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Exercise & Techniques for Juniors

Q. My son is 8 years old. He plays with the extreme western grip naturally and very comfortable with it, but I was told that this grip will have an affect on his wrist/arm in the years to come. He really does not want to change to the semi-western. Please let me know what you think.

A. Everybody is different. There are great players who use extreme forehand grips (like Roddick, Nadal, Kuerten). To my mind, a lot would depend upon the game-style that he (or his coach) is developing. If he is looking to take balls early and attack the net frequently, then a western grip is more of a handicap.

As an eight-year-old a western grip is useful because most of the balls he plays are probably at- or above- his chest level. Bear in mind that when he is 18 years of age that dynamic will likely change considerably.

Q. My son Caleb, who just turned 11, plays at a 5.0 level and has really good placement and accuracy but lacks power. Should I try to improve his power with a power racket or through exercise?

A. I would advise you to exercise patience. As long as your son learns sound fundamentals and good technique, he will develop more power as he grows. I would advise against having him - or any young player - doing many resistance exercises prior to reaching puberty.

Q. My tennis season starts up next fall. I'll be a senior on my high school team. I've been on the varsity team for two years now, but I'd love to move up within it and show up for tryouts and knock the socks off of my coach. Unfortunately, I can't afford to get regular lessons from the local tennis club. What sort of things are common problems for young players I could watch for or what sort of things can I work on to improve my game over the summer?

A. Play. Play. And then play some more.

Go out and compete in practice sets against anybody who will play against you. Enter some local tournaments. You will improve considerably by simply learning how to construct points and compete within the framework of “live” match play.

Q. My 11 year old son plays tennis daily and tournaments on the weekends. Should his training include anything in addition to matches?

A. Cross-training, by playing other sports, is always good for his overall athletic development. It will also allow his mind to become refreshed and recharged.

Make sure that you factor in an appropriate number of rest/recovery days for your son. Playing a lot has always been a fast way to improve quickly. Playing too much, however, is counter-productive. You need to be careful- and precise- in finding the optimum balance for your child.

Q. I'm a Junior Varsity tennis coach. This year most of my players have never played before. I'm having a real problem teaching some the serve. What can I do to stop the problem of the serve going extremely high (like a lob) over the net? Their service motion and toss seem to be OK.

A. Have them try the “spike” drill, where they hit the ball straight downward. Judge them by how high they are able to get the ball to bounce. What will they learn from this exercise? They will learn the “pronation” that occurs during the service swing, a sound rhythm of toss-and-hit, a controlled toss, to develop significant racquet head speed, and a fluid motion. In the end, the fear of missing will be eliminated so your junior varsity players will be free to develop a relaxed, fast swing on their serves that will, eventually, translate to an excellent delivery.

Q. My son is 13 years old and a reasonably a good tennis player having won titles in tournaments. Despite winning I feel that he needs some more quick foot speed. Could you suggest some good drills to increase his foot speed?

A. Skipping rope is a time-tested method to help tennis players develop quicker feet, better balance, explosiveness, and stamina. Make sure that he jumps fast though- the quicker the better. Aside from that, he can do some sprint work (“running the lines” is an old favorite) and agility drills on the court after his practice sessions. Be patient with 13 year olds though. Typically, they are still developing and can lose coordination easily during a growth spurt.

Q. What is your advice to improve my son's consistency? He is 12 years old and has played every day for three years. He hits great shots sometimes, but his consistency is a problem.

A. Tell him (or have his coach tell him) to focus on shot selection. At its simplest AND most advanced, shot selection is choosing to play the shot that he can make frequently and which forces his opponent to play additional shots (especially additional difficult shots). So, to be clear:

1. When your son arrives on balance to a ball that he is confident about hitting well, he should play aggressively.

2. When he is off balance or forced to retrieve a difficult shot, he should play more defensively.

3. If he is not sure what to play, then he should choose a conservative response.

Q. I was at tennis practice in Flushing. My uncle came inside to watch how my cousin and I are doing. Even though I am hitting consistent and my serve is okay, my uncle told me I don't have much power in my groundstrokes and serve. I try to generate power but I don't really know how. Can you please give some tips and exercises that I can do to improve my power but stay consistent? Thank you.

A. Swing faster! Your technique is sound, and that is crucial at a young age. As you grow bigger and stronger, you will develop more power naturally. Rely on timing the ball well though, as opposed to trying to “muscle” it. If the ball connects on the middle of your strings, it will go plenty hard. Keep having fun out there…

Q. I am a boys 12 competitive player and I would like to know: What is a good physical thing to do before a match?

A. Physically? I would advise that you arrive on-time, and ideally 15-30 minutes early.

Once you accomplish that, begin warming up by getting your feet moving. Skipping rope is a great pre-match (or pre-workout) exercise. Go through some dynamic stretches. Be sure that you are already perspiring BEFORE you walk on the court. If you do that, it means that your body is appropriately warm (and it will help to get rid of some of those pre-match nerves).

