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

The proper ball distance appears to be an ardent subject that tennis coaches want to know when teaching beginning players.

Some young players (beginners) indeed have difficulty 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 naturally and in balance.

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 realizes 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 most comfortably and naturally.

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 an open stance (feet parallel to the net) or square stance (feet sideways to the net) and racquet held at a “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 groundstrokes.
practicing proper ball distance
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). Eventually, they will register that. 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, you will rally with them this time. 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-emphasize other technical aspects such as footwork or body position. 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)

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

proper ball distance
point of contact
point of contact

 

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.

The Not So Kind Stroke in Tennis

tennis slice
In today’s game, dominating and finishing the points with aggressive topspin groundstrokes seems to be the norm for most tennis players. 
 
But I would like to distract you from this by emphasizing the many advantages of practicing slice (under-spin) groundstrokes and using them more often in your matches:
 
1. The slice groundstrokes (forehand and backhand) will send the ball low to the ground, making it hard for your opponent to attack you with an aggressive shot.
 
2. Slice approaches keep you away from receiving balls down at your feet (your opponent will be forced to hit up on the ball) and they will set you up for high volleys.
 
3. When playing against someone who loves to lob a lot, approaching with a slice will make it almost impossible for them to send the ball high over your head – great for doubles play.
 
4. It adds variety to your shots – mix up the slice with the topspin to disturb your opponents’ timing.
 
5. When pushed wide by an aggressive angled ground-stroke/serve, the slice return can give you time to recover (it floats slower over to the other side of the net).
 
6. Slice (under-spin) is what you need to hit drop-shots when your opponents play from too far behind the baseline.

Quick Technique Tip: 
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 have it 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.
Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.

Knuckles UP!

One way you can create more topspin on groundstrokes and more power on your serves or overheads is to prepare for the stroke (take the racquet back) with 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.

knuckles up forehand

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 your palm facing down (knuckles up) – see the picture below:

knuckles up serve

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.

You vs Tennis Talent


A couple of months ago I finished reading Nadal’s book, Rafa, and there was one statement he made that 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 – tennis talent. 

Is there really talent that some people are born with?

or

Is talent 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 my father and I 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 three 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 one.
Tiger Woods, introduced to golf by his father before the age of two, is another example of what we call genius.

All these people and many others that we look up to have excelled in their field not because they were “gifted” but because they have started their career at very early ages.

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 but notice that there are 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.

That 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!”

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.

Focus on the Finish


The tennis stroke techniques can be divided into three major elements: preparation, contact with the ball, and finish (follow-through).

The last part (the finish) can give you 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 relaxation of 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 to solve 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 of controlling 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 vice versa: 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 a relaxed arm done at contact with the ball. A relaxed arm during the swing translates into power and control of 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 we play a match and feel tense or have “one of those days” when nothing good comes out of our strokes, there is a very easy fix to those: 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 remarkable progress in my students’ strokes only when I adjusted their follow-through:
– a kick serve cannot be done without taking into consideration the racquet path on the same side of the body with the dominant arm after contact, or…
– the slice serve to have 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.

Take these tips with you next time you go on the tennis court to practice or use them to relax in a tennis match.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.

Get Low, Stay Low

staying low in tennis
Your tennis coach 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? That would be 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… your eyes will be nearer the path of the ball, which will help you make cleaner contact with it.
You will generate more power because the bent knees put the body in a better position to provide hips, trunk, and shoulder rotation.
Staying low allows a quicker recovery since you can push off the ground and spring in the direction of the next ball.

Cosmin Miholca

Cosmin Miholca

Certified Tennis Coach

Check out my work at WebTennis24 where I share with you my best video tennis lessons, drills and tips for players, coaches and tennis parents.