When I decided to teach my (then) 4, respectively 5 year old two daughters how to play tennis I was both excited and terrified in the same time.
I had already enough experience playing and teaching tennis for almost 30 years but putting all my knowledge on the line to help my two daughters fall in love with the sport was a major job for me.
As a tennis teaching professional you can encounter a lot of pressure when it comes to teaching your own children.
Despite that, after a serious discussion with my wife, we have decided that nobody would ever put more passion in teaching our daughters as much as I would do it as a parent and tennis coach.
BUT… there was one step that had to be carefully planned:
How to make my kids take me seriously as a coach and change their perception toward me from the “fun daddy” to… “coach daddy”?
Up to that point, I was the daddy who was coming home and they would jump on his back, go for bike rides, go to the beach, read with them, and have fun.
That was all good in the beginning when we began to transfer those fun activities onto the tennis court, but at some point we had to ease into the technical aspects of the tennis strokes and learn that tennis requires some serious moments when repetition and certain focused activities are not as entertaining as the games my daughters were used to play with me.
Something had to be done. Something that would get my daughters to ask me to teach them how to play tennis and allow me to introduce them to the mechanical aspects of tennis strokes and footwork.
After careful analysis and long discussions with my wife, we both agreed that the best solution to have our daughters be willing to learn tennis from me would be to enroll them into group classes under the guidance of a(nother) tennis coach.
We figured that by being enrolled in group classes, our two daughters will see other children playing and enjoying tennis. They will see other children learning, executing the strokes technique and paying attention to a coach’s instructions.
My daughters, in this way, got introduced to tennis by joining other children of their age and observing how others behave in a tennis class.
That was a turning point!
My daughters, soon, decided to allow me to teach them not only the technical aspects, but they wanted to excel by practicing more only to get better and eventually participate in competitions.
If you are a tennis parent, don’t try to teach your children yourself… in the beginning! Allow them to learn by participating and observing other kids of their age, first. Only after they get introduced to tennis together with other children, they will be more open to learning and working hard… just like they saw other kids doing it.
If you want to learn my step-by-step method and see how I taught my two daughters to play tennis, from the age of 5 respectively 6, up to junior years, visit the WebTennis24 Kids section to follow the “My Daddy / My Coach” video series. You’ll see live and full tennis lessons (each about 45-65 minutes) in which I share all my tennis knowledge in teaching my daughters how to play and fall in love with the sport.
Have fun teaching tennis to your children!
Certified Tennis Teaching Professional
Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.
Ground-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.
In order to improve the Return of Serve, there are certain aspects that a tennis player should consider:
– the kind of grips to wait for the serve with: eastern, semi-western (forehand grips), continental/hammer, or backhand grip; either one has a role according to player’s strengths – court position for the first and second serves – the best footwork to return serve – the technique (to control a fast incoming ball) – what type of serve the player usually has problems with: flat and fast, kick or slice?
The Serve Return, even though a player has less time to react to, can be trained and improved at any level.
Players must learn the proper grips, footwork, how to read the opponent’s serve and where to tactically place the return.
Tennis is a fun sport and great for meeting people.
In the beginning, players discover the game, fall in love with the idea of hitting the ball over the net, exercising, winning points and competing.
But after awhile we all want to take it to the next level: better technique, more consistency, more power, win matches and tournaments…
I have this friend who, after playing tennis for 3 years, has made a lot of progress. He can rally with an advanced player but when it comes to playing an actual match, you can see his obvious struggle. So what does it take for my friend and any player, whose level has been stalling, to move up in rankings? Below I’ll highlight a few differences between the average player and a top player:
1. Top players create opportunities While average players wait for things to happen, the top players are proactive in controlling the point and looking for opportunities to win. They have a good knowledge of tactics and strategies that they can implement according to their opponents’ style of play.
3. Top players are aware of their strengths and weaknesses One of the aspects that I’ve constantly seen at average players is their lack of patience to develop their game from the ground up. They want to compete but not take the time to develop a solid foundation. Top players constantly assess their strengths and weaknesses and build their game around that. They understand that any technical flaw must be corrected…and they do it. Average players tend to ignore their weaknesses relying on one or two strokes they feel comfortable with.
4. Top players practice to improve Most of the average players just want to play matches. Their satisfaction lies in winning matches even if that means competing against less gifted players. Top players want to practice their tactics, consistency and strategic strokes placement more than they want to play actual matches. You can see top players spending a lot of time working on one single shot until they get it right.
5. Top players prepare for their matches Proper food before, during and after a match is one of the aspects top players are aware of in order to perform at their best. They pay attention to a proper warm-up before the match, and stretching, recovery exercises after it.
6. Top players respect their opponents Once a player reaches a certain level of excellence he/she will develop a compassion for their fellow tennis players knowing the dedication and effort that it takes to perform at high levels. That’s why the top players have respect for their opponents, compassion for the ones who lose matches, and they share the excitement of their wins with the ones who helped them get there.
Knowing the above qualities of top players, would you say you are among them? If not, would you be willing to work towards achieving that level?
Certified Tennis Teaching Professional
Visit the Training, Coaching and Kids Tennis sections at WebTennis24 – lessons, tips and drills for players, coaches and tennis parents.
The following pieces of advice address mostly to coaches but players can also find some applicable uses:
As a tennis coach at WebTennis24 I often get emails in which players or coaches ask for my opinion on certain subjects. One of them was how to make a good impression if you are a coach in front of your new students.
In this regard, I made a video that will show you the first 10 – 15 minutes of what you can do with a new tennis student (beginner or even intermediate). In this video, you’ll find my “magic” formula how to interact with new students and how to make them feel welcome and excited to learn tennis. It has worked great for me throughout my over 15 years of teaching tennis, and it will (guaranteed) help you too.
