How to Teach (or Learn) the Proper Distance to the Ball

This appears to be an ardent subject that tennis coaches want to know when teaching beginning players.

It is true that some young players (beginners) have difficulties achieving an optimal contact with the ball – getting either too close or too far from it. Therefore coaches try to find solutions to help their players hit the ball more in balance and naturally.

Unfortunately there is no quick or easy solution to this and, if you ask me, I consider this will get fixed naturally, through repetition. The only way a beginning player realises to “feel” the optimal contact point and space to the ball is through lots of practice. Eventually, the player will develop the proper timing, hand-eye coordination and footwork to position the body and racquet in the most comfortable and natural way.

BUT if you really want to speed up the process, I dare to suggest a couple of drills that you and your student can do to get a clear understanding of where the contact with the ball should be and improve the timing to achieve that:

1. Have your student (or partner) position in a open stance (feet parallel to the net) or square stance (feet sideways to the net) and racquet held at “contact point” position: racquet face towards the net, proper grip, arm slightly bent (see picture below). By the way, this can be applied when practicing either forehand or backhand ground-strokes.

From the “contact point” position, hand-feed a few balls towards the player’s racquet. After the ball bounce, the player should push the ball and swing from that point on and follow-through.
Practice contact and follow-through without backswing.
This drill will teach the player where the contact with the ball should be (spacing and body position) and eventually he will register that and, with proper timing and footwork developed through repetition, this will become a habit.

2. Repeat the previous drill with a slight adjustment: instead of tossing balls for your student, this time you will rally with him. Your student will begin every stroke from the contact point position (no backswing) while pushing and following-through after each contact.
Again, this will teach the player proper spacing to the ball.
One important tip is to rally with your student from the service line or just behind it in order to avoid a bigger swing and take the racquet back.
You can even use foam or any light junior tennis balls to keep things simple in the beginning.

Try these two drills and let me know if your student develops and gets a better feel for spacing to the ball.

One more tip: do not over-emphasise other technical aspects such as footwork or body position. In order to get the contact and timing right allow the student to focus only on the ball; let the other elements happen naturally… for now.

Additional Note:
For players who want to learn the above technique by themselves I recommend either using a ball machine or asking a tennis partner to feed (by hand) some balls to them.

Related Content: Strokes Progressions Lessons (learn tennis without a partner or coach)

Cosmin Miholca

(Per readers’ request I am attaching more pictures showing the “point of contact”, below)