Friday, March 29, 2013

High Five

The March/April 2013 edition of Tennis magazine's How-To article describes a shot called High Five.
Overheads are not for everyone
Purchase this poster here.
It is described as 'the perfect response to a well-executed lob'. Considering this magazine's readers likely are adult players, I found this description a little overblown. I would re-word it as 'another option for returning a well-executed lob'. Hasn't sold me yet on the 'perfect response' part.


I could be persuaded that this shot is a 'perfect response' if you are a younger player having difficulty with timing and running down a good lob in such a way to hit a quality ground return! I tried it out on a couple of classes recently with very good results. In many ways it is much less complicated than teaching young players how to hit an overhead response on a lob, so I suggest you use it as a progression to the overhead.

Feed a high, deep ball to a player who is starting at the T. They should adjust their court position so that the ball is above and out in front of them, similar to where they would be if hitting an overhead. But instead of using a serving motion to send the ball back over they net, they should flatten the racquet (into the 'tray table' position) and punch it straight up into the bottom of the ball. This should send the ball in a lob-like path safely back over the net, allowing the player one more chance to stay in the rally.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

1-2 Punch

Float that serve out wide like a butterfly,
then sting like a bee with your second shot
Recently I was reading Cosmin Miholca's blog entry about practicing serving out wide. He has some very simple and practical advice on how (and why!) to accomplish this. Boiling it down, he suggests:
  • Setting up some targets about a foot inside the singles line and 3 feet inside the service line on the deuce court. In other words, give a comfortable margin of error. 
  • Use a slice serve on the deuce side, brushing the '3 o'clock' position on the ball. 
  • On the ad side, use a kick serve to accomplish same (brushing up from 7 o'clock to 1 o'clock). 
  • To add the '2' to the punch you will either need a partner returning serve or a coach or partner feeding a second ball to simulate the return. Either way, practice putting this ball far from your opponent, who should be busy recovering position from your out-wide serve.

This is an admirable goal for our advanced beginners and up, but what about the young beginners?

  • Stick with the 1-2 theme. 
  • Have them serve to an out-wide target, then toss them the second ball for down-the-line. If they are having trouble serving, do the entire exercise with them tossing to targets rather than hitting/serving.
Consider point play with one point awarded each time BOTH balls are on target. Want an even more competitive aspect? Add a second player receiving the 'serve'. Server gets one point for each ball he/she gets past receiver. Receiver gets one point for each ball he/she catches after one bounce. First to X wins. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Get In The Zone

Maybe this is what we should call
the neutral zone has a great article out on reducing errors. Naturally we all want to reduce errors. But I don't think enough players realize the commonly reported statistic that 80% of tennis points are determine by errors. I don't have any way of verifying this stat, but since it helps me underscore the importance of playing smart, I am going to keep using it until I hear otherwise!

The analysis of the tennis court and its various zones in the article is a must-read for players who are able to understand the strategy of using the proper shot at the proper time. This may be your advanced beginners and up. There are a couple of different activities in this blog that help players determine which shot to hit, or more to the point, which shots NOT to hit, depending on where you are on the court. For my students, the biggest mistake I see is that they are overzealous about hitting winners at the wrong time. A close second is the exact opposite: failing to end the point when they are in what I call the 'kill' zone (near the net). 

So I have concocted this zonal activity to reinforce not only the zones of the court but what should and shouldn't be done in each. 

Divide the court into thirds laterally. Baseline third is the defensive ('grind') zone. Net zone is the offensive ('kill') zone. Middle third is the neutral zone. Players play singles points from the baseline. They earn one point each time their ball lands in the baseline third (baseline to baseline). No points earned or deducted if player or ball is in neutral zone. Point deducted for any ball landing in offensive zone. Final twist: point also deducted if player is pulled into offensive zone but fails to put the point away. First to X wins (your choice based on level of players and size of group).  Note entire game could be concluded in a single point if you have a couple of moonballers on court together. Scorekeeping could be complicated so consider enlisting waiting players to help keep the score.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spill It

Tongue out = sure sign of focus
Spill It is deceptively simple. It is suitable for your youngest beginners, but it requires a combination of control, timing, and proper swing path.

Player balances a ball on their racquet strings. They slowly tip the ball forward until it falls to the ground and bounces. Then they must hit it over the net.

Once mastered on the forehand side, try the backhand. This is a little trickier as one hand will pull double duty after placing the ball on the strings and needs to be back on the grip before hitting the ball.

Spill It is simple, but don't forget to appreciate all the effort that will go into doing this successfully!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Return With Interest

I have done this drill before as an adult student in a clinic. Its purpose is similar to 7/11 in that we want to work on serve and return of serve simultaneously. But this game builds more of a sense of camaraderie between the two players because they are working together to earn points.

