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.