic competition? Here's the scoop: electrolytes help carry electrical impulses across cell membranes. They exist in the body as different types of salts including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. When you exercise and sweat, you lose these important ingredients as you sweat. This is a major contributor to heat cramping. Sports drinks have made it convenient to replace electrolytes with liquids if you don't like eating solid foods during physical activity. Other options are electrolyte tablets and easy-to-digest bananas (for potassium). Be careful about consuming too many sports drinks when you are not planning on being active - they also tend to have lots of sugar.
  • Carbohydrates - you will hear that carbs convert to energy faster than fats or proteins, which is why some athletes 'carbo load' by eating pasta or other carbs a day or two prior to competition. This may be useful to your player. But remember tennis consists of intermittent bursts of activity combined with periods of downtime/recovery, so all three of those food groups play a part in tournament stamina.
  • Sleep - is sooooo important to all aspects of activity, athlete or not. Be sure you are rested in the days leading up to and through the tournament. Healing and recovery happens during the sleep cycle.

Bottom line: eat well, sleep well, play well. Common sense fitness tips will see you through on the court as well as off it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?

The first time I saw this drill I thought it the concept was hilarious, adding some lighthearted brio to a no-frills singles exercise. But when I tried to get my young adult male players to play it, all but one rebelled. See if you have any better luck than I did. I am going to try it again and see if I get better results.

Regardless of number of players, only two are playing singles at a time. Both start at sideline. One is at the baseline (not in middle at hash mark). The other is on the other side of the net, also on same side of court as other player but entering court closer to service line (rather than baseline). Pro is off court on opposite side of court from players, feeding from across the net. Pro feeds straight ahead (simulating a passing shot) so that baseline player must run to get ball. Players play out the point. Pro feeds baseline player a second passing shot (anywhere), and second point is played out. After two points, players switch ends of court. First player to X number of points, wins.

Here's where the Who's You're Daddy? comes in: if either player wins both points, they can earn a bonus point by calling out 'Who's your daddy?'. This is where I had trouble selling this drill. My students were mortified. Only one had the nerve to try it. The others refused. So we finished the drill but IMO it was nowhere near as fun as it could have been. If you have the same problem, consider changing the bonus saying to something your players will embrace. 'Booya, Grandma' and 'Oh yeah!' have worked for me in other drills.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Mid Court Crusher

Here's a fun dead ball drill from PTR Master Professional Jorge Capestany. You can see his video of it here. Good for any size class, any ability. Simple and effective.

Players begin at baseline. Coach is at T at service line. Coach tosses ball out wide to deuce side of court at service line. Player charges in from baseline and rips a shot, then returns to end of line. Next player does the same but from ad side.

Maintain high energy, 'happy feet' and hustle. Goal is to recognize an invitation to move into the court and hit an aggressive shot.