One player is serving with second serves; the other is returning cross court. As a team they are trying to see how many two shot combos they can complete with a total of ten chances. Team with best percentage wins.

Returner hits down the line

Server uses first serve

Adapted from

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pick Your Spot

I totally pick these spots
I found this drill at a PE teachers website and modified it for use with youngest beginners. As usual I have some suggested progressions at the end of the post.

Coach is at service line feeding balls to player across net at baseline. Coach feeds 10 balls per player. Player sees how many he/she can hit cross court and in play. Player getting best percentage of 10 wins.

Repeat going down the line
Repeat from the backhand side.

Have two players involved, one taking the place of the coach and bounce feeding to baseline player. This way coach can stay on baseline side to assist with stroke analysis.

Friday, March 22, 2013

UR10S Radio

Thanks Lisa Stone @ParentingAces for inviting me to be a guest on your radio show on Monday March 25 at 12 noon Eastern. It will be broadcast on the UR10S blog radio program. We will be discussing the red-orange-green-yellow (ROGY) low compression ball progression teaching format. Just click on their link and call the number provided to join the discussion. I hope to hear from many of you!

Here are a few links that you may find useful and that may come up during the discussion:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Toss is Boss

Ian Westermann and his cool
tweener shirt
Thanks Web Tennis Drills for recently recycling a 2007 video of Ana Ivanovic giving some simple tennis tips. As she was talking about serves, she said, 'toss is boss'. I could not agree more. In a different interview with Roger Federer, the GOAT said if you can perfect your toss, you are halfway to getting a good serve. Think about that for a minute. Footwork, weight transfer, swing path, swing speed, target, spin, grip, point of contact - all of that is lumped together into only 50% of a quality serve, the other 50% dependent on one thing: your toss!

I have already posted some toss-related activities in this blog (just search the 'serve' label). Today I will add a link to a 5 minute video by Ian Westermann of EssentialTennis. He is demonstrating a toss activity similar to the Tap N Toss activity I beg my students to use as their tennis homework. It requires a tennis ball and a tennis racquet - that's it. No court necessary. You will need a safe place to toss in. But since you will not be hitting the ball or swinging the racquet, that place can be relatively small.

Enjoy Ian's video, and go back and look at some of my other serve-related blog entries. Let's get that toss to where it is BOSS!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Summertime = Camp Time

Here's a starter list of summer tennis camp opportunities for those of you in the Columbia, SC area. If you hear of any others, please let me know. Several club web pages I checked did not have any info posted yet.

Columbia Area Summer Tennis Camps 2013

Camps offered weekly Jun-Aug. $75/wk Mon-Thurs 9-12.

Airport High School Youth Tennis CampJune 17-19 $25 per player

3 weeks in June to choose from, $395/wk M-F

The Woodlands (NE Columbia)
$115/wk Mon-Thu 9-12. Two weeks each offered for beginner, intermediate, and advanced juniors.

offered 4 weeks in June. Overnight $675/wk (mon-thur), day $475 (all day mon-thur), purple $275 (half day beginners 4-8 mon-thur).

Nike camps
Overnight $745, day $385, extended day $535 Furman,Charleston

Wofford (Spartanburg)
Overnight $629, day $299, or half day $179

Friday, March 15, 2013

Feet! Feet! Feet!

Thanks, Kid Fitness 101 for today's tennis drill idea. That link in the first sentence will take you to a brief video loaded with footwork drills. I used a half-dozen or so of them yesterday to warm up my Orange and Green ball classes. They are a challenge! I used

  • Hopping back and forth across the line, both laterally and toward the net, one foot as well as two
  • 4 step count moves - reminded me of salsa class!
  • Big Skip - who doesn't love skipping?

The kids were huffing and puffing, but energized. One of my Green ball students was inspired to add one of his own, so I will share it with you here.

  • Facing the center of the court, hop so that one foot is extended over the front of the line and one behind. Alternate in a scissors motion as you move laterally toward the net. 

Thanks, Zeb!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Speed Volley

Brian Baker's backhand volley
The second of Jeff Cooper's tennis drills is for volleys. Players must work their way through four levels of volley difficulty by hitting successfully 7 of 8 feeds alternating forehand and backhand volleys. First round feeds are the slowest and become successively faster as player advances. Jeff suggests a timing interval of 4 seconds between feeds in the first round, then 2 seconds in second round; 1 second in third, and half a second in the last and most difficult round.

