Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Serve Smarter

PTR certified teaching professional Marcin Bieniek has some great tips on serve instruction in the November/December 2014 issue of TennisPro Magazine. The tips are not so much technical info as how to include the serve in the lesson plan in such a way that students are working on serves more effectively. If you are a PTR member or subscribe to the magazine, good for you - read the article! If you don't have access to it, I want to just give a couple of highlights.

My biggest takeaway is Coach Bieniek's recommendation to start as many points as possible during the lesson with a serve. I need to do better on this. I have many young beginners for whom getting the ball over the net and into play is a challenge, much less getting a serve in. So we begin many activities with a bounce feed or a coach feed. My logic is to get more 'touches' (in the soccer parlance), because if we waited for a serve to be 'in', we would be waiting a looooooong time. However - sometimes we go way too long without at least trying some serves. My bad. I have been thinking this week about how to incorporate serves into my beginner lessons with out slowing play to a crawl.

I sometimes have my students try their two allotted serves. If they double fault, rather than awarding a point to the opponent, I toss in a third ball as a serve. This way they can keep hammering away at the serve, but there is still a chance there will be a rally if I throw a ball in, rather than teams constantly winning games by virtue of a series of double faults by their opponents.

I also sometimes have my students aim for the correct service box, but also instruct the returner to play anything they can get to if it comes over the net and into the singles court. I have the returner call it 'out' to make sure they know it is out even though I have asked them to play it anyway. Jury is still out on whether allowing them to play 'out' serves is worth the trade-off of getting a rally going.

Coach Bieniek has a couple other lesson plan tips that I like. One is to vary the placement of the serve portion of the lesson, rather than always having it at the beginning or the end. Another is to pair serving with recovery and hitting the next ball. I agree with him that often players are so enamored of their serve, they forget to continue to play the point! I will be elaborating on both of these in future blog posts.

Do you have any tips on improving the serve for young beginners without bringing the learning process to a screeching halt?