Sunday, November 10, 2013

Volley Caterpillar

What is it with tennis drills and caterpillars? There are at least a couple more caterpillar-named activities in this blog if you have the time to search for them. This one I stole from Tedi Doncheva, a pro at Rock Hill Tennis Center in Rock Hill, SC. Thanks, Tedi! Good for any beginners working on their volley shot.

Place several spots in a diagonal line near the net. First spot should be closest to net; last spot should be across court, at a spot farthest back from net where player may be likely to hit a volley. All spots should be in front of service line.

Closest spot is designated caterpillar's tail. Farthest spot is caterpillar's head. Players begin at closest spot. If they hit volley safely into play, they advance one spot. If they miss, they go back to tail spot. Goal is to be first player to advance from tail to head. Once this is accomplished by someone, rearrange spots so that they are running the opposite direction on the court. So for example if the 'tail' was closest to net on deuce side of court and 'head' was near service line on ad side, rearrange so that 'tail' is now closest to net on ad side and 'head' is now near deuce side service line.

My addition:
After two rounds of all players hitting volleys, consider having at least one player on the other side of the net attempting to return any of the volleys hit by the caterpillar players.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Son of 5 Points

Last year I wrote about an activity called 5 Points. This is an update, inspired by an article in TennisPro magazine by Amy Pazahanick . It talks about the difference between hard skills and soft skills, which I also mentioned in the 5 Points post. So this reincarnation of 5 Points emphasizes hard skills for those days when you need to get back to basics and hit a ton of balls to hone technique. Best with small groups. Also I am going to present this activity as part of an entire lesson (as opposed to one activity during the lesson) centered around the number 5.

Begin with a dynamic warm-up as follows:
All players set their racquets down on the court along the doubles sideline. Allow plenty of room between racquets. All players then go to far sideline and put a pile of 5 balls down directly across court from their racquets. When Coach says 'go', players move one ball at a time from their pile onto their racquet, using a medium jog. This is a warm-up, not a race. After all balls are on racquet, repeat activity with one big difference: instead of medium jog, all players are now facing the net and side shuffling rather than medium jog. Remember, this is a warm-up, not a race. Balls should be replaced into hopper. Look for good form on side shuffle -  no galloping; eyes across net.

Once warm-up is complete, Son of 5 Points can begin as follows.

One player is on one side of net; all others are on other side. Coach hand-feeds five balls to the individual player. One point is earned for every ball hit into play. Players across net can also earn balls if they can catch one in the air or after one bounce. After 5 balls are fed, players rotate and a new player is now the hitter.

I start with forehands from the service line, then move back to baseline; then switch to backhands from the service line, and finish with backhands from the baseline. By this time, the hopper should be getting empty. Once it is empty, pick up all balls. Players keep their scores - we are not done yet!

Repeat activity with one difference: non-fed players are now hitting balls back rather than catching balls with their hands. Maximum two players returning at a time; others waiting to rotate in. Points awarded for every rally. So the points earned could be pretty high if you have some long rallies. Have your players responsible for keeping their own scores as this is nigh on impossible doing yourself if you have more than 3-4 players. Player with most points at end of second hopper emptying is the winner. Pay attention to hitting order and number of rotations so that all players get the same number of opportunities hitting.

Before picking up balls now, have all players retire to one side of court and warm up serves with balls on that side of court. By the time all of these balls are served to other side, all players should be plenty warmed up and ready to finish the lesson with some match play.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Different Strokes

Was this show before your time??
Oooh I like this one, too - challenging, so maybe for intermediate players and above.

Both players start at baseline. Coach feeds medium pace ball to ad side of Player A (deuce side if player is a lefty). Player A must return this ball with a cross court backhand. Point is played out.

  • Repeat, but Player A must now hit an inside out forehand (cross court) on the first fed ball.
  • Repeat, but Player A must now hit an inside in forehand (down the line) on the first fed ball.
This drill teaches the player the various options available to him/her and the consequences of each. Variations are endless, so use this construct to work on whatever shots or situations work best for your students.

Adapted from "Live Ball: Let Them Play!" by Oliver Stephens, TennisPro Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coach's Call

Poster available here
Like most of life's best ideas, Coach's Call is so simple yet so effective. Players should be able to rally

Players rally from the baseline until coach calls 'Play!'. Then and only then they proceed to play out the point. This teaches patience and 'staying in the point' until the right opportunity arises to end the point.

Adapted from "Live Ball: Let Them Play!" by Oliver Stephens, TennisPro Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Criss-Cross is a variation of one of my favorite live ball drills, 3 Monkeys. Like 3 Monkeys, it requires certain criteria be met before the point can be played out. With 3 Monkeys it is usually a set number of shots cross-court, increasing in number required as players improve. Criss-Cross requires certain types of shot be achieved before playing out the point.

Two players play singles.

  • One serves out wide
  • Returning player must return down the line
  • Server must return this ball cross court

Only now can the point be played out. I like this drill because it works on serving to a specific spot as well as what is like to happen when you serve out wide. I would also set this up as a doubles drill to train the net player to guard that alley when their partner's serve lands in the out-wide third of the service box.

Adapted from "Live Ball: Let Them Play" by Oliver Stephens, TennisPro Magazine Sept/Oct 2013.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Plus 2

This is a simple consistency drill great for all but the youngest beginners. Players should be able to rally.

Challenge them to hit a serve, return and 2 additional rallies without an error. Do not play out the point, just these four shots. Put them on a timer and see how many times they can complete this successfully within the given time period. Rally must be quality shots from baseline - resist the urge to make it easy on them or let them take it easy on themselves :)

Adapted from "Live Ball: Let Them Play" by Oliver Stephens, TennisPro Magazine Sept/Oct 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Approach Drill

Mining Oliver Stephens' recent article in TennisPro Magazine for all it is worth! Here's a twist on a
dead ball drill that Stephens feels makes it more realistic for working on approaching the net. Players should be able to rally with a variety of shots, so advanced beginner and higher.

Two players begin at the baseline. One bounce-feeds a ball and follows it in to the net. This player's job is to become comfortable following a ball in and works on his/her volleys and overheads.

