Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fast Gun

Fast Gun is a drill to improve hand quickness from Ken DeHart. It appears in PTR's DVD Tennis Tips
No doubt he is a beast at the net
From Around The World

Player stands at net in volley position with racquet in non-dominant hand. Player slaps side of leg twice with dominant hand. As ball is being fed, player transfers racquet to dominant hand and hits volley. Ken notes this motion of moving the hand forward in a shooting motion is preferred when volleying, rather than the tendency of many players to move the hand/racquet laterally.

The next two blog posts are also volley improvement suggestions from Ken. Put them all together for a fun volley lesson for your students.

Monday, April 29, 2013

8 Ball Challenge

Here's another drill from PTR's Effective Feeding Techniques DVD. I am cherry-picking. There are tons more drill ideas on the DVD, so don't do what I did and let it sit in the shrink wrap for who knows how long - give it a look!

Coach is deep in his/her end of the court, feeding from about No Man's Land. Coach feeds a series of 8 balls to one player. In the video, Coach Oivind varies the feeds. Most are alternating ad and deuce side, so recovery is key. At least one of the balls (usually the 5th in his examples) is somewhat short but playable.

8 Ball Challenge borders on a cardio tennis drill. It should improve your students' consistency as well as fitness. I will be challenging my players to see who is the first to hit all 8 balls successfully. If your students are anything like mine, this will get their competitive juices flowing.

Introduce this drill as a dead ball drill. As your players improve, you can transition it into a live ball drill by feeding closer to the net and taking their shots as volleys.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

4 Ball

4 Ball is a drill I found on a PTR DVD entitled Effective Feeding Techniques featuring the Director of Sports in the Norwegian Tennis Federation, Oivind Sorvald. It's good for groups of 3 or more. In the video, Oivind had four students. Could be used as a warm-up or as part of the lesson.

Two players play singles straight ahead on one half of the court, focusing on keeping the rally going. Other players are on the other half of the court at the baseline. Coach is across the net feeding balls. These players take turn hitting four balls with Coach, alternating forehands and backhands. Once four balls are hit, next player comes in for their turn. When all players on Coach's side have had their turn hitting the four alternating balls, two of them trade places with the players who have been playing half court singles.
Mr. Sorvald second from left in glasses.
PTR recently partnered with the NorwegianTennis Federation
to provide educational services to coaches. BTW that's my boss
Jorge Andrew next to Mr. Sorvald in the middle.

Friday, April 26, 2013

1-2 Hustle

This game was also at optimumtennis.net but was a little hard to decode so I hope I am explaining it
right. If not, at least I understand my own explanation. :) They did not give it a name so I took the liberty. I like it for its flexibility and requirement for players to hustle. You will need 2 or more players for this to be any fun.

Coach is on one end of court; all other players on the other. First player serves, then hustles up net diagonally from wherever they served. Meanwhile second player hops in to first player's spot at baseline. This must occur quickly because Coach will be returning the serve cross court to the second player. Player 2 returns Coach's shot. Coach then hits to net player. Coach continues alternating shots until point ends. Player 2 then serves and runs up to net diagonally that Player 1 has just vacated, and Player 3 steps into Player 2's spot.

This game should move quickly. If you want to add a scoring aspect, give all players a set number of points and subtract one for every error. Last player standing, wins.

UPDATE: Sorry to report this was an epic fail when I tried it with my intermediate green ball class. They could not get in a rhythm. Serving player on way to net kept wanting to hit the ball I was returning deep to second player. Oh, well. Maybe try again in future.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Crazy 8

Crazy 8 is a game I found at optimumtennis.net. It is probably intended for adults but I think it would be great fun for large groups of juniors, such as summer tennis camps. It could probably live up to its name and get a little crazy so maybe keep it on a 60- or 78-foot court for safety reasons.

Eight players are needed for this game. Pair them up into four doubles teams. Each team is responsible for half of the court. They play against the team diagonally across from them, SIMULTANEOUSLY. So two balls are going at the same time.