Besides that… in preparation for the upcoming lesson (or a match if you are a tennis player) it is good to develop some “rituals” that prepare you mentally for what comes. I used to get quite nervous especially when meeting new students and/or their parents. So don’t worry: you are not the only one getting nervous; a lot of coaches are too… the students also. If it helps, you can only imagine that your students are more nervous to meet you than you are to meet them. Or if you are a player before a tennis match, your opponent might be more nervous to play against you than you are.
Here are some of my “rituals” that I do on the way to my lessons in order to ensure that I would be properly prepared and my students will find a true professional in me as their coach:
1. In the car, as I drive to the tennis court, I practice some breathing exercises: take a slow deep breath in – hold it for 4 seconds – release slowly; do this about 5 – 7 times.
2. Say positive things to yourself such as: “I can’t wait to meet my students”, “I love what I do”, “This is going to be fun!” etc.
3. Get on the tennis court at least 10 minutes before your students arrive; prepare all your teaching gear and be ready early.
4. As soon as you see your students coming towards the court, put a smile on your face and walk to them looking happy to see/meet them. Stretch your hand out and introduce yourself first, then ask for their name (memorise it).
5. As you can see in the video I mentioned above, it is important to ask your students questions, find out about them; that would make them feel welcome and important.
6. If you get nervous, smile; smiling is a great way to help you relax; also ask your student questions during the lesson: “what do you feel about what I just taught you? does it make sense? does if feel natural?” etc.
7. And last… actually this should have been first: make sure you have lesson plans ready (a general plan of drills and things you want to teach before you get on the court). I sometimes carry little pieces of paper with notes that I find important to say or do during the lessons. This helps me knowing that I do not leave things out and takes some of the pressure off considering that I don’t have to remember everything.
I hope all these tips are of help to you. Write in the comments box below and let me know your thoughts.
I am extremely grateful to see more and more tennis parents and coaches reaching out to me for advice based on my playing and teaching experience.
This time I’d like to bring to your attention the question a tennis coach was recently asking: how to run his tennis classes so that the kids/students do not have to wait in line for too long?…
Waiting in line is not only boring but it is disruptive to the rest of the players especially when those who wait begin chatting and the coach’s instructions are not being heard by the other players.
Following are some of my tips that I have used in my classes to keep all my students happy and getting the best of my instruction:
1. A coach should never accept more than 6 players on the court (unless you are conducting a cardio tennis class where the coach feeds more and teaches less).
2. While some players (first in line) hit the balls that the coach feeds, the others in line should shadow the first player or do some tennis related exercises (ladder, cones etc.) – make sure your students are aware of proper spacing so that no one is hurt.
3. A coach should line up the players (if there are more than three) in two lines and learn to double-feed (two balls in the air at the same time) so that two players (one from each line) practice their strokes at the same time.
4. Choose games that involve players as much as possible: 2-3 points before rotating and bringing new players on the court. The ones waiting can be put through some drills (cones, ladders etc.) or have them act as ball boys/girls for the ones who play.
Feel free to send me your suggestions if you have some more tips in regard to keeping the class going and getting everyone involved.
The tennis strokes technique can be divided into 3 major elements: the preparation, contact with the ball and… finish (follow-through).
The last part (the finish) can give me a lot of clues about somebody’s stroke: spin imparted on the ball, acceleration (power), tension in the arm, direction of the ball etc. Coaches tell you to finish in a certain way for deeper ball penetration, cleaner contact or relaxing the arm through the stroke. But what is the stroke finish all about?
In my teaching lessons I have noticed that many consistency related issues can be solved just by fixing the finish on the stroke. You see… so often coaches or players look at contact or body movement for solving the tennis problems but according to my observations tennis can be a lot easier if we fix one very simple area of our strokes: the way we finish!
Here are my arguments for this statement: 1. Since the contact with the ball is done in such a short period of time our mind is not capable to control the body and racquet during that time (it is our ingrained muscle memory or subconscious mind that takes over the contact). What we can control is the way we finish the stroke: “holding the finish”. There is a strong connection between the contact and follow-through – if contact is done right the proper finish follows or the opposite is true too: if we focus on a long, relaxed follow-through (the part we can control) then we’ll have a clean, smooth contact before it happens. 2. A long follow-through shows me, as a coach, a relaxed arm that my student has during the contact with the ball. A relaxed arm during the swing translates into power and control on the ball. We all know that we play our best tennis when we are relaxed. So focusing on a long follow-through on the strokes will help us loosen up through the stroke. 3. When playing a match and feeling tense and we have “one of those days” that nothing good comes out of our strokes there is a very easy fix to those symptoms: exhale at contact and finish your strokes. When we are mentally tense (e.g. fear of losing the match, somebody important to us is watching the match, egos etc.) our body muscles contract too; that makes our stroke swing shorter which as a result slows down the racquet head speed and affects the ball depth.
I have noticed a remarkable progress in my students’ strokes only when I adjusted their follow-through: – a kick serve cannot be done without taking in consideration the racquet path on the same side of the body with the dominant arm after contact, or… – the slice serve having the hitting face more or less facing the opposite court after the contact adds to the spin effect even after the impact has been made; – a forehand ground-stroke finish with the hand knuckles close to the non-dominant side’s ear can make the contact a lot smoother and cleaner when teaching young or beginning players. (see the My Daddy / My Coach section where we post live lessons with little kids – tips to teach your own kids the sport of tennis and valuable information to use for fixing tennis problems – grips, swing path, stroke check points, correct technique etc.)
Take these tips with you next time you go on the tennis court to practice or use them to relax in a tennis match.