The other player should hit the first three rallies as follows: two ground strokes, then a defensive lob (ideally playable by net player).

I have tried this drill and like it. I have found my non-feeding players tend to tighten up when they see the opponent charging into the net from the baseline. Teaching opportunity: to have them hit quality ground strokes as if the opponent were still at the baseline.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Traffic Light

Suggested by Oliver Stephens in his article for TennisPro Magazine. Players should be able to rally
from the baseline.

As soon as a ball is struck by the opponent, the other player calls out either Red, Yellow or Green depending on how he/she evaluates the incoming ball. Red is for a deep difficult ball, meaning they 'stop' whatever offensive intentions they may have had and just hit the ball to stay in the point. Yellow is for a mid court or transitional, neutral ball. Green is a ball they feel they can or should attack offensively, probably a softly hit ball, or short, or both.

In addition to recognizing what ball is coming their way, players should respond accordingly and hit the correct type of ball back.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Short, Mid, Deep

Short, Mid, Deep is one of several drill ideas contained in a recent TennisPro Magazine article by PTR Master of Tennis Oliver Stephens.

Players play singles and are challenged to hit 10 balls in a row short to short. Then 10 more mid court to mid court, and finally 10  more baseline to baseline. Ideally they will get to the point where they can use one ball and keep this pattern going for a long time. It is not spelled out in the article but I think Oliver intends that the players do not stop between transitioning from short to mid to deep and back again.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Six Pack Swinger

Let's just say I had lots of options when
Googling an image to go with this post
This drill appeared in TennisPro magazine. It was suggested as a ball machine drill by Julien Heine. Great for working on volley skills with any size group.

One at a time, players begin at the T. Coach is across the net feeding them six high balls/lobs in succession. First ball must be a swinging volley approach shot. Next four should be volleys alternating forehand and backhand. Last ball should be taken as an overhead.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Double Trouble

Double Trouble originally was a ball machine drill suggested in TennisPro Magazine by Inaki Balzola, PTR's International Director. It's a great doubles drill for large groups. Players should be able to rally.

One player is at ad side baseline; coach is at same baseline on deuce side. All other players are at the net post. Coach feeds first ball to first player waiting at net post. This player volleys the ball back toward the coach. Coach feeds second ball cross court; same player must run and volley toward player waiting at baseline.

Player at baseline lobs this volley over net player. Net player runs down the lob, returns it with a lob of their own, goes to end of player line. Note baseline player does not have to play this ball. Coach then stars the process all over again with next player waiting in line.

Continue for a set time or until X amount of lobs have been hit by either player; then rotate a different player into the baseline position.

Eliminate first fed volley; volleying player only gets one ball fed before baseline player returns it with a lob.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mountain Climb

Mountain Climb is Daniel Breag's version of Uptown/Downtown. But I like his addition of different types of balls at the various stations.

Players are distributed among as many courts as you have available. They play singles across the net from each other. Half courts are okay/encouraged. Small ball/mini tennis okay also. Points are played out; winner of best 2 of 3 moves 'up' a court and non-winner moves 'down'. Which is up/down is determined prior to play.

Since each court has different types of balls, typically the slowest balls will be on the lowest court. Balls will increase in compression until you get to the highest court. So for example if you have three half courts playing, first court could be orange ball; then green ball; then yellow ball would be the highest court and ultimate goal.

Players at highest court when activity is finished are the winners.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Of course I found this on a TX website
a TX loblolly aka mud hole
Another one from Daniel Breag - he did not give it a specific name so I will harken back to my rural roots. So simple - tennis face palm moment.

Four players are in, all at baseline. One end of court can hit nothing but lobs. Great for working on overheads and defending against them. Structure it however you like. For example:


  • First team to X points wins; switch ends; best 2 of 3.
  • First team to hit X winning overheads wins.
  • First team to hit X unreturned lobs wins. 
  • For groups larger than 4, divide into teams, have players rotating in after every point. Timed intervals; team who is ahead at end of time, wins. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


This is such a fun game from PTR Master Professional Daniel Breag. Simple and action-packed. Plus, I like the name.

Four players at service lines. One starts the point with a bounce feed. Point is played out. Ball must stay within service boxes. Each player serves 4 times. Team with most points after 16 serves is the winner.

Full disclosure: Daniel said a couple different times that this was a 32 point game, so either my math skills are lacking (likely) or I misunderstood his instructions (also likely). In any case, this activity is great for a warm-up, great for quick hands, great for working on volleys and using the continental grip.

If you have more than 4 players but only one court, divide them into teams and have them rotate after every 4 points/feeds.


  • Make it harder by restricting strokes - all volleys, all backhands, etc.
  • Start play with a 'drop' ball - feeder places ball on racquet, then gently rolls it onto other side of net to begin point.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Spiders and Snakes

So apparently the 1973 Skylab
mission has a tennis connection
This is what I deserve for Googling 'snake tennis drill'. . . but this one is a cute idea from . Good for groups of 4-6 or more. Players should be able to rally.

Two players are designated 'spiders' and are stationed at the net. All others ('snakes') are lined up at the opposite baseline. Snakes play against the two Spiders one vs. two. Coach feeds first ball to Snake #1. Snake #1 cannot lob the first ball. Players play out the point. If Snake wins, Snake moves up to T and gets second ball fed. If Snake wins second point, he/she takes place of one of the Spiders, who now is one of the Snakes. When game is over, Snakes pick up all balls.

Original instructions did not specify which Spider is replaced by Snake who won 2 points in a row. Suggest the Spider who made the error is the one who is now a Snake.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Snake

This was the only snake pic I could bear
to include. Available here.
The 11-17 PTR certification workshop I attended recently was lead by PTR Master Professional Daniel Breag of St. Marys, GA. He had some great ideas for on court activities, so you will be seeing many of them here in the next few blog posts.

I really hate snakes, but this name makes sense so I will leave it as-is. The concept is simple and can be used for all kinds of shot production. We used it to work on split steps and volleys.

Coach is feeding from service line. Players are lined up across net. One at a time they move up to starting spot (about halfway between service line and net) and split step. Coach feeds out wide to their forehand, where they move to hit a volley, then immediately run to back of line.

