What Should Coaches Teach in the First Tennis Lesson

first tennis lesson tips
When teaching tennis to a new and beginning student I have always tried to provide them a mix of fun and technique activities in the first lessons.

The very first lesson is especially important because that’s when the connection between the coach and player is made and that can be crucial for the tennis future of this particular student.

Paying attention to what you say, how you say it, and the way you present yourself in front of the new student is something that every coach should be well prepared when meeting a new tennis player.

When a new student books me for a lesson, in the first 5 – 10 minutes I try to get some information about him/her:

  • why do they want to learn tennis?
  • what do they know about tennis?
  • have they ever tried playing tennis?
  • have they watched tennis on TV and do they have a favourite pro player?

For example someone might want to learn so that they can play with their family.
Or they consider tennis a good way to stay in shape.
Or they are just being brought in by their parents.

Whatever the reason, it is good to ask them – you’ll find some interesting answers for why people pick up a sport like tennis.
The answers to the questions (above) will help you understand how to construct your lessons, the intensity of them, and how much passion your student will put into their practice.

After you familiarise yourself with your new student, it is important to let them know a little bit about yourself as well.
Keep it simply letting them know your name, how long you’ve enjoyed playing and teaching tennis and enthusiastically tell them how glad you are to have the opportunity to introduce them to this sport.

Following, I would like to give you a few ideas of how your first lesson should be structured in order to make a good connection with the new student and introduce them to some of the basic tennis elements:

  1. Court dimensions and name of the lines – it is important for new players to learn the names of the lines (e.g. baseline, singles side lines, service line etc.) so that when you ask them to practice a certain stroke from, let’s say, service line, he/she should know their way about the court.
  2. Racquet – explain your student the different parts of the racquet: head, neck and handle. If you want, you can show him/her the basic grips without getting into much detail.
  3. Introduce a few hand-eye coordination drills to test his/her physical skills.
  4. Demonstrate and teach the basic forehand ground-stroke technique followed by drills and fun games that puts in practice the skills they learn.

These are the main pieces of information that a student should learn during the first lesson.

Make sure to keep it fun and try as much as possible to connect with the student by listening to him/her and allowing them to ask you questions.

If your student is a child, encourage them all the time and praise his/her effort.
At the end of the class you should have a little “gift” for them (small candy, stickers etc.). Kids love that and they will continue coming to your lessons when you show that you care.

If your student is an adult, again, listening to their needs and allowing them to ask questions is important.
Adults, more than kids, are interested into detailed technique and… a good workout.
Do drills that make them “break a sweat” from time to time.

They should leave your class smiling, and… sweaty.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Teaching Professional

Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.

Easiest Way to Win in Doubles

When I was asked to express my opinion about which doubles formation is the best and which is the least effective at winning points quickly, I did not hesitate: both players at the net (both up) would be my favourite, while the two players at the baseline (both back) to be the defensive one and taking longer to finish/win points.
best doubles tennis formation

Here is my argument and why you should consider playing at the net more often:

But before I get into the details I want to point out that my analysis is done as a general guide and, when assessing one team’s best tactics and strategies, we should consider each player’s technical skills, experience, and their capability to work and communicate as a team.

I believe that the best doubles formation is… both-up.

When the two players manage to get to the net they will be in the best position to put pressure on their opponents, cover the court and finish the points in the quickest way possible.

When the team is at the net, the best chance for the opponents to pass them is using the back court by sending the ball over their heads (lobs).

The both-up formation has the following advantages:

    1. It puts pressure on the opposing team (which is defending) – gives them less time to prepare for the shot.
    2. They can cover a lot more court and there is almost no opening for the opponents to pass (except when using the lob which, if not executed properly, can be a “smash” opportunity).
    3. The ability to put the balls away (finish points) is greater at the net due to the many angle opportunities and the fact that they can contact the ball above net level.

But let’s not rule out the reasons why some players or teams prefer to play from the baseline, in doubles…

The case for both players staying back can be understood considering the following aspects:

  • Both players are not comfortable playing at the net but they possess reliable ground-strokes.
  • The team is receiving against a strong server – in this case, it is wise to begin the point with both players on the baseline and advance after the return is safely made.
  • The team’s serves are being aggressively attacked by the opposing team (example: if the serve is not powerful or deep enough, the returner attacks the net player; in such situation it is a good idea for the server’s partner to begin the point further back, close to the baseline).

Disadvantages of playing both-back formation:

  1. Many angle openings for the opposing team to put the ball away.
  2. Hard to cover the forecourt (against drop-shots or short angles etc.).
  3. Difficulty in finishing the points – they wait for the opposing team to make mistakes.

Any committed doubles player should strive to improve the net skills (volleys and overheads) and most importantly transitioning to the net which for most part can set them up for a comfortable play at the net if executed properly.

