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.
This is another question I received from a young tennis coach and I wanted to share my response with you…
“I know that 3 or 4 is a very young age, but are you their first coach? Have they taken any tennis lessons before? If yes, were they private or groups? – With this young age group, you want to do a lot of hand-eye coordination exercises and some basic technique (don’t go into details and do not expect them to do things perfectly from the beginning). – If they were new to tennis, I would introduce a lot of games like throw and catch, teaching the lines, ask them questions about tennis (who is their favourite tennis player; if they know the parts of the racquet, etc.), do drills and games such as Jail Breaker, Caterpillar (both are games that kids really enjoy), Potato Race (for speed and fun competition) etc. – Teach them basic forehand technique in the first lesson but don’t do it for more than 15 minutes (the rest should be all kinds of fun drills and games) and very importantly do not make them stay in line for more than 1 minute at a time; they get bored easily therefore you should keep them active all the time. – If you have to work with them individually, give a task to the others (pick up balls, jump rope, bounce a ball etc.). Have them pick up balls doing fun competitions like asking them to see who can make the biggest pile of balls on the racquet etc. – Another important aspect: when I teach kids younger than 6 years my lessons are no longer than 45 minutes. I prefer to keep it short and intense than having them run around for 1 hour, which can be exhausting for them. With 3 – 4 years of age, I would keep the lessons shorter – 30 minutes. – Make it fun!”
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.
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.
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 along 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 players) 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.
A few years ago, the father of one of my students told me he wanted to take a couple of tennis lessons so I can teach him how to hit with topspin. This gentleman was about 70 years old and a reputable doctor in Southern California.
My first approach with him was to check his grip. I explained him that in order to create more topspin on his ground-strokes he needed to make a grip adjustment.
He was using a continental grip (on his forehand); I slowly helped him to make the transition to an eastern and then to a close to semi-western grip.
That, followed by a couple of other minor technical improvements (stance and swing), gave him a very good understanding and feel of how to hit with more topspin, power and keep a lot more balls in.
It took us a few sessions (about 10 – with a lot of questions and frustrating moments here and there 🙂 but then he ended up surprising his doubles buddies with his new strokes; as a result his confidence and enjoyment for the game got to a new high level.
You see, many times the minor adjustments that we do in our tennis technique, can be the foundation of our overall capability to play at full potential.
A few days ago I posted eight (8) new videos that are dealing with just that:
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.