If this is working properly, the players are snaking through at a pretty good clip, so it is not as heinous as some of the other dreaded line drills.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

50 Ball Rally

I attended a PTR 11-17 certification this workshop and came away with some great drill ideas. This one is from Ashlee Creen, girls tennis coach at Brookland Cayce High School. Great for large groups, but you can make it work with as few as 4 players. Players should be able to volley and rally. No special equipment needed.

Divide players into two teams. Each team selects one player as their King or Queen. King/Queen takes up position at net. All other players on their team are at the opposite baseline. One at a time, they rally straight ahead relay fashion (baseline player hits one ball, then goes to end of line so next player can hit next ball). First team to 50 rallies, wins.


  • If they miss, they don't necessarily have to start over at zero - that is completely up to you. 
  • Switching out King/Queen - you can do this after each round of 50, or devise some method of having them switch during play. For example, if net player mis-plays a ball, they have to switch with whomever they were playing against. 
  • Limit to specific shots, such as players must hit only backhands, or net player must hit volleys. 
This game generated a high level of enthusiasm, camaraderie and competition. I will def be trying it soon with my own students.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hit Or Miss

After months of stealing other pros' drills, today I have one that I made up spur-of-the-moment yesterday. Great warm-up for any size group, any ability. No special equipment needed. Yes, there is the dreaded 'line' of players waiting to hit, but this goes quickly.

Players line up at service line or baseline, however you prefer to warm up. Coach feeds balls to players from net post area.  If player hits safely, he/she goes to end of line. However if he/she hits out or into net, ALL players run to opposite end of court, re-form line, and continue activity. Repeat for every miss. Yes this means Coach needs to switch sides also so be prepared. Coach may feed wherever they want to adjust the challenge accordingly. Go for as long as you want or until players are sufficiently warmed up.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Greatest Doubles Drill Ever Created

Dontcha love the name of this drill? I found it in an article by Greg Moran in TennisPro Magazine. If
Is this drill the GOAT??
you have been reading this blog any time at all, you know I sometimes tinker with the original names of the drills I find. But this one is so confident, how dare I?

You will need at least four players. Two are in traditional doubles receiving position (one at service line, one at baseline). The other two are at the net. Coach is off to the side and begins point by feeding a ball to one of the non-net players. First ball should be hit cooperatively to one of the net players. They are then asked to hit back to the baseline player.

To recap: the first three shots (feed, return of feed, return of return) should be cooperative.

Once the third ball has found its way back to the baseline player, anything goes and things get interesting.

Baseline player should be working on avoiding hitting anything to the net players that may end the point in their favor. Lobs and topspin forehands come in handy here.

Net players are working on moving together as well as anticipating baseline player's shots. Most shots should go back to the baseline player unless they have an opportunity to end the point.

Service line player is in the 'hot seat'. Net players may be targeting them so they need to be alert and focused across the net. Look for an opportunity to poach.

Play to a set number of points and rotate so that all players have a chance to work on all positions. Coach feeds a variety of balls including lobs to start the point to better simulate live doubles play. If you want to include serve practice, have the player at the baseline position serve, and returner must follow ball in to restore the preferred starting setup of having two players at the net on their side.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Net Rush

Net Rush is a direct rip-off of another Jorge Capestany drill. He calls it Triples. I have taken the liberty of renaming it,and Jorge I hope you don't mind. The game I know as Triples is nothing like this. It features three players per side and is already posted here.

Net Rush is a drill designed to improve a doubles player's ability to play the first ball coming back to them after their own serve. It is a hybrid of Rush and Crush and All Position Doubles. Great for four or more players.

Four players take up regular doubles positions on court. One of the baseline players bounce feeds the first ball and point is played out. Feeding player MUST follow the ball in to the net.

After each point, players rotate positions with net players advancing to opposite baseline.

It's virtually impossible to use an individual scoring method with this game (believe me, I've tried). So probably best to just run this on a timed interval with plenty of coaching in between points.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Set at the Net

This drill is from an article in TennisPro magazine by Jorge Capestany, PTR and USPTA Master Professional. I have been fortunate to attend a few of Jorge's presentations at PTR conferences. He knows a ton of great drills and I have included many of them in previous posts.

One player is at the net, playing against two players at the baseline. Coach is also at the baseline safely tucked out of the way, feeding the first ball to net player. Players play out the point, complete a set, and rotate a different player over to the net. This is a great way to work on fitness as well as net play.


  • If you have more than 3 players in clinic, run multiple courts with extra players who are not in the game (yet) feeding from behind the baseline. 
  • Full set too long? Try a short set, pro set, or tiebreaker format.
  • Only 2 students or small group semi-private? Coach plays in.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Group Of

Group Of is a warm-up activity best for medium to large groups. It is similar to Musical Chairs without the music.

Scatter racquets around the tennis court. Give each player one tennis ball. Players move about the court. Leader calls out a number. Players must form a group of that size around one of the racquets as soon as possible, and place their ball on the racquet, forming their 'group'. So for example if the leader calls out '3', all players must form a group of three players/balls at one of the racquets. Any players unable to form a group may perform a challenge activity such as jumping jacks, chicken dance, touchdown dance, donkey kicks, something silly but not demeaning.

Players must select a different racquet location each round to avoid having them hang out at a single location the whole time.


  • Players must move around the court in a designated fashion such as running, skipping, hopping, etc.
  • Players have a designated amount of time to form their group.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dragon's Gold

Dragon's Gold is a warm-up adapted from Good for large groups of any
age. You will need a tennis ball and some cones or spots, enough for each player.

Create a large circle with the cones or spots. Divide players into equal teams of 2-3 players each. Each player stands near a spot or cone that is their home base. Teams do not have to stand next to each other - players on a single team can be scattered around the circle.

One player is designated the Dragon and is given a tennis ball (the 'gold') to place on the ground in the middle of the circle. Teams take turn trying to steal the Dragon's gold and return to their base without getting tagged. Dragon's job is to protect the gold by tagging players before they can return to their base. Tagged players must freeze. If all players on a team are tagged before they collect the gold, they return to their bases and it is another team's turn. Play continues until one team successfully captures the gold. If no one can capture the gold, once all teams have had a chance, designate a new Dragon.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boxed In

This is a simple warm-up for both mind and body. Best with medium to large groups.

