What are your “go to” phrases as a tennis teacher? Everyone can reflect and come up with phrases they call out frequently to their students when they are on the court teaching; those important reinforcing words that trigger the successful execution of a tennis stroke, or strategy. I’ve enjoyed reflecting on my 34 year career, and determining mine. It was also interesting for me to determine the criteria for my choices. I’ve included what I’ve used most often & included what, upon reflection, has been most helpful. As I put my list together; I also recognized that I had phrases that were used more often for lower level players, and others for more advanced players. Since most of my teaching has been more grassroots through the years, I limited my phrases to that level.
Phrase #1: “Tip Down”
This phrase refers to the backswing of the forehand and backhand. I swear by this phrase, but have never heard it used by anyone else. I certainly did not use it when I first began teaching. I believe “tip down” reinforces several very important fundamentals. First, it keeps the backswing short. Big backswings, in my opinion, are a part of many stroke production problems. It is going to encourage a lifting racket path. I have found lifting to be a critical fundamental in teaching the forehand and backhand. It helps control the swing speed and it creates a building block for adding topspin at some point, as well as a loop backswing. (Tip down representing the bottom of your loop).
Phrase #2: “Show me your back”
This has been my “get sideways” phrase for the last 20 years. “Get sideways” never got the results I was looking for. My students just never seemed to get sideways enough. If you “show me your back”, you are sideways! Once students get familiar with this cue, I often shorten it to just “show me”. Specifically, what I really want to see is your shoulder blade. For a right handed player, this would be your left shoulder blade for a forehand, serve, and overhead. Then, your right shoulder blade for a backhand.The concept of coiling your body, and uncoiling as you hit is a critical concept in stroke production. “Show me your back” has been integral in teaching this concept to my students.
Phrase #3: “Let it Drop”
With this phrase, I move on from stroke production to forehand and backhand ball judgement. I have always been intrigued by how my students would try to judge the ball in the early stages of learning. If my students had little “ball-tracking” experience, generally they would run directly to the ball. They had no understanding of the concept of moving “in relationship to the ball.” Usually running directly to the ball would lead to contact significantly above their “strike zone” which is approximately waist level. Consequently, getting my students to wait on the ball, and “let it drop” to waist level for my beginning students was an important phrase to impart. On a side-note, practicing hitting balls on the second bounce; I’ve found to be an effective activity to promote the skill of “letting it drop”.
Phrase #4: “Step, step, step, hold”
This continues with the ball judgement theme, but also adds the concept of balance. I teach that the skill of reacting with your feet, regardless of where the ball is hit, is essential, in learning proper footwork, ball judgement, and consequently, balance. “Step-step-step” is my reminder to react with your feet. It specifically refers to footwork as you get close to the ball, and small steps are required. The multiple little steps allow you to judge the ball properly and help time the hit by not planting your feet to early. The “hold” cue refers to being still and balanced on contact. “Hold” replaces the cue “step”, which I probably (along with many of you) started out using when I first started teaching. In regards to forehands and backhands, I currently never reinforce the concept of stepping into the shot. I’m not saying it is wrong, I just believe that stressing being relatively still and balanced and twisting (uncoiling) your body is more important!
Phrase #5: “Follow the Ball”
I finish my fantastic five with a doubles strategy phrase. After my students are introduced to the four starting positions on the doubles court, my next step is to teach the net players how to “follow the ball”. This is a phrase that I can honestly say has been one of my “go to’s” throughout my career. Yes, it is part of teaching doubles to beginners. However, I have been a high school coach for many years, and I am amazed how few high school players understand the concept of “following the ball”. Following the ball refers specifically to the serving partner and receivers partner in a one-up, one-back position, the prevailing position in most doubles play these days. When the ball is on the receivers side of the net, the servers partner should move up and either to the left or right, depending on the position of the ball. This places the player in the best position to cover the angles of returns. If the player remembers to “follow the direction of the ball”, this will also take them to this position. On this same play, when the servers partner moves up, the receiving partner will follow the ball by moving back and either to the left or to the right depending on the path of the ball. Both net players will continue to “follow the ball” whenever it is hit adjusting both up-and-back, and left-to-right, always stopping movements whenever the ball is about to be hit. I have spent many hours on the court leading doubles teams through one-up, one-back rallies calling out “follow the ball”, “follow the ball”.
And those are my fantastic five phrases based on 34 years of teaching. My initial brainstorming list was 10. Those that made the list but not the final five included, “highest point” (volley), “turn on it”, “high net clearance, back it up” (ball judgement), “arms-up, step, step, step” (overhead), and “tap the dog.” (bottom of your loop on forehands and backhands.) I suggest you try to write down your “fantastic five”. I’m sure you’ll find it an interesting reflection activity.*
About Doug Kegerreis
Doug Kegerreis has been a USPTA professional for 35 years, and lives in Fairfax, Virginia. He owns and manages a tennis management company, Chantilly International Tennis, which provides tennis programs and services in Northern Virginia. He is also an elementary physical education teacher at Oakton Elementary School in Oakton, Virginia. He can be reached at www.cittennis.com.