  • If you have exactly 8 players, have them play to a certain  number, for example team first to 7 wins. Then have a championship match with winners vs winners and runners-up vs runners-up.
  • If you have more than 8 but fewer than 16, divide extra players evenly onto each team and have one player per team rotate out after every point. 
  • Or, have all extra players waiting in line at net post. You can organize a large full court rotation after every point, or have a player go it for whichever player makes the error on the previous point.
  • If you have a smaller group, just play 2 v 2 using only half of the court.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bucket Head

These make great lightweight
inexpensive 'buckets'
Bucket Head is probably familiar to many of you. It is an old standby at tennis carnivals, play days, camps, and other activities where there are large groups of inexperienced players. You will need some lightweight buckets or bucket-like items (like a cardboard box!). Two will do if you play this as a team activity. If you have more than two buckets, you can play this with smaller teams/groups.

One player from each team is designated as Bucket Head and takes up a position at the baseline. They hold their bucket on top of their head. All other teammates are across the court at the other baseline. Each takes turns trying to bounce feed a ball so that Bucket Head can catch it in their bucket on top of their head. The team with the most balls in their bucket wins.

Take care that balls are cleared out from under Bucket Head's feet. If this is too difficult, Bucket Head can hold bucket out in front of them rather than on their head. Or, designate a coach or parent as the Bucket Head and younger players can just focus on their bounce feeds.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mountain or Valley

The valley is clearly the easier path
Another jewel from Ken DeHart's 2011 article in TennisPro magazine entitled "3 Secrets to Winning
Doubles": he explodes a myth I (and no doubt many others) have been guilty of perpetrating on unsuspecting tennis students. As a beginning player, I too, was advised to target an area near my net opponent's feet when hitting a volley. The logic was that it is a simple visual target, low margin of error, and difficult for them to return. As I advanced, other target opportunities presented themselves, but for beginners, this seemed to be the standard advice.

Ken begs to differ. He prefers targeting the space between the two players, down the center of the court. Hitting near the feet sometimes results in a lucky shot deflected back onto your side of the court if your opponent has good hands. A shot down the middle (what Ken calls the 'valley'), away from both players, is his preference. I have to admit it does jibe with the tried-and-true tennis advice of targeting the open court ('hit 'em where they aren't').

So why not start our young players off correctly? Hitting down the middle will avoid teaching students to hit 'at' players. As coaches we always caution against deliberately hitting at another player. But if you advise them to hit near someone's feet, accidents will happen in 10 and Under Tennis. So let's just avoid that issue altogether with Mountain or Valley.

Set up some cones or stripes or whatever you have to mark a 4-6 foot wide area straight down the middle of the court, your Valley. Two players are in traditional doubles formation on the side where the Valley is marked. Other players are across the net in volley position, lined up if there are more than 3 players. Coach feeds the volley side and they try to hit their volleys into the Valley. Each player gets 5 balls/chances, then rotate. Make sure rotation includes defensive end of court. One point awarded for each successful Valley volley. One point deducted for each volley straying into Mountain area (thirds of court outside Valley where players are standing). Player with most points when hopper/cart is empty wins. Doubles players work on their defensive skills here, but points are only awarded to volleying player.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Easy as 1-2-3-4

In a 2011 article for TennisPro magazine, USPTA and PTR Master Professional Ken DeHart breaks down the basics of returning serve. He divides the receiving court into four blocks. Deuce service box is 1; area behind deuce service box is 2; area behind ad service court is 3; and ad service box is 4. He suggests discussing receiving/returning strategy with your doubles partner ahead of time so the net player has some idea of where the returner's ball is going and therefore how to defend subsequent balls.

Pre-planning and defensive doubles strategy may seem a little too advanced for young players, but it is never too early to ask them to be able to direct the ball to specific parts of the court. So I have devised a simple activity based on Ken's receiving principles. He mentions boxes 2 and 3 should be your fallback position if you are struggling on the return, so we will place a higher value on hitting the return into the deepest part of the court.

For the activity, you will need an assortment of cards numbered 1-4. If you are only using 4 cards, recycle them so that they may be drawn multiple times. Ideally you will have at least two players; one serving and one returning. Returning/receiving player draws a card before each return and must hit their return to that box. Player receives two points for each successful return to boxes 2 or 3; one point for each successful return to 1 or 4. Serving player receives one point for every miss. First player to 11 wins; then switch roles.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Another brilliant tennis activity idea from John Carrizosa and yes, it is another in a long line of
traditional children's playground activities that we have cadged for tennis instruction.