Arrange players roughly in a square with Coach in the middle. Players take note of where they are standing relative to the Coach as well as to each other. For example,a player might be facing the coach with Johnny to their right and Susie to their left. Some will be behind, some to the right, some to the left, etc.

Coach spins, then stops. All players must then rearrange themselves so that they are back in their original position relative to the coach as well as to each other.

Rather than spinning, Coach may move to a different part of the court.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guard the Cone

Guard the Cone is another warm-up adapted from Good for larger groups of any age and ability.

Players form a large circle. You may find placing spots around the perimeter will help keep the players a safe distance away/keep the circle from shrinking as play commences. Place a cone, perhaps with a ball on top, in the center. One player is designated as Guard. It is his/her job to keep the circle players from hitting the cone. Circle players take turns tossing one ball underhand trying to hit the cone. Note only ONE ball is in play.

If the guard accidentally hits the cone, no harm, no foul.

First player to hit cone becomes the new guard.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nod and Go

Nod and Go is another variation on circle activities, good for large groups of any ability. You will need some throw-down spots, enough for one each player.

Players form a large circle with one player in the middle. Place a spot next to each player in the outer circle. Explain there is no running in this game, only walking for safety purposes. Players change places with each other by first indicating with a nod that they agree to exchange places. Player in the middle is looking for an opportunity to walk over and take any empty spot. Since there is one fewer spot than the number of players, there should always be one player without a spot/in the middle.


  • Players communicate using methods other than nods such as wink, clap, pat leg, etc.
  • Remove more spots so that more players are in the middle at the same time.
Adapted from

Monday, September 16, 2013

Empty Bucket

Empty Bucket is a simple warm-up perfect for large groups of any ability.

Place a bucket or hopper in the middle of the court, filled with tennis balls. Designate one player to stand near the bucket. This is the Bucket Boss. All other players are scattered around the court. Bucket Boss empties bucket one ball at a time. Other players replace balls into bucket, again, one ball at a time. Goal is to not allow the Bucket Boss to empty the bucket.

Play for a designated amount of time, then switch Bosses.

Adapted from

Friday, September 13, 2013

Ten Trips

Ten Trips will work on your students' tossing and targeting skills. Great for large groups of any ability.

Have players form a large circle, at least 3 feet apart from each other. One player tosses a ball to each of the others in order. Catching player toss it back. Goal is to have a successful toss/catch to each player without drops. Once all have been tossed to, that is one point. Play continues until 10 points have been earned, then a new player is designated as tosser.

Update: we tried this recently and 10 points is too long for a single tosser. Consider have tosser change after shorter rounds such as one single successful round.

Adapted from 

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Here's a great warm-up activity perfect for large groups of any ability.

Have the players form a large circle. One player is designated Ringmaster and stands in the middle of the circle. The Ringmaster chooses a second player to stand in the middle with him/her.

Circled players take turns tossing a ball underhand, trying to tag the Ringmaster. Take care to aim chest level or lower. Ringmaster's second player's job is to keep the ball from hitting the Ringmaster. First player tagging Ringmaster is the new Ringmaster and selects a new guard to work with.

Require two or more tags before switching Ringmasters.
Allow two or more guards for the Ringmaster.

Adapted from

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back Me Up

I will be posting some cooperative activities modified for tennis, inspired by a recent post on The first is Back Me Up. It works great as a warm-up. Take care to work safely as they will be working on a hard surface (the court).

Create two-person teams of players evenly matched for size. Have them sit on the court with their backs together. Knees should be drawn up to chest. Challenge them to achieve a standing position by using the pressure they apply back-to-back.

If they are able, have them try getting back to a sitting position using the same pressure and balance skills.

Caterpillar Riot

I love everything about this game, including the name! Good for large groups of any ability, probably
better for the younger set as it has a definite 'silly' factor. You will need some props including hoops and 'treasure'. The treasure can be any items that can be easily picked up and carried by the players. Tennis balls are perfect for this.

Divide players into two teams. Each player should have a hoop to stand in. Hoops should be touching. Teams compete to move around the court, collecting treasure. Teams move as follows: last player in hoop line steps into hoop with player in front of him. He then passes his empty hoop forward to first player in line, who places hoop on ground and steps into it. Then all players move forward one hoop.

Team collecting the most treasure either in a given time period or when all treasure has been collected, is the winner.

If you don't have hoops available, use spots. Players must stand on spots/cannot leave spots to move to or collect treasure.

Adapted from

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2 Strikes

Thanks Coach William Vazquez for this drill which was originally posted here.

Two player start as King or Queen or Champ or whatever you want to call them. They are at the net. All other players are divided into two groups and are challenging the King/Queen from the baseline at ad or deuce. Challengers bounce feed; no lobs/lobs do not earn any points. One chance at the feed.

When King/Queen loses 2 points, they are out and join the line of challengers. Points lost do not have to be consecutive. The player they lost the second point to is the new King/Queen. New King/Queen has 3 seconds to run over and take their position at net. First King/Queen to earn 10 points from clean winners is the winner.

If you have a smaller group you can make this one on one as opposed to having two lines playing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ships and Sailors

Captain's Coming!
Ships and Sailors is another children's game we are adapting for tennis purposes. Thanks to my student Joanna S. for explaining it to me. It is basically a more complex version of Simon Says. I like it for a large group warm-up.

One person (Coach or player) acts as the caller, calling out commands. All others must follow the commands. Last player completing each command, or any player failing to perform the correct command, is knocked out of the game. Last player remaining, wins.

The list of commands is impressive and complex. You can eliminate some of those requiring large numbers of players if your group is small.

Captain's Coming! - all players salute
At Ease
At Ease - all players assume 'at ease' position
This is the similarity to Simon Says. If at any time the caller says Captain's Coming!, players may not perform any other command until caller says At Ease.  Any player performing another command after Captain's Coming without first getting the At Ease command is out of the game.
Wimbledon champ Andy Murray demonstrates
Hit The Deck

Ships - move to ad side of court
Sailors - move to deuce side of court
Seasick - yep, you guessed it - pretend to be sick to your stomach
Hit The Deck - players lie face down on the ground.

