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.
When executing a slice (under-spin) ground-stroke remind yourself to begin the downward motion with the racquet high above the point of contact. Otherwise you’ll end up floating the ball too high over the net and/or land beyond the baseline.
Practice the under-spin strokes as often as possible. There will be times in the match when you will need them.
One of the things to help you create more topspin on ground-strokes, create more power on your serves or overheads is to prepare for the stroke (take the racquet back) by having your dominant palm (that holds the racquet) facing down; or, like I call to my students: “knuckles up!” I do not, by any means, imply that this is the key to creating topspin or power on those strokes. It just helps.
Often, beginning players have a tendency to open the racquet face on the forehand ground-stroke (palm forward or up) backswing. That results in flat strokes or slice and when they swing low to high the ball sails too deep.
Below you see two pictures – the wrong way and the right way of taking the racquet back on the forehand ground-stroke.
The same happens on the serve’s racquet take-back (regardless of your grip) – when the palm is facing up or to the side (see picture below), the wrist is stretched and that slows down your pronating action (at contact) very necessary to create power and spin.
The right way for you to take the racquet back when preparing for the serve would be to have palm facing down (knuckles up) – see picture below:
A couple of months ago I finished reading Nadal’s book – “Rafa” – and there was one statement that he made which I have been thinking about ever since… He said that his sister and the rest of the family consider him as being far from coordinated and a terrible driver. Nadal, himself, admits that the only reason we see him move so well on the court is because he has been spending so much time doing these movements that they just became natural and easy.
This brings me to a subject I have always found fascinating – the tennis talent.
Is there really talent that some people are born with
Talent is a skill that we develop through meticulous repetition?
As I was growing up I thought my brother had a talent for sports: he was faster and more coordinated than me. My father wanted to prove me wrong and showed me that hard work can triumph over talent. As a result I did overcome my brother’s talent in the last tournament we played when we met in the final: I won due to the extra hours me and my father put in just to prove this theory.
Years later I had the fortune to read two great books: “Bounce” (by Matthew Syed) and “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How” (by Daniel Coyle) which explain in details and with concrete examples that talent is not something we are born with; instead it is something that we develop through thousands of hours of specific repetition.
That opened my eyes to the fact that all these geniuses we admire, in fact, were not born with talent. All of them have been very early practitioners in the field they eventually excelled in.
Take Nadal for example: he began tennis at the age of 3 under the supervision of his uncle Toni. Mozart (in music), another genius, was actually introduced to music by his father (an experienced music teacher and composer) at a very early age of 1. Tiger Woods, introduced to golf by his father before the age of 2, is another example of what we call genius.
All these people and many other ones that we look up to have excelled in their field not because they were “gifted” but because they have started their career at a very early age.
Researchers came up with a statistic that in order to achieve excellence in anything you must do two things: 1. begin practicing at a very early age, 2. spend over 10,000 hours / 10 years of specific practice in order to master it.
I personally agree with this research but as a parent of two girls I cannot help noticing that there are actually differences that people are born with: my younger daughter seems to be catching up with many things a lot easier as long as they are physical activities while my older daughter loves and excels in mental tasks: reading, math etc.
I agree that we are born with a certain conformation in which our nervous system functions but ultimately the talent is the result of one main process: specific repetition.
This being said, I believe that repetition can take us places that we don’t even see ourselves capable of.
Just like one of my fellow teaching pros once said to his student: “Ok, Mary, this is how you hit a one-handed backhand. From now on, all you have to do is repeat this 3,000 times and you’ll have a great backhand!”
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.
Your tennis teaching pro keeps telling you to bend your knees. And you should! But why exactly?
First of all… think about the difference between a race car and an SUV… Assuming that both will drive at the same high speed as they approach a sudden turn, which is going to tip over? Obviously the SUV which is higher off the ground. So by staying low, you will benefit by having a better balance due to the lower center of gravity.
Secondly… you are going to be closer to the ball; your eyes are near the path of the ball which will help you make cleaner contact with it. (Video Tennis Lessons – learn how to play better tennis)
You will generate more power because the bent knees put the body in a better position to provide hips – trunk – shoulder rotation. Staying low allows for a quicker recovery since you can push off the ground and spring in the direction of the next ball.