One player is tasked with hitting fed balls. A second player is behind them a safe distance away, no racquet. Front player hits as many balls as possible to keep rear player from collecting any balls. After a certain amount of balls are fed, players switch positions. Player collecting most balls from rear position wins.

John's video features only two players playing this game. I envision this also working with multiple players in the rear chasing balls if you can keep the chaos to a manageable level. I tweaked by allowing rear player to collect any ball that did not make it over the net.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Penny Tennis

Aaaaaannnnd . . . the hits just keep on coming from teaching pro John Carrizosa (did you see what I did there???)

anyway -

In this video, John suggests using a simple penny to build a good swing habit (or break a bad one) in your beginner students. Balance a penny on the top of the frame of the racquet. Racquet strings should be perpindicular to the court, or facing the net if that is easier for your students to understand. Have them practice swinging slowly and carefully so that the penny stays balanced on the frame. Works on both forehand and backhand sides.

I have some students who have trouble keeping the racquet face neutral as they swing. The ball either goes flying (racquet too open) or dives into the bottom of the net (racquet too closed). I think this comes from them being too wristy, possibly from playing Wii Tennis. Now before you start sending me emails, remember that I love Wii Tennis.  This is just about the only knock I have on it.  In some cases, I think using the Wii remote in place of a tennis racquet teaches players success with wristiness, which definitely does not transfer to the real game. Racquetball, maybe. Tennis, no.

Now I realize these pennies are not going to stay on anyone's frame very long. But the visualization is worth many times the penny's value. When you see your students starting to open or close that racquet face at the wrong time, after using this activity, you can just say 'penny' and they should be able to auto-correct.

p.s. as in the video, be prepared to cough up the penny - your students will def ask if they can keep it!

UPDATE: I guess it was inevitable. Last time I used this, there was almost a Penny Riot on court. Someone lost their penny and accused others of 'stealing' it. So consider retrieving the pennies after the activity and re-distributing them at the end of class. :(

Thursday, April 18, 2013


If you have the time, you can even
make these yourself - here's how
Thanks John Carrizosa for suggesting yet another inexpensive teaching tool. In this video John demonstrates how to use a pinwheel to encourage your young beginners to slow down their swings.

Attach a pinwheel to the player's tennis racquet with a rubber band. Have them swing slowly enough that the pinwheel operates properly. Once they are able to do this well, remove the pinwheel and have them  hit some balls with the same speed they used to operate the pinwheel.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Touch Tag

This activity is from John Carrizosa. Great for building good technique in young beginners. John has
Envisioning catching or touching the ball rather than
hitting it is a method endorsed by teaching
professional Oscar Wegner
created a progression beginning with asking his students to first just touch a ball that has been tossed to them (after it bounces). Touch should be with dominant hand only. Next step is using the racquet to touch (not hit!) the ball. Final step is hitting the ball with a good quality swing and follow through. The idea is to get away from the wild, home run-type swings, substituting a swing with more 'touch' or 'feel'. I agree and would add the following steps to John's activity:

From a stationary position (coach tosses ball so that player does not have to move much to get to it):

  • touch tossed ball with dominant hand 
  • touch ball with racquet
  • swing/hit and follow through with racquet

From a dynamic position (meaning coach tosses ball so that player must move to get to it):

  • touch tossed ball with dominant hand
  • touch ball with racquet
  • swing/hit and follow through with racquet

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

3 Ball Scoot

This is the second idea I am stealing from Valentina Moseychuk's junior tennis warm-up video. She did not have a name for it so I am taking liberties.

Place piles of 3 balls each along one sideline, one pile per player. Players compete to be the first player to move all three balls over to far sideline and back. Balls must be moved one at a time. Balls must be set down on far sideline one at a time. Player may not begin moving them from far sideline to original sideline until all three are at far sideline. In other words they cannot carry one ball over to far sideline and bring it right back. So they should be making at total of 6 trips across court and back. Click on the linnk above and watch the video at about :38 to see this drill in action.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cone Footwork Warm-Up

I have to say I am coming around to YouTube. It used to be a waste of time to try to find some good junior drills there too much to wade through and very little reward. Either their junior tennis content is improving, or I am getting better at finding good junior tennis videos. This video is from Valentina Moseychuk. 