The following commands require 2 or more players. So players must not only remember what to do for each command; they must quickly find other players to group with. If you have a small group, here is where you can eliminate some commands to simplify the game.
Titanic of course

Titanic - 2 players. One holds arms out in a T shape; other stands behind and wraps arms around T player's waist.
Man Overboard - 2 players. One lies face down on ground; other stands with one foot on player's back. You may be reminded of the Captain Morgan pose.
3 Men Rowing - 3 players stand in single file and make a rowing motion.
4 Men Eating - 4 players stand in a circle and pretend to eat.
Imagine the keg is a second player
and you've got it for Man Overboard
5 Men Pointing North - group of 5 all pointing same direction; if they are lucky it may be north :)

Monday, July 15, 2013


I love it when my students suggest tennis activities. Thanks Will C. for sharing this one. I used it recently in an adult beginner clinic focusing on backhands and loved how it dovetailed with the backhand lesson. It's simple, which I also love. You will need at least two players.

One player is bounce feeding; the other is returning. Feeding player calls out 'forehand' or 'backhand' quickly, before fed ball crosses net. Returning player must hit whatever stroke was just called by feeding player. When we played this we played mini tennis (service line) but it could also work well from the baseline.

Scoring strategies: Will suggested scoring first to 7 points, then switch. If the point continues past the feed, EVERY ball hit must be accompanied by a stroke command (Forehand or Backhand), so the returning player can get in on the fun as well even though they don't get to feed (yet).

When I used this in the adult class, I didn't do it by points earned. Instead I gave every player 5 balls and rotated them around, giving everyone equal opportunities to feed as well as return.

At first this game may seem to be more of a learning opportunity for the returning player, to work on tracking the ball quickly and improving their footwork. It is, but as you play this, you may find it is equally a challenge for the feeding player. You will see their mental wheels spinning as the plot where to feed the ball and what stroke to require from their opponent. It's a win-win!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ball Pickup - In Disguise

Ball pickup doesn't always have to be about, well, picking up balls. Here's how I have worked in some additional ball striking opportunities into our ball pickup.

Send your players to whichever side of the court has the most balls on the ground. Coach is on the opposite end of court picking up. Have the players send the balls to you with one or more of the following challenges.

Serving - Have them serve into the cross court service box from the baseline.
Topspin forehand - bounce feed and send across the net with as much topspin as they can muster.
Backhand - bounce feed, then work on backhand style of their choice - one hand, two hands, slice.
Lob - bounce feed and aim for behind service line, middle of court. Add some topspin if you are able.

Sometimes my students aren't crazy about ball pickup, but they will wear themselves out with these simple challenges, even scrounging for additional balls to hit once they have exhausted the supply on their side.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Bump Up

Bump Up is from Mark Savage, USPTA certified Tennis Director at Sportsplex in New Windsor, NY. Best for young beginners.

Have players spread out a safe distance on court and ask them to dribble the ball into the air, or 'bump up' 10 times. When they are finished, they should sit down in the court.

Next, ask them to Bump Up and count how many times they are able to do so within a 30 second period.  Repeat, encouraging each to improve on their own personal records.

Finally, divide players into teams and repeat the first task (Bump Up 10 times). First team to have all of its players seated, wins.

It is up to you whether you want the 10 to be in a row or just 10 however they can get them!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Luck of the Draw

I hit the tennis drill jackpot recently and am mining it for all it is worth. Another great game inspired by Mike Barrell, evolve9: Luck of the Draw.

Create some cards with a variety of positive and negative tweaks to the usual rules:

Bonus (positive)
Unlimited serves
Replay point
Opponent gets only one serve
Alleys allowed (singles)

Challenge (negative)
Only one serve
No bounce
Use a different racquet
No backhands/volleys/lobs
Use opposite hand

Wild Card - choose a second card; player decides who it should apply to

Use these cards to present challenges or opportunities to your players as they play out points. For example, have two players or teams play a tiebreaker. Before each point, have one of the teams draw a card. Alternate which team draws, or allow each to draw, or allow team that won last point to draw. Stay flexible and let your imagination guide you on the best use of the cards. Great way to train them to deal with positive and negative momentum changes that may occur during a match.

Update: suggested by my students - bring blank cards and a sharpie - they wanted in on the fun and wanted to create their own cards. Love it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tic Tac Toe

Thanks Mike Barrell at evolve9 for adding to our collection of children's games converted to our tennis purposes with  Tennis Tic Tac Toe.

Players play singles or doubles with the usual rules EXCEPT they may only earn a point after earning three consecutive points. 

I'll let that sink in for a minute.

Yes, finishing a game could take a while. But the lesson on the value of consistency and momentum is worth the trouble.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mission Possible

Mission Possible is a drill from Mike Barrell at Mike is an industry leader in the field of coaching young tennis players.

Have players play a tiebreak. They are tasked with a challenge, such as keeping the ball deep or hitting to their opponent's backhand. Keep pad and pen handy courtside, and have the players keep track of how they are doing meeting the challenge, or 'mission', in between points. The tiebreaker is played/scored as usual, but the challenge of the mission should be of primary concern to players, second only to winning the point.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sorry, Charlie!

Sorry, Charlie! is a result of instant inspiration on court recently when something wasn't working and I
Your young students will have no idea who
this is. I always felt badly for Charlie and
all those years of rejection. Very fishy!
had to think fast and switch gears. I like the result and I hope you do, too!

I was using this for young red ball players at the beginner level. Two players face off across the net from each other. On one side, player or coach has created a large target. I put my target smack-dab in the middle of the 36-foot court, more or less a circle about 4 feet in diameter. Remember these were beginners and I wanted to make this doable for them. Make the target out of flat spots or stripes as one player will be playing on this side.

Player on side WITHOUT target hits self-fed or coach fed ball across net, trying to make it bounce somewhere inside the target. If successful, other player returns ball and continues rally.

If the ball does NOT land in the target, player on side of net with target does not have to hit the ball and replies, "Sorry, Charlie!" to let the other player know their ball did not hit the target.

So we have one player working on feeding/targeting skills, and the other working on tracking, calling lines, and returning skills.