Already I am thinking it will be tough to feed at such a consistently specific rate per round per student, but my students really enjoyed the Tornado volley drill so I will give this one a try as well. I'll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: My fears about consistent feed rates were unfounded, mainly because I reduced it from four to three rounds: slow, medium, and Lightning. This has turned into a great volley instruction tool. When the students see how difficult it is to perform at Lightning round pace properly, they are ready to listen to some tips on proper volley and recovery technique.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reverse Pyramid

Thanks Jeff Cooper at for the next couple of tennis drills.  This one did not have a name so I am calling it the Reverse Pyramid. The focus is on building consistency, which of course is the base of our pyramid of tennis skills. This will also work well as a warm-up.

Two players play singles. The goal is to complete 8 rallies from the service lines. Once this is achieved, they move back to a spot midway between service line and baseline and complete 6 rallies. When this is accomplished, they may move back to the baseline and complete 4 rallies. First team to complete all three is the winner.


  • For young beginners, have them tossing the ball rather than hitting. 
  • To make it harder, restrict the type of shots they may hit, or reduce the size of the playing area (cut court in half lengthwise). 
  • For larger groups, play as a doubles activity. Have extra players rotate in after every attempt. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tennis Soccer

Tennis Soccer is a simple but effective activity for your youngest beginners. You will need four cones or spots to mark the 'goals'.

Two players, or a player and a coach, face each other on the same side of a 36-foot court. If you are using a full size court, have the cones at the net and the service line. Each has a goal marked by two cones. Make the goal about 10 feet across. One goal is at net. The other is at baseline. Players take turn rolling the ball back and forth to each other with their racquets, trying to get it past opponent and in between cones for a goal. First to 7 points (goals) wins.

Here's a video of the activity in case this description doesn't do the job.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hurray for Hula Hoops

Hula hoops were a thing in the 1950s. Click here for
more great pictures from that craze. 
I have mentioned hula hoops in previous blog posts. I love them but had not purchased any because frankly I thought they were overpriced for a bit of extruded plastic. But spring is in the air, which means hula hoops are at the local dollar stores, so get them while you can! I purchased four small hoops recently and put them right to work with my Red Ball students. Here are a few suggestions. I bet you can think of plenty more.

Vanilla - just use them as nature intended. Can your students hula? If not, have them try it around their arm/wrist first.
Target practice - hoops singly or in groups make great targets for games like Black Hole or Target Practice. Let the students place the targets. This is an interesting exercise in where they think the easiest spot to hit is. Guarantee you they will first place the hoops up close to the net. After trying in vain to hit those, they will move them farther back!
Relay/warm-ups -
  • Variation on Ball Thief: Place one hoop in the middle of the court. Place X number of hoops around the edges of the court, either one per player or one per team. Players must run to center hoop, retrieve one ball at a time and place it in their own hoop. When center hoop is empty, whoever has the most balls in their own hoop wins. 
  • For even more of a workout, place two hoops per team or player across the court from each other on the doubles sidelines. Hoops on one side of court have X number of balls in them. Make sure all hoops on this side of court have same number of balls per hoop. Hoops on opposite side of court are empty at start of game. Teams/players run from empty hoop to full hoop, retrieve one ball, run back and place it in empty hoop. First team/player to move all balls wins. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Black Hole 2 - Serve and Return

If you are a USTA member and you receive their 15-30 digital magazine, you may have seen this game in their most recent issue. In the video explaining the game, host John Evert didn't give it a name, so I did. It is similar to the Black Hole game, where hitting various locations on the court determine how points are awarded. We are modifying Black Hole to make it a serve/return of serve activity.

Two players play out singles points. Part of the server's side is marked with stripes or small cones. If the returner's ball lands behind the marked area, the returner gets one point. If the returner's ball does not land in the marked area, the server gets a point. So in this example, the Black Hole is where we do NOT want the return of serve to land. It is the returner's job to hit a quality return. It is the server's job to hit such a nice serve as to make the returner's job very difficult. First to XX points wins, depending on how you want to structure the game.
Ignore the Play arrow from this screen capture. If you want to see
 the full video, click here. Inside the yellow cones is the
Black Hole. No bueno!

As for which part of the court is marked off, in the video, the goal was to return the ball deep, behind the halfway point of the back court (midway between the service line and the baseline) as well as in the  2-3 foot 'alley' adjacent to the singles sideline. So ideally the returner is returning deep cross court, or deep down the line. Even in the middle of the court is okay as long as it is deep. This may be too challenging for younger players, so consider asking them to aim for a large square deep and cross court, or just anywhere deep.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tennis Night in America

Is your facility planning a Tennis Night in America event this month? We had ours on the actual TNA date of March 4. We got lucky with the weather. Could have been warmer, but at least no precip. We had about 27 kids come out for the event which was a good group. More than half of these were new to our facility.