Set up 6-10 cones in two lateral rows (sideline to sideline) about 5 feet apart. Players move around cones, always facing net, with small, quick steps. As soon as one player moves to 2nd cone, next player begins so that eventually you will have a chain of players moving through the series of cones. Check out the video to see how it looks in action. This drill is at the beginning of the video.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Net Relay

Thanks Valentina Moseychuk for another warm-up idea which will work best for large groups 6
players or more.

Players are broken into small even-numbered teams (3-4 players each) at the baseline. Each team has one ball to be used as a baton would be used in a relay race. Teams compete to be the first to have all players race to the net and back.

Here it is in Valentina's video. This activity is at 1:36. BTW the video is worth watching for the crazy fun soundtrack alone!

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Takeaway is a very simple consistency drill flexible enough for just about any level of player. I stole it
from a former colleague, Susie Brown. I throw it into the mix occasionally as a warm-up. I also plan on using it as part of my Personal Best challenge. More about that in a future blog post.

Coach can either set a baseline number or have the player 'pick a number between 1 and ??'. This second option works best the first time you do it. Once the player catches on, they will pick small numbers. Don't say I didn't warn you. Anyway - let's say the number is 10. Coach feeds designated shot, let's say forehand, to player. Player gets one point for every forehand hit into play, one point is deducted for each error. Once goal is achieved, either move on to next activity or switch to another shot or another location on the court.

For example recently I used this as a warm-up in a private. I had the student hitting forehands, then backhands from the service line. Once the goals were achieved, she moved to the baseline and repeated the challenge. One could also then challenge them to hit all shots cross court, down the line, topspin, lob, etc. etc. Player's goal should be to achieve the goal number in the shortest amount of time. You could also challenge them to achieve the goal with a minimum number of balls.

I don't like this for large groups as there is too much standing around, but for small groups or privates it is fine. With a small group, rather than have extra players waiting off court, have two or more across the net from the competing player returning balls. Count each rally as one toward the competing player's goal. When goal is achieved, rotate a different player over to the side achieving the goal.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Potato Race

Potato Race is from WebTennis24.com. Why they have named it Potato Race I do not know, but since they have taken the trouble to name their game, I will respect that!

Place small piles of balls at the net, one pile for each player. Players begin at the baseline. They run up to the net, get one ball. Run back to service line, bounce feed ball over net. If they are successful, they run back to baseline and repeat until all balls in their pile have been hit over the net. If they miss into net, they retrieve ball and try again. First player to get all balls in their pile over successfully and return to baseline is the winner.

I would adjust the rules based on the ability of the player. For very young beginners I would relax the rules and allow any ball over net whether it is in or not. I would also consider having them just throw the ball over the net if they are very young. For my older players I would expect their bounce feed to be hit into play. However with this game there is not a simple way to have them retrieve a ball that has been hit incorrectly over the net (out of play) so not sure how to handle that.

Also if your older students are like mine, you will need to remind them this is a bounce feed, not a serve or overhead slam or volley.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cone Blast

I recently saw Cone Blast on a video but for the life of me I cannot find it again so apologies to whomever I am stealing this from! When I find it I will update this post. I tried it yesterday in my Red Ball classes with some alterations and it was a big hit <g> You will need some cones and throw down spots or stripes.

Place cones 6-10 feet from the back fence of the court. They should be a safe distance away from each other. Balance one ball on each cone. Players must hit the ball off the cone and into the fence. If it hits the fence before it bounces, they earn one point.

My alterations were:

  • I added two spots/markers: one at the cone and one 5-6 feet behind the cone. The one near the cone was to remind the players where they should be standing when they hit the ball. They had no problem with understanding where to stand on the forehands, but when we switched to backhands, they kept forgetting. The second spot was a Waiting Spot for safety reasons. Without it, they were so excited for their turn to hit and earn a pin (see below), they were crowding the cone and in danger of getting hit on the hitting player's backswing. A good problem to have!
  • Second big alteration was the addition of clothespins to help them keep score. This added much enjoyment to the game, as usually happens with the introduction of competition. Whoever had the most pins at the end of the activity was the winner. We had three different rounds, each ending when the hopper was emptied.
    Check out those pins!