One point for every fed ball that lands in the target. Halfway through an average size hopper, switch roles and give the returning player a chance to self-feed.  Player with most points when hopper is empty is the winner.

If you have a large group and half a hopper is too long of a rotation, give each player a fixed number of chances such as 10 balls per player.

To make it more difficult, have the first ball fed to backhand, or shrink/move target.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tennis Infinity

Thanks again to our friends +PhysEdGames for inspiring this tennis activity. Perfect for large groups, festivals, PE classes, etc. You will need some stickers or clothes pins to track scores.

Distribute your players among your courts. Best if your courts are next to each other to speed up court rotation times. Extra players are stationed at the ends of the courts. This screen shot pertains to a school gym but it translates easily to tennis courts IMO.

At timed intervals, Coach stops play and calls a rotation. All players move one position to left or right depending on Coach's instructions. Every rotation should move one of the excess players at the ends onto court, so no one is left standing out too long.

Players play out points. At the end of each rotation, player with most points won gets one sticker or clothes pin to represent that he/she 'won' during that rotation. At end of activity, player with most stickers/pins, wins.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


The Internet is truly a beautiful thing - an embarrassment of information riches! Sorting through my Twitter connections recently, I came across +PhysEdGames. If you follow my blog or tweets, you know lots of my tennis game ideas are modified children's games. Barnyard is one that is ripe for conversion. The video reminded me of the old Red Rover game from my childhood lo those many years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Barnyard's roots being in a PE class setting, it is a natural for large groups. But I can also see how we can use it in a tennis clinic with a smaller group.

One player is designated the Farmer and is at the net. Across the net at the baseline are all other players. They have been broken into different groups, designated by various farm animal names such as Duck, Cow, Goose, Goat, etc. Coach or Farmer calls out an animal. That animal or a player from that group of animals comes forward. Coach feeds ball; player hits. If he/she gets ball safely by Farmer at net, they earn one point for themselves or their animal group, and back into group they go. However if they miss or if Farmer picks off their ball at the net, they are 'out' and must trot over to far baseline.

What happens here is up to you. You can either task them with catching a ball to free themselves and return to the hitting group, or have them pick up X number of balls and deposit them into the hopper before getting back into hitting group.

First player or group to 7 points wins and is the new Farmer. If it is a group that wins, let them figure out who gets to be the next Farmer.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I cooked up this drill myself as a way to work on return of serve. Borrowing a little from a drill I saw that Jim Courier used to use. Bet his targets were way smaller, though! You will need some way to mark off the targeted area of the court.
Ad side corner of 60 foot court marked
off as a generous-sized target

Mark off a good-sized area deep in the corner of one half of the court. Coach or other player is on this side of the court, feeding or serving. All other players are cross court returning. One at a time, they return the fed/served ball. Once chance only on each feed. If server/feeder misses, receiving player waits until they receive a good serve. First to 21, wins. Anyone landing on 13 must go back to 0. Points awarded as follows:

0 = over net but out of play
1 = straight ahead
2 = cross court in front of service line (short)
3 = cross court behind service line (deep)
-1 = into net

Anyone hitting the marked off target (cross court very deep) is an INSTANT WINNER. The Instant Winner component can be the great equalizer and is very popular and motivating with my students.

Very simple to convert this game to a team-based activity, so good for larger groups, camps, etc. Make sure to feed/serve quickly, one chance each, teams alternating turns. If they are lollygagging, I feed/serve even if no one is 'ready', thus giving that player/team a missed opportunity = minus 1 point for ball not making it over the net. Trust me, you only need this to happen once, especially in a team setting, for everyone to pick up the pace and rotate through quickly!

Once game is won, rotate new player into serving/feeding position. Move target to opposite side of court on each rotation. So for example if you were hitting to deuce side, move to ad.

Want to make it harder? Make the target smaller. Easier? Reduce number of points needed to win, or hand-feed adjacent to player rather than serving to them.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spot Shot

Here's another great versatile drill from a recent summer camp coaches training session led by my
boss, Jorge Andrew. It didn't have a name, so . . .

Spot Shot builds on the progression method of teaching new students the basics of stroke production.  They should be able to bounce feed.

Two players face each other across the net inside the service lines. Two spots are on one side of the net; one short, one a little deeper. Player on side with spots is receiving bounce feed. Player bounce feeding announces prior to feed which spot they are aiming for. Then they feed, and receiving player traps ball on racquet after one bounce. Trap should be to forehand.

After three successful traps, players high 5 each other at net and wait for others to finish. Then switch roles so that everyone gets a turn at each position.

Move spots so that they are at left and right within service box rather than short and deep.
Have player trapping to backhand side.

Easier - have players tossing and catching before they move on to using their racquets.
Harder - players rally 3 in a row (or more!) before trapping ball on racquet.

Friday, May 31, 2013


Yikes! If the racquets get this full, maybe break into
two or three smaller groups!
Summer tennis camps are just around the corner. Quality coaches are organizing lesson plans like mad. If they're not, they're the OTHER coaches who are using the same tired dead ball feeding drills, finishing camp with a half-hearted game of Dog Pound. After hours of dead ball feeds, the campers think Dog Pound is the best thing since yellow tennis balls, and who can blame them? I Can. Don't Be That Coach! Get Googling for some fresh tennis activities - like Overload.

My boss encourages us to combine quality fundamentals with fresh new on-court activities. He led a summer camp refresher training session for all summer camp instructors last week. Overload was one of the many gems he shared with us. He didn't have a name for it so as usual I am taking the liberty. Great for all ages and abilities; a good icebreaker; and all you need is players, racquets, and one ball per player.

Players form a circle facing inward. Each player balances one ball in the middle of their racquet strings. Coach either begins activity or designates starter. Starter passes his/her ball to next player. That player now has two balls on his/her racquet. Repeat around circle. Number of balls will accumulate, making the pass more challenging with each player. Goal is to make it all the way around the circle without dropping any balls.

Will there be some dropped balls? Probably. Will everyone be rooting for everyone else to succeed? Probably. If any balls are dropped, have the players retrieve, put back on racquet and pass them singly. This should be light-hearted, not punishment.