I thought I would talk a little about the format so that if you are planning on holding an event, you can avoid reinventing the wheel. Initially we had planned to have 'stations' on various courts and let the players roam freely, coming and going to whatever courts they chose. But as the date approached and our list of volunteers was starting to look like it might be a little thin, I decided to change the format. We needed something that would be the most fun for the kids yet required the fewest amount of volunteers. So we scrapped the station idea. Last time we did an event with stations and the kids we able to wander about on their own whim, here's the problem I observed: we had some courts overflowing with players who didn't want to change to a different station, and we had some courts with zero or very few players because either they were too hard to find or were activities the kids weren't that interested in.

Instead I plugged in an idea fresh from the PTR 10 and Under Conference last month. I used Mike Barrell's World Cup rotation and format strategy. We even handed out colored bracelets to create different 'teams'. Tickets were accumulated by team and a winner was declared the following day on our Facebook page. There was no wandering from station to station. Players stayed on their designated courts (8 and under on the 36-foot courts, 9+ on the 60- and 78-foot courts). We broke the 2 hour event into four 30 minute segments. Each segment had a different game format. At the end of each segment we met at a central location for drinks, snacks, and to talk about the next game format. This worked well IMO. Here's the formats we used:

First to 4
Roll the Dice
Tag Team Singles/Escalator
Hot Seat

These have all been covered in detail in previous blog posts so I won't bore you with that here. First to 4 and Roll the Dice went pretty smoothly. Tag Team took some time for the kids to figure out. They kept wanting to play it like relay tennis. I will also say the Hot Seat format needed tweaking for such a large group. My intention was to have at least one format where all players were together. There were too many kids for a single line (a good problem to have!) so we ended up having two lines going at the same time which worked a little better. But it went on too long. Next time I think I will have at least two different big group events, adding maybe Roller Derby or Singles Shootout.

Overall it was a great time and we hope it will result in getting lots more kids out there on the courts this year.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tennis Jump Rope

Jump ropes are handy in theory
as well as in practice
In our ongoing challenge to create a tennis activity from ANY existing children's game, I present to you Tennis Jump Rope. Before yesterday, if you had asked me how to convert jump rope to a tennis activity, I probably would have wasted a lot of time trying to do something with the actual rope. As usual, one of my students was smarter than me and inspired a simpler solution.

I have recently added inexpensive jump ropes to my tennis bag of goodies to use both as a warm-up activity as well as a reward activity at the end of class. My students love it. So jump rope has been on my mind recently more than usual. Yesterday during a Red Ball class, one of my students mentioned how well she had done that day in her school P.E. class, getting 27 boyfriends in the jump rope game. Considering she is 6, I had to know more! The answer was the prelude to our new tennis game.

Her P.E. class was using this old jump rope rhyme:

Ice cream, ice cream
Cherry on top
How many boyfriends
Do you have*? 

And voila, there we have our new tennis game. We used the jump rope rhyme to track our rallies. We sped up the spoken words a little bit so that Ice cream, ice cream went with one rally, Cherry on top went with the next, etc. so we could get to the counting quicker. It worked beautifully. I also taught them the Cinderella jump rope rhyme so that we had two to practice with.

Cinderella dressed in yellow
Went upstairs to kiss her fellow
Made a mistake and kissed a snake
How many doctors did it take?

Fun day!

*probably used to be 'got' instead of 'have' to rhyme better, but thank you teachers everywhere for opting for proper grammar!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Out Wide Forehands

It is a little hard to see in this picture, but the player
has a small tan weight in his left hand
This is an interesting concept from the nice folks at A picture is worth many thousands of my words, so watch the video here if my description is confusing.

Coach tosses forehands out wide to player. Player goes out to hit ball and then recovers toward center of court. Very basic. EXCEPT - in their non-dominant hand, player should be holding a very light weight or perhaps even a water bottle. The idea is not to recover too quickly to the middle, before the forehand has been completed. The weight or water bottle in the off hand should help remind the player to stay centered in position to hit the ball before heading back to the recovery spot.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Two and Out

Two and Out is a fun activity presented by Tito Perez Rios at the recent PTR 10 and Under Tennis Conference in Hilton Head. He didn't give it a name so I am taking the liberty. It was part of a group of activities he showed us that are done on a mini court or within the service boxes of a full court. Works for all ages and abilities.

This is tag team singles, coach on one side of the net and all other players on the other. One at a time, they take on the coach. Win or lose, they return to the end of the line after they finish the point. After two losses, they are Out. Tito had them do a medium jog around the court once they were out. I am not a huge fan of the jog around the court but I do agree with Tito that it is very motivating to avoid the jog and not lose twice!

Last player standing becomes the new coach. Note the 'coach' is not affected by the Two and Out rule - they stay the coach no matter what until there is a winner on the other side.