This simple activity offers many opportunities for teaching moments. For example:

  • We started 6-8 feet from the back fence. As they warmed up and were performing this task easily, I moved them farther back. Much whining and complaining about making it harder, but of course they actually relished the challenge. We did three different rounds: Round 1 was forehands with a progression farther back from the fence; Round 2 was backhands; and Round 3 we moved to the 36-foot court. Points only awarded if ball went over net. You could add a challenge here also by insisting the ball be hit within play (rather than just anywhere over the net). 
  • Insist on correct point of contact and finish. Remind them it is okay to hit the cone with the racquet as they swing, otherwise you will see some very weird wrist contortions as they try to cup the ball without touching the cone!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tennis Volleyball

Yet another sport we can adapt to our own nefarious purposes! Actually we are just borrowing the
scoring scheme from volleyball to highlight the role momentum plays.

If you are not familiar with volleyball, here's what we are doing differently: in volleyball, you cannot earn a point unless your team is the serving team. So have your students play singles or doubles, but allow them to earn points only if they are the ones who served that point. If they served but the other team won the point, serve transfers to the side that won the point. Try first to X points the first time you do this to avoid confusion. Once they get used to the idea, you can return to traditional tennis scoring but make sure everyone is paying close attention to the score.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Beat the Ball

This fun warm-up is from www.tenniscoachblog.com. Better with six or more players. Players stand in a circle facing in. One player is designated as It. Player who is It has a ball, hands it to player next to him/her and leaves his/her spot in the circle to run around the outside of the circle. Goal is for this player to run around outside of circle and return to his/her spot before ball is passed around circle and returned to same spot. Player should use the shuffle step to run around the circle.

TennisCoachBlog has a video of this activity here if my description is unclear.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pac Man

It's easy to see why Pac Man is a
natural fit with tennis
Pac Man is a great warm-up for your youngest students. Only problem is, they may be too young to remember the original Pac Man game and may not get the connection. Either way they will have fun with this.

Pac Man is basically a game of Tag. One player is designated Pac Man. All players begin somewhere on lines of the court and must stay on the lines throughout the game. The net counts as a line, so players may run along the net as well as along the other lines of the court. Pac Man pursues other players with his/her arms extended out in front and clapping vertically (if you are a Florida Gators fan, same motion you do for your chomps). As Pac Man tags other players, they are also now Pac Men and run around with the chomping arms tagging others. Last player to be tagged wins.

Here's a video demonstrating the game at about 0:47.

UPDATE: I tried Pac Man with two different Red Ball classes recently and all but one knew what Pac Man was. Plus, they enjoyed the activity tremendously. Win-win!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


If you are looking for something a little crazy, a little different to spice up your tennis clinic, how about
having one session that focuses on the 'tweener'? Your older students are probably trying to figure out  how to do this shot on their own anyway. Why not help them out?

A tweener is a sort of trick shot where you hit the ball between your legs while your back is to the net. Sounds crazy but it is really fun to see and do. This video from the Tennis Vault gives you the key ingredient to hitting a successful tweener: waiting until the ball is very low, almost to the second bounce. Make sure your players follow Coach Kyril's advice and move their legs in such a way that they do not hit themselves on the follow through.

Make it a competition: who can hit 7 successful tweeners (from their own dead ball feed) first? Then add a moonball/lob component so that they can learn to run it down and hit it. Safety first, but with a little planning, this lesson can be a big hit with your junior players.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Thanks Jason Fingerman for sharing this simple tennis drill idea. You can use it as an appetizer (warm-up) or the main course in your tennis clinic menu.

This is a dead ball feed (coach feeding all balls one at a time, no live balls). Challenge your players to hit a series of three shots in a row of your choosing, for example three forehands, three backhands, three volleys. Jason also added three overheads but that would make it 3-3-3-3 which spoils the fun of having three 3s in the title. :)