Once all balls have made it to the final player, and just when all think the game is over, have them keep passing so that the players who began the game with only one or two balls to pass now have to 'feel the pain' of the players farther along in the circle to had to manage more balls. Go all the way around again with the total number of balls.

For a conclusion to this activity with a little flair, coach or last player can fling all balls accumulated onto their racquet into the air.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Around the World

Around the World is a dribbling challenge perfect for warm-ups. It is simple and easy to customize. The goal is to be able to dribble a complete circle around an object. Youngest players can dribble using 'bounce, catch' with their hands and a ball, no racquets needed. Dribbling can be done as 'downs', 'ups', 'self-rally', or some combination.


  • Have a single object such as a cone or spot. All players take turn dribbling around that item.
  • Have multiple objects; each player moves from item to item, dribbling around each in a complete circle. 
  • Divide group into teams. Each player dribbles around item relay-style. First team to finish, wins. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Awards Categories

Summertime means summer camps, and no camp is complete without awards on the last day! It is important that each camper receives an award of some sort. Sometimes it is a challenge to come up with appropriate awards that are fun and unique. Here are a few awards I have given in the past. Do you have any to add to this list?

The Obvious
Most Improved
Camp Champ
Hot Shot

Less Obvious
Kings and Queens - this is a great category, infinite ways to customize based on your camp activities. For example you could have a King or Queen of popular games ('Jailbreak King') or shots (Overhead Queen) or activities (Ball Pick-up King) or lunch snack (Popsicle Queen) or whatever comes to mind.
Scorekeeper - some students have a real knack for keeping track of the score. Some don't. :)

Mr./Ms. Cool
Trooper - good for anyone overcoming adversity - sunburn, skinned knee, blisters, etc.

This is meant to be light-hearted, or for when you just can't think of any more unique awards - Best Hat, Best Shirt, etc. Be careful with this one. Kids are so sensitive about peers, clothing, etc. I usually use it if they have worn something especially colorful or wacky just for fun.

Best Lefty
Best Righty

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Thank You, Jeeves

Thank You, Jeeves is a serve warm-up. You will need at least four players.

Pair players into teams of two. Place four balls on the ground on each side of court. Points are not played out so you can put them wherever you want as long as they are on the same location on both sides of court so as not to give one team an advantage. You want them some difference from traditional serving position. Suggest in alley near service line, at T, at net, etc.

First player from each team serves; server then runs to get a ball from their own team's pile and give it to the next server. First team to run out of balls wins. Notice they are not playing out points, just serving and then running to the ball pile and back.

Best two out of three wins. While speed is important, it is also important for playeres to maintain good quality technique here. Note the points are not played out. Just serve and go.


  • Increase the number of players on each team. Even numbers preferred but if not possible, the team with the extra player will just have to serve quicker!
  • Change # of balls
  • Change location of where balls are stored on court
I used Thank You, Jeeves recently in two different small groups, with only two players each. It worked GREAT as a serve warm-up and I will def be using it again in future. Here's my tweak for uber small groups: the two players compete to see who can earn 7 points first (one point for each correct serve). Earning points for each good serve motivates them to hit quality serves. Played it once on each half of court so both players have a chance to win. By the time they finished two rounds they were def warmed up and ready for some match play. I also insisted they say 'Thank you, Jeeves' each time they were handed a ball. They got a huge kick out of that.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Simon Says

Simon Says is a great prospect for adapting to tennis because it is so flexible. I have seen several different variations. I encourage you to come up with your own and share them with me. Here's the one I like best.

Best for young beginners. You will need some cones or spots. Place them at equal intervals along the sidelines 1-2 feet apart.

Players stand at baseline. Coach is off court or across court. Coach gives directions to players, preceding each command with 'Simon Says'. Example:

  • Simon Says hit a forehand
  • Simon Says hit a backhand
  • Simon Says show me Ready Position
  • Simon Says do a Split Step

Note the commands do not have to be tennis related - ask for jumping jacks, balance on one foot, clap hands three times, whatever. Use your imagination. If they are doing tennis strokes, no racquets necessary, just do shadow swings.

Each time the player(s) perform the correct command, they advance one spot toward the net (hence the need for the spots/cones).  First player to net wins. So far so good, but if you know this game, you also know this rule: Coach may sometimes try to trick the players by giving a command without first saying 'Simon Says'. If players do the command anyway, the penalty is to return to the baseline. So Coaches, once you get going, start firing commands quickly to test your players' listening skills.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Smash It Or Send It

I learned this dribbling variation from one of my students. He is 5. I was showing him the various ways to dribble a ball (ups, downs, self-rallies) and he came up with this one on his own. And I let him! He was obsessed with it and had completed 53 rallies before his dad had to drag him off the court. Love when that happens!

Basically this is a series of 'down's (bouncing the ball against the court with the racquet) without those pesky rules of only one bounce per hit. He Smashed It, tracking it as it was bouncing, and Smashed It again when he judged it to be the proper time. If it started to get too low, he tapped it from underneath (an 'up' - the Send It option) instead to give it more height. Very bright fellow.

So loosen up the rules on the dribbing and let your students Find A Way to engage with racquet and ball. See how many rallies they can get this way. As long as ball is not rolling, keep Smashing and Sending.

Here's a video of my student demonstrating his Smashing skills.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Net Monster

I stole this game from Steve Ghelardini. He was on the court next to me at a recent Junior Tennis
JTL has been running summer youth tennis leagues for
a looooooong time in the Columbia SC area
League (JTL) Jamboree at the Lexington County (SC) Tennis Complex. We were all tasked with running a fun tennis activity on our courts. We had a different group of players rotating through every 20 minutes.

Steve's activity was a variation on the tennis drill evergreen Jail Break/Dogpound. I have taken the liberty of renaming it because Steve was indeed a Net Monster and really made this game a challenge, especially for the higher level players.

Coach stands near the net feeding balls to players at the baseline. Player must hit safely to remain in hitting line. Players not hitting safely cross to other end of court, put down racquets, and try to regain their place in the hitting line by catching a hit ball in air. Last remaining player in hitting line hitting safely, wins.