For more detailed analysis of how to play and win in doubles, sign up for the Training membership to learn how to play against different doubles formations, how to communicate with your doubles partner, how to cover the court and get to the ball quicker – watch easy to follow graphics and detailed information for beginning and advanced players.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Teaching Professional

Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.

Aggressive Doubles Strategy | The Lob

Many recreational tennis players think that the lob is a “cheap” shot and its main purpose is to “annoy” the opponents. But the best players know that it can be used as an aggressive tactic to take over the net and set themselves up for a winner. Here’s how:

how to use the lob for aggressive doubles tennisAs you see in the attached diagram, lobbing the net player can greatly affect the defending team (the one being lobbed: BP-NP) which has to change positions to retrieve the lob:

The net player (NP) must switch sides and back up (anticipating an eventual overhead from the opposing team);
The baseline player (BP) has to also switch side to return the lob.
Both players from the defending team will be on the run to play the next ball, which makes it difficult continuing the point.

On the other side, the attacking team (OBP – opposing baseline player, and ONP – opposing net player) following the lob will take position at the net with a high chance to finish the point with an overhead or a high volley.

Important:
For a lob to be considered an aggressive shot, it should have lots of topspin (to begin with) and placed deep, well beyond the service line.

Use the lob to give your team time to move up to the net and make your opponents play defensive.

For more doubles winning tactics visit the Training membership section (lessons, drills and tips for singles and doubles tennis players) at WebTennis24.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Teaching Professional

Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.

Valentine’s Day Ideas for Tennis Players

Valentine tennis tipsI am quite sure you have already planned something nice for your life partner or date, but just in case you have not, here is an idea that you might entertain for this special day:

Take your loved one to a tennis court for a (friendly) hitting session.

When my wife (who is not a tennis player) and I play tennis, we really have a good time.

If you are a guy, try as much as you can to hit the ball back to your gal. Do not attempt to look macho. Hit the ball nicely to her, allowing her to enjoy playing tennis with you.
Compliment and tell her how good she looks on the court. She will have a lovely time and thank you for that. 😉

Avoid at all costs to play points or anything that gets people competitive. 

Just bring a basket of balls and rally them back and forth over the net.
Take water breaks every 10 – 15 minutes and talk about the lovely weather and how fun it is playing tennis outdoors (or compliment the facility if you do it indoors).

If you are a gal, just like the above advice, avoid playing any competitive games for today.
Go out with your husband or boyfriend and rally some balls back and forth complimenting each other.
If the guy feels the need to get too competitive or show off, let him do that; be patient, compliment and invite him to take a break if things heat up.

If you do not have a partner, just go out to a tennis club, rent a ball machine and hit some balls.
You never know, maybe you will meet someone who also needs a partner.

Have a lovely day! 🙂 

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Teaching Professional

Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.

6 Steps to Become a Consistent Player… Under Pressure

tennis consistency under pressureGround-strokes consistency, on which you can rely in a pressure situation (match, competition, tournament), is not something you develop through a lot of repetition. There is more to it…

When I decided to switch from a two-handed backhand to one-handed I knew that the first thing to learn was the technique.
That was the easy part…
A few hundreds of shots against the wall, then a few hours of rallying with my practice partner, made me confident that from there one I should be able to apply my newly learned one-handed backhand in matches.

This is where things got interesting… not in a good way.

My new one-handed backhand was actually not a reliable shot when nerves took over and fear of missing my backhand made my muscles tight and my strokes became a “push” and depth was a matter of barely getting the ball over the net.

What happened, you might say…?

Having confidence in our tennis strokes is a process that should be understood and built through smart progressions and repetitions.

It is one thing to be able to hit a tennis shot technically well, which is different than the ability to execute your shot under pressure, consistently.

So let’s go back to the main idea of this article: how to improve your ground-strokes consistency… under pressure.

There is a progression that I would like to suggest to you. Following it, you might be able after all to hit your one-handed backhand, volley or forehand ground-stroke with the consistency that you desire.
So here we go!

1. Learn the Technique
Spend some time studying the pros but don’t expect to hit like them any time soon. After all, if you spend as many hours on the court as they do, then yes, you might expect to play like them.
Learn the proper progression drills or step-by-step technical elements of the strokes. I taught myself how to hit a one-handed backhand in a few days only because I followed a simple progression beginning with the point of contact and adding the follow-through (click here to find out how).
Once you understand the importance of the main elements, the rest comes easy.

2. Practice the Technique
My favourite way of practicing the technique is with a ball machine. There is no pressure from a tennis partner or a coach to perform in a certain way.
Of course, having a certified tennis coach has definitely a lot of advantages because he/she will give you the feedback you need to improve a lot faster. But if you know what you need to do and follow a progression process (see above) using a ball machine is one of the best ways to learn and improve your tennis strokes.
And the third way would be to find a “patient” practice partner who is willing to toss some balls for you and give you feedback.
Tip: Filming yourself playing/practicing is a great way to get feedback and analyse the aspects you need to improve.

