Chapter 5: An Easy Way To Start

The drills in the following chapters can be abbreviated as much as wanted. Just make sure you have success with a drill before going on to the next. Here are some videos that simplify the learning to the bare minimum for all strokes. These videos are a great visual guide as well for the advanced player.

Coordination in tennis is basically getting to the ball as easily as possible and stroking it comfortably. Ideally you would get to the ball with a minimum of effort and you would exert yourself while stroking only as much as needed to make your shot safe and effective. In other words, no wasted effort.

Since you learned your basic moves at a very early stage in your life, there is no need to relearn them. On the contrary, doing things as naturally as you can will accelerate your learning process, making it easier.

The forehand stroke in tennis is quite similar to catching the ball underhand and then releasing it with an underhand throw over the net and into your opponent’s court. To coordinate your catch with the flight of the ball you need to get your hand near the ball and wait until it gets to your fingers to grab it. If you rush, closing your fingers before the ball gets there, you’ll miss the catch. If you don’t find the ball well, you’ll also miss the catch.

The same goes for your strokes in tennis. If you want good control of your shots, you need to get your racquet very close to the ball before releasing your power. This is the most important fact for you to learn.

Regardless of the many details involved, when you catch a ball you don’t think about your steps or other body movements. You just run and worry about catching it. To hit your strokes in tennis you approach the ball the same way, as if you were going to catch it.

We will refer to the above as finding the ball. This is the most important and most underrated factor in tennis. Without it, nobody plays well.

To develop this and your coordination I have a few drills that you can do barehanded, by yourself or with someone else, at home, on the court, or anywhere. Even if you are good at it, do each drill a few times to become trained to the bounce and changing speeds of the ball.

If you have some difficulty, it is better to work on your coordination right here, in the beginning. Do not start learning to play until you feel a comfortable control of what you are doing with your hands and with the ball.

You may have to do some gentle running while doing these drills. Do things as slowly and as efficiently as you can, keeping your eyes and your attention focused on the ball in flight. If some balls are uncomfortably far for your reach, just let them go and pick them up later. The emphasis is on control and coordination, rather than speed.

DRILL #1: Toss the ball underhand higher than your head and catch it underhand on its way down. Repeat until you can catch the ball comfortably every time.

DRILL #2: Toss the ball underhand higher than your head. Let it bounce up, then, on its way down, catch it underhand. Repeat, tossing the ball to different heights, until you get a smooth catch each time.

DRILL #3: Toss the ball underhand against a wall. Let it come back, bounce up, and start to go down again. When it comes down to a comfortable height, perhaps a bit below waist level, catch it underhand. Do this at varying distances from the wall, ten feet away, twelve feet, and fifteen feet away. Also vary the height you hit on the wall.

ALTERNATE DRILL #3: If you are on the court or in an open space with another person have him or her toss the ball to you, at a distance of about 8 to 10 feet from each other. The tossing person is close to the net.

The ball should bounce well in front of you so that it starts to curve down. Catch it underhand, then throw it back underhand to the other person.

DRILL #4: Same as Drill #3 or alternate Drill #3, except that instead of catching the ball you push it up with the palm of your hand and finish touching your opposite cheek with the back of your hand (as shown in the two pictures below) toward the other person, who catches it. If you are doing it against the wall, let the ball bounce, come up, hit the ball once as shown, and catch it the next time. Repeat until you are accurate, both at finding the ball, finishing by your cheek, and sending it over the net.

You can also use an “over the shoulder” finish, touching your shoulder with the index finger, as shown below.

Caution: For you beautiful ladies, this drill can break long fingernails if you miss the ball slightly. You can do these drills safely with a larger foam ball.

Your push should lift the ball to a height a little above your head, in the direction of the other person or the wall.

DRILL #5: Play the ball back and forth with another person, both with the palm of your hands. Do it over something high, like a chair, or a few feet over the net if you are on a tennis court. Use the “touching your cheek” or “over the shoulder” finish.

If you are doing these drills against a wall by yourself, play it back and forth gently and pretty high, allowing yourself plenty of time between shots, even while reinforcing the finish.

Repeat this last drill until you develop a rally (several hits back and forth). The emphasis should be on finding the ball all the time and having a controlled upward hit (or push) in the direction and height you want.

By now, rather than rushing, you need to get your hand near the ball, a little below it, and to accelerate it from the contact point on upward. Even if your feet are rushing to get to the ball, your arm and hand need to move smoothly to find the ball, with all the effort applied upwards from the contact point on.

The ball should reach an approximate height of six to eight feet in this drill, and should get to the other person comfortably after one bounce.

Again, if you don’t have a partner, do these drills against a wall, keeping a comfortable distance to it, depending on the drill, and hit high enough to give yourself plenty of time between hits.

(I have done these drills with many of my students. As a very interesting observation, I have found that those who had learned tennis the classic way, with body positioning and the like, have much more difficulty doing Drill #4 and the subsequent drills than a beginner unfamiliar with tennis instruction.

The complete beginner would stroke the ball comfortably with the hand, while many accomplished players would miss the ball entirely. They would have an astonished look on their face, especially if they had seen the beginner doing it with ease. Those accomplished players had their attention drawn to how they were stroking the ball, rather than finding it. That apparently small diversion of their attention made them miss the ball.)