Connecting the Serve to the Rest of the Game
A session for coaches working with players from junior to adult and ranging from beginner to low competitive level.
An online presentation aimed at teaching pros working with junior and adult players ranging from beginner to low competitive level, containing video examples of drills and activities which can help improve the serve and player’s preparation for ball 3.
1. What does connecting the serve to the rest of the game mean?
- Ensuring that practising or training the serve does not mean just hitting the serve in isolation
- Practising playing shots after the serve during lessons or training sessions
- Creating drills and activities to link a serve with the next shot can be done with players of any age and any level, even if players are not yet regular match players
2. Why is it important to practise connecting the serve to the rest of the game?
- The tennis equivalent of the golf driving range! It is common coaching behaviour to see players practising serves in isolation. Doing so could mean regular repetition of poor habits
- Serving can become a less interesting and a more technical exercise
- Practising the serve in isolation means missed opportunities
- Intensity is low as there is no reaction after the serve
- No physical response – Process of landing after the serve, balancing, then moving forwards, sideways or backwards to play the third shot is missing quality
- It’s not what happens in the game – why practise in a way that doesn’t prepare players for matchplay?
- Not including returns or simulated returns means the server has no feedback on the effectiveness of the serve.
- Not including returns or simulated returns means the server has no need to practise a physical, technical or mental response
Of course, there are times when specific attention needs to be given to the technique or tactics of the serve, and where the coach may want to practice the serve on it’s own. However, if serving practice routinely involves hitting serves in isolation, the practice is not replicating matchplay, and important tactical, technical, physical and mental learning opportunities may be missed.
3. Connecting the serve to the rest of the game
Players will play significantly more groundstrokes than serves. Unless the serve is well developed, the returner has the advantage, especially on second serve
- Practise staying out of trouble
- Practise getting out of trouble
- Practise creating trouble
4. Connecting the serve across all performance factors
- Readiness – being ready for the variety of returns
- Decision-making – quick decision on next shot based on the incoming ball characteristics from the return
- ‘Serve and finish’ mentality – serving with the intention of creating the advantage and capitalising with the next shot
- ‘Serve and defend’ mentality – serving with the intention of creating the advantage but being ready to defend if the initial goal is not achieved
- Movement v. incoming return – being ready to control space and time by moving quickly after landing to attack, rally or defend
- Grip change – depending on the level of player
- If serving with FH grip – from FH grip on serve to continental or BH grip for groundstroke
- If serving with continental grip – to preferred FH or BH grip for groundstroke
- Contact point – being ready to control time by taking the ball earlier or higher if attacking
- Over shoulder/below shoulder – the ability to coordinate two different actions in quick succession is a skill which has to be developed and practised
- Throw to swing – the ability to coordinate two different actions in quick succession is a skill which has to be developed and practised
- Land, re-balance, move – this sequence needs to be practised to ensure that players are able to move quickly and be in control of the body in preparation for ball 3
- Plan and play – serve with a simple plan and be prepared to anticipate the return ready to execute the plan
- Switch from total control to responding to opponent – if the server can apply pressure with the serve, it creates a big advantage. If the serve is weak tactically or technically weak, the returner may have the advantage
5. ACTION PLAN
- Consider how you currently teach the serve – did any of the points from the presentation highlight areas where you can make improvements or changes to your coaching?
- Look for areas where your players can improve on ball 3 – are there drills or areas you can work on with your players to help them be better prepared for ball 3
- Challenge your players in the 4 performance factors – tactically, technically, physically and mentally
- Create or use some of the suggested drills in the Drills Resource
IDEAS AND DRILLS
The following ideas can be used in your lessons to connect the serve to the rest of the game, both in group and individual lessons, with players of different ages and standards.
RED / 36′ COURT
Overview – work on understanding, sequencing and coordinating different actions. Play at this age is mainly reactive rather than planned. Keep things simple!
- Overarm throw, underarm throw – the aim of this activity is simply to have players accustomed to the difference between two actions in quick succession
- Overarm throw, underarm throw – throwing to different directions, introducing a simple tactical objective:
- Throw over arm to blue cone then underarm to red cone
- Throw overarm to partner, then throw underarm away from partner
- Serve then hand feed – Coach by the net on same side as server. Player serves overarm then coach tosses the ball for the player to play a groundstroke
- As 3. with slightly tougher hand feeds – wide, back, short. Ensure that feeds challenge the BH side as much as the FH side to ensure equal development of strokes
- Coach as the returner. Player serves, coach returns, player places ball 3 away from coach
ORANGE / 60′ COURT
Overview – serve should now be developing well, and should be a more dynamic action, ideally with continental grip developing or in place. Players are a little older and therefore more capable of simple tactical decisions based on receiving skills and opponent position and strengths. The game is becoming less reaction and more deliberate.
- Red ball drills 3,4 and 5 performed on the orange court
- Coach as the returner. Player serves, coach returns then recovers, stays or fakes to recover. Player uses peripheral vision to place ball 3 away from coach
- As 2. but performed on red court with ball 3 as a volley to introduced serve and volley in a more confined space
- Serve then alternating easy ball to rally on ball 3 with tougher feeds to require correct tactical response – rally when easy ball, high/deep when forced back
- As 4. alternating easy rally balls with short balls to attack hard and fast in the mid-court
- Combine 4. and 5. above to give 3 options – easy ball to rally ball 3, deeper ball to defend ball 3, short ball to attack ball 3
- With coach as the returner, server must serve and win the point in 2. If server achieves the goal, wins 2 points. If server doesn’t achieve the goal, returner wins 1 point. Play first to 10
GREEN AND YELLOW / 78′ COURT
Overview – The more dynamic action may be resulting in a front foot land, leaving the player vulnerable to deep and fast returns. Players should also be prepared to defend after their second serve. Players are a little older and therefore more capable of simple tactical decisions based on receiving skills and opponent position and strengths.
- Drills 2-7 from orange court performed on the green court
- Serve then attack
- Coach hand feeds the return – server plays attacking mid-court ball or drive volley
- Coach rally feeds the return – server plays attacking mid-court ball or drive volley
- Coach rally feeds the return – server plays rally ball or drop shot in ball 3
- No retreat – coach hand feeds the return which must bounce inside the baseline. Server must play ball 3 from inside the baseline
- No retreat – coach rally feeds the return which must bounce inside the baseline. Server must play ball 3 from inside the baseline
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