About now you are thinking, how is this different from Jail Break/Dogpound? It's different because Steve took an active role as feeder, intercepting any balls he had a play on at the net. So the hitters had to get their balls by Steve which was no easy feat - Steve is a Net Monster.

C'mon, coaches - you know you are itching to hit those easy balls when you are playing Jail Break. So go ahead!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Send A Message - To Yourself

I honestly don't remember where I stole this idea from. It's so simple, anyone could have come up with it. I do recall that I have been using it for years.

Recall the blog post about Faisal Hassan's mental buzzwords? Take it one step further and create some visual cues from your favorites. Journal, index cards, post-it notes, on your bag tag, get a Sharpie and write them on your arm, anything handy will do. Keep them somewhere you can access them easily during the match. I have mine taped to my racquet. I see them every time I adjust my grip, which is often. When I first started using this, I was having trouble staying calm and needed to settle down. It has really helped my mental game. Now I have a new boomstick and a couple of new but equally inspiring messages to ponder while I am on court.

What's on your racquet??

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dynamite Defense

This is my current boomstick. What's yours?
This doubles drill is from Coach Helle Viragh on the Tennis Resources site.

Four players take the court; two up, two back. The two up should be slightly staggered. Coach feeds the first ball and players play out the point. No winners, please! Defensive team (team playing back) goal is to keep everything in play. Any shot is allowed by the defensive team. Goal is to strengthen the defensive game, avoid giving the offensive team an easy putaway, or force an error by the offense.

Couple fun aspects of this game:
Scoring fun: any ball touched saves point for team touching it. In other words, if someone can get a racquet on the ball, no point is awarded. Encourages effort! Touch must occur before second bounce.
Positional fun: if defensive team hits a great lob and offensive team gets pushed off the net, teams' positions are reversed and defensive/baseline team may take the net as they push their opponents back with a well-placed lob. So this game could swing back and forth depending on ball placement and team movement.

Coach Helle didn't say in the video so let's just add our own scoring strategy here. First to 7, first to 11 by 2, whatever suits your fancy (and your students!).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Loop to Sneak

If you haven't visited the TennisResources site, run don't walk. Lots of great content there and you
'Loop' aka moonball. Don't hate! This
can be a very effective shot!
better believe you will be seeing it here. Rip Off and Duplicate!

Loop and Sneak is a drill to encourage hitting a nice deep shot, then taking advantage of the defensive position you have put your opponent in. Players play singles starting with a bounce feed, working on hitting a high, deep topspin ground stroke that pins their opponent back. They then follow this shot into the net and attempt to end the point. First to 11 by 2 wins. If you have a large group, play as a team activity, rotating in different players after each point.

For an additional challenge, require a set number of rallies before point play begins a la 3 Monkeys.

Note: I found the site a little difficult to navigate, so just go to the main page and search the word 'loop' to find the Loop to Sneak video.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tennis A-Z

I love this game for several reasons (not the least of which is that I was a pretty good speller back in the day).

  • It is great for any level player.
  • Many of my students perform better when talking during our hitting. I don't know why. I had a student the other day hit 15 backhands in a row while telling me his memories of his first tennis lessons. When he finally missed, I asked him if he knew how many he had hit. When I told him, he was floored - he had no idea!
  • Multitasking! I had a student tell me he had homework to get done after tennis. When I asked what kind and discovered it was spelling homework, we 'spelled' his spelling homework during our warm-up rally. Guarantee he aced his test the next day!
  • Versatile - see Variations below or make up your own. 
I have my students choose the word they would like to spell because if they are very young, this is a very short list. Yes, No, Ball, Dog, Cat, and of course their own names are pretty safe bets. 'Tennis' is another good one. If they run out of ideas then I have them choose any word they want and I help them spell it as we go along. The younger players get a big kick out of spelling ridiculously long  (to them) words like 'alligator' and 'Transformer'. 


  • Easy - they earn one letter for every ball hit over the net and inside court
  • Harder - they earn one letter for every ball rallied
  • Hardest - make the target or skill more demanding - all backhands, all cross court, etc.

  • Another fun letter-related activity is to have them go through the entire alphabet A-Z. This gives a strong sense of accomplishment, especially when mom/dad/grandparents are observing and give a big cheer when we get to 'Z'. To recap, for my youngest players I adjust the goal according to their skill level. We start by giving a letter each time a ball is hit over the net, no matter where it lands. As they improve, the ball must land in the playable area. Make it more challenging by having it land in a particular part of the court, or having them go back to A or zero if they miss.
  • Make it an elimination activity by having any player who misses either in spelling or hitting eliminated. Last player standing wins. 
  • Make this a team-building exercise by having all players working together to spell the word.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Yes! Another children's game we have gleefully co-opted for tennis! This one is from tennis professional David Brouwer, presented during a PTR Symposium. Best for players old enough to multi-task as well as rally (tossing or hitting).

A topic/category is selected (animals, places, cars, sports teams, foods, words beginning with 'M', etc.). After each hit or rally, player(s) must say a word from the topic/category previously agreed upon.  When there is a miss, either with the tennis or with the word selection, next player is up. If you want to play this as an elimination activity, last player standing is the winner.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

First Tennis Tournament!

Is your first tennis tournament experience coming up? You know what they say: a GIF is worth a thousand words. Here's what you can expect.

Nervous? You betcha! Perfectly normal. It will pass.

Those butterflies in your tummy may make you a little clumsy at first. Don't worry! You'll settle down soon.

Unlike your regular tennis clinics, tournaments mean lots of new faces across the net. Sometimes they are a little scary. 

In every tennis match, 50% of the players will lose. Sometimes this will be you. No worries! Shake it off and move on!

Remember all the great tips your coach has taught you. Recover recover recover!

Beginner level tournaments often provide lunch for the players. Watch out for the stampede to the lunch table.

Better bring some snacks from home in case the lunch is not your favorite.

Beware the after-lunch crash. You may want to take a nap, but there's more tennis to be played.

Don't forget to work on your focusing skills. Every point counts!

In every tennis match, 50% of the players will win. Sometimes this will be you!

Unlike your regular tennis clinics, tournaments mean lots of new faces across the net. Sometimes they will become new friends.

Eventually every tournament comes to an end. Don't worry - there's always another one!