3. Drills, Drills, Drills
Once you become comfortable with the technical part and add in some low pressure practice, the next step would be to move on to drills in which you rally with a practice partner.
The purpose of these drills can vary. Here too I suggest you follow a progressive method:
1) Consistency – rally with a partner trying to achieve a certain number of balls you hit in a row (no mistake) over the net; eg. 25 shots in a row and if a mistake is made start it all over.
2) Placement – the next step is the ability to place/direct the ball to a certain area of the court (e.g. 20 backhands cross-court; 20 forehands down-the-line; then aim for more).
Again, you can do this consistency and placement practice with a partner, or using a ball machine.

4. Practice Your Strokes under Pressure
This is the next level of learning and improving your ground-strokes before applying it in a match.
Here I will tell you a short story:
Once I had a tennis student, an older gentleman who was well educated and accomplished professional in the medical field. He hired me to teach him how to play his forehand using a “modern” grip, the semi-western. Up to that point he was hitting his forehand ground-stroke using a continental grip (also called “hammer”).
It took me a couple of lessons to teach him the concept of hitting with a semi-western grip (new stance, point of contact, swing). And then he was eager to show his doubles buddies his new and improved forehand.
That was a mistake…
Despite the fact that I cautioned him of not being ready to apply it in a pressure situation, he was confident that he was ready.
What followed was a lesson for him and for you too:
Under the excitement of showing his friends his new forehand, he put too much pressure on him and got tense. He was playing in a different environment than the one he learned his new stroke: in front of his buddies he was not as relaxed than he was on his private court and under my positive encouragement.
So what should had he done?
He should had followed the steps highlighted above and once he got to step 4 (this one), he needed to play some drills and games to introduce his newly ground-stroke to friendly, no pressure competitions. Then increase the pressure by playing more games and drills with friends or his tennis coach.

5. Play Low Pressure Matches using Your New Stroke
After you followed the previous steps, invite your tennis practice partner to play a few sets where you use the ground-stroke technique you just improved. You might still feel too nervous to relax your arm and go for your shots… You might still be afraid to hit at full speed out of fear of missing long or into the net.
What you need to do is tell your partner that you won’t be chasing a win out of this match; instead your focus will be to see how you can handle the score pressure and how your shots will fair in different situations (being pulled wide, short balls, deep balls etc.).
It is important to communicate the above to your partner so that he understands that you have a higher purpose than just winning a match. Your goal is to improve a stroke that still needs to get better. Take your time and feel your stroke, take mental notes where you make mistakes and where you feel more comfortable playing your shots. You might have a hard time with the high bouncing balls, or when they are too low…
These are mental notes that you can use to improve your stroke at your next practice session. Be patient and take your time to analyse your shots under a low pressure match. Then go back to more practice on the areas that need extra work.

6. After all that analysis you are now ready to apply your new stroke in a competitive and high pressure situation: local tennis tournaments and even further.

As you can see, there is no short cut to playing your best tennis. Patience and lots of work is necessary to reach your true potential.
It can be done – have a progressive system and you will learn or improve how to play your ground-strokes consistently, even under pressure.

Useful links and additional information:
Tennis Technique Lessons (videos)
Strokes Progression Lessons (videos)
Ball Machine Tennis Drills (videos)
Drills for Two Players
Mental Strength Tennis Drills

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Teaching Professional

Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.

How to Return a Drop-Shot | Tennis Singles Tactic

drop shot tennis tacticWhen you receive a drop-shot from your opponent, as you move up to get it there are three aspects that should concern you:

1. Getting to the ball before it bounces twice
2. Tactical decision in regard to placement of your return
3. Court positioning to protect against your opponent’s eventual next shot

Getting to the ball in time
When receiving a drop-shot, your reaction to it has a lot to do with the attention you pay to your opponent’s body language.
There are certain cues that give away your opponent’s intention of hitting a drop-shot:
– grip change (most of the time a continental grip is used to deliver drop shots)
– short backswing (necessary to absorb the ball)
– position on the court (your opponent will not attempt a drop shot from the baseline; most of the time it will be sent from well inside the baseline).

A skilled player delivers a drop-shot while disguising it very well: pretending that he’ll hit a drive shot (bigger backswing) and just before swinging he would change the grip (or not) and soften the impact.
In this latter situation it is up to you to react quickly as soon as you notice the change in swing pace and path (high to low).

Moving to the ball quickly and in timely manner will depend on your court position, footwork, speed and quick reaction.
Now let’s assume that you were quick enough to spot the drop-shot (short ball) coming and you are now moving to reach it.

As you approach the ball, you must quickly asses your return options:
a). Angled drop-shot
b). Down-the-line drop-shot
c). Deep at opponent’s feet
d). Heavy slice (under-spin)

Visit the TRAINING section at WebTennis24 for the full article and a lot more tactics and strategies for singles and doubles players.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Teaching Professional

Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.

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