April 2008 -- Ready position. Grip. Backswing. Point of contact. Follow-through. These are the stroke components that have been drilled into us during tennis lessons, and they are important components of shot making. But what are the true essentials that lead to a successful tennis stroke? It is my belief that seeing/watching the ball, moving to the ball, maintaining balance when hitting the ball, and controlling the racquet head are the real fundamentals.
For decades, players have been told to "watch the ball," "move your feet," "keep your balance," and "control the racquet or swing." These phrases seem to be maxims that should solve all problems when playing tennis. And these phrases are fine if the purpose is to make the student aware of what he/she needs to fix. But how does one learn to watch the ball better or maintain their balance during a stroke? It's like telling someone to "concentrate." Saying it isn't going to make one concentrate. A player needs to be taught and trained on how to "concentrate." Likewise, a player needs to be taught and trained on how to: "watch the ball," "move your feet," "keep your balance" and "control your racquet."
Thus, I believe the essentials (or necessities) of shot making can be broken down into four stages:
- SEE the ball
- MOVE/USE footwork to get into position to hit the ball
- BALANCE to hit the ball solidly
- SWING/control of the racquet head
These stages are realistic to the required sequence of events when hitting a ball.
Can these "essentials" be trained in a typical Cardio Tennis class?
Let's first look at the ingredients of a good cardio class, which consists of the following segments:
Drill-based, sideline drills and play-based
The warm-up is roughly 5-10 minutes at the start of every session.
The cardio segment (30-50 minutes) may consist of drill-based and/or play-based activities and sideline drills.
The cool-down segment (5-10 minutes) may consist of a lighter activity at the end of the session that could include static stretching.
- Drill-based activities are great for players of all ability levels at one time and some participants may prefer to just "drill" or work out and not compete.
- Play-based or "live-ball" action creates competitive points and is good to use with players of similar playing abilities.
- The purpose of the sideline drills is to build strength and improve conditioning and could be used with larger groups or longer drills to "keep everyone moving."
I have had success training the "essentials" of shot making during all the segments (warm-up, cardio, cool-down) of my cardio classes.
I would now like to share some of the drills I use. As a cardio coach, these drills could be used in any segment of the cardio class as you see fit.
DRILL: Two-ball rally
Both players have a ball. On the count of three, both players feed their ball to the other player and try rallying cooperatively with two balls in play.
DRILL: Distraction rally
Rally normally from the baseline, while two other players are diagonally across from each other at the net hitting volleys (or touch shots) back and forth simultaneously. I typically use this drill during the warm-up or cool-down segment of Cardio Tennis.
DRILL: Ball training
One player (holding two balls) stands 3 to 4 feet from another player. The player holding the balls throws them simultaneously, and the other player must catch one ball in each hand. As the catching partner improves, he may want to cross his arms to make the catch.
DRILL: Tag sprints
Player A is sitting down on the baseline facing the net. Player B is standing against the back fence. On the whistle or command of "GO," Player B tries to tag player A before the latter touches the net.
DRILL: Push-up and catch
Player A is in a push-up position on the baseline facing the net, player B or a coach rolls a ball between Player A's legs, player A sprints and catches the ball before it passes the service line.
Player is sitting (with hands back) on the baseline, and on the command of "GO" the player gets up and sprints to the net.
Stroke-specific balance drills
DRILL: Two-ball collision
Player has a ball in each hand. He mimics the serve motion and releases both balls to try to make the two balls hit each other. Great for synchronization of the hands on the serve
DRILL: Eyes-shut and server
Player starts and completes the serve motion with her eyes shut. The player's goal is just to hit the ball with the racquet.
Return of serve
DRILL: Cap drill
Player has a cap down with the brim covering his or her face. On hearing the ball being struck on the serve, the player looks up and attempts to return the serve.
DRILL: 360-degree turn
As the server tosses the ball, getting ready to strike the serve, the player spins around (360 degrees) and attempts to return the serve.
Groundstrokes and volleys
DRILL: One-legged volleyer
Volley rally while hopping on one leg.
DRILL: Pencil-head drill
Have players play points (singles or doubles) with each player keeping a pencil behind his or her ear. If the pencil falls anytime during the point, the opponent wins the point.
DRILL: Cup o' water
Player hits overheads with a cup of water in his nondominant hand. The player's goal is to avoid spilling water from the cup.
Control of the racquetA. Relaxation and swing development drills/exercises
DRILL: Heavy racquet
Add weight to the racquet head. This could be done by using the racquet cover on the racquet and taking six to eight swings with the cover on. As soon as this is done, the player removes the racquet cover and takes six to eight swings at the ball without the racquet cover on the racquet. This drill has helped players feel the swing of the racquet.
Players generally hold their breath when hitting the ball. I tell players to breathe out on their forward swing. Doing this helps players to relax the muscles.
DRILL: Three-finger swing
I tell players to think of using three fingers on their motions. Doing this helps players use a looser grip while still maintaining racquet control. For the forehand groundstroke, I have players relax the thumb and index finger and swing more with the other three fingers. For the backhand groundstroke, serve and overheads, I have players relax their pinky and ring fingers and swing more with the other fingers.
B. Pure acceleration drills/exercises
DRILL: Contrast drills
Drills in which the player's muscles are over stimulated and immediately under stimulated or vice-versa to force a faster than normal response. This effect is achieved by alternating the use of heavy and light objects.
DRILL: Medicine ball
Player throws a medicine ball six to eight times (this throw mimics the stroke motion) at full speed followed by six to eight hits (of the same stroke) at maximum speed. This is a set. Do three or four sets.
DRILL: Badminton racquet
Player swings six to eight times with a badminton racquet followed by six to eight hits with a tennis racquet at maximum speed. This is a set. Do three or four sets.
Trying to simultaneously develop the "essentials" of shot making during a Cardio Tennis class can be a challenging task for any coach. This article is an example of how this might be achieved. The drills presented are some examples and should only serve as guidelines. Good luck!