By the way, a LOT of matches are won and lost in the first fifteen minutes. If you get off to a fast start, there are plenty of opponents who will over-react and panic a bit. Even great players could become bothered when you come out playing your best from the first point. (“Uh oh! This player believes he can win...”) Good luck in your upcoming tournaments.

Q. I’ve been playing tennis for a little over a year now and I am 15, most of my game is decent and I usually win 2 or 3 rounds in a level 7 or 6 tourney. Everyone is constantly telling me that all I need is to learn how to move better and they all tell me to go run. Will running really make my footwork/movement on the court that much better?

A. Well, not necessarily. If you simply go for long, slow jogs, then you will only be training your body to jog slowly. Make sure that your off-court training is sport-specific. In tennis, you need to be explosive, agile, quick, and to maintain superior balance.

A few good off-court exercises to help you improve your movement skills include:

1. Skipping rope. Try to get that rope moving fast though. Hop on one foot for 10 rotations and then on your other foot for 10, without ever skipping a beat.

2. Do short sprints with some changes of directions.

3. Do some alley-hops, where you leap from one foot to another and then back again for, maybe 20 jumps. Each time, you should clear the entire width of the doubles alley.

Q. I have a 13 year old son who does not bend his knees well on his shots. Are there any drills that we can do to help?

A. First of all, if he is a highly motivated teenaged player, then exercise patience. Many times, young players actually want to bend their knees and/or have good posture but they lack the strength to properly execute the shot(s). This is especially true during growth spurts.

Make sure that your son truly understands the proper technique. A local coach might help with this. He might not know exactly what he is doing wrong. By the way, you do not need to bend too far down for most shots, so be careful with those “bend the knees” comments. Some players (John McEnroe!), in fact, are comfortable and effective with less knee bending.

Q. If your starting a child out with a two handed forehand and backhand is it better to have them switch their grip each time they switch from the forehand to backhand so as not to cross their wrist over or is it better to leave one hand on the bottom of the racket consistently (for example the right hand so later on the child can easily move to a one handed forehand)?

A. It depends on the child. I have heard some accomplished coaches who feel that the way you described is preferable. An advantage to learning with two hands on both sides is that a full shoulder turn is developed and the young player learns proper spatial relations to the incoming ball.

If I know only one thing, though, it is that there are a lot of options and that there is no “one right way.” Be flexible with your approach to teaching and allow young players (even really young players!) to experiment with different styles on their own.

Q. I have several kids who just can't find proper body control on the courts - they look like a piece of cooked pasta flinging all over the courts. Do you have any suggestions to help them find their body control?

A. Your students look like pieces of “cooked pasta” on the court?!? THAT is an interesting visual.

Basic coordination exercises would help. For example, have them learn to skip rope for a few minutes each day. Jumping rope takes timing, coordination, balance, agility, and rhythm. Believe it or not, a member of our teaching pro staff at the USTA NTC has young players hit volleys back and forth while they are using a hula-hoop. Now THAT takes some coordination. If/when they learn to do that, hitting regular volleys sure feel a lot easier.

In the end, the more someone plays the better they will react to balls. Be patient. It is likely that your students will become more efficient with their movements as they gain experience.

Q. Hi, I am a sophomore in high school and going to play #1 on my high school tennis team this year. Tennis season starts in a few weeks and I am not in very good shape this year. I would like to know if you have any suggestions as to how I can get in great shape by the time tennis season begins. I have been running on my treadmill and around the football field at my high school, but do you have any additional tips? Thanks.

A. Considering that your season begins in a few weeks, I would urge you to concentrate your efforts on getting into “tennis shape” by playing lots of tennis. Do not take this advice out of context though. I readily acknowledge that off-court resistance training, stretching, core training, cardio work, healthy nutrition and hydration, and getting plenty of sleep is essential. But… if you want to get used to playing long, tough matches, then play long, tough matches.

Much of your off-court training at this stage might be viewed as a way of maintaining your fitness, not building a fitness base.

Good luck this season!

Q. I have been playing for almost three years and I have gotten pretty good. The tennis season at my high school has just ended and I have been practicing at least three times a week. I, however, am experiencing a plateau in my game. I’m not getting any better. It seems like I am getting worse. Is this normal? What can I do to get better? What can I do to move off of this plateau?

A. Have you set goals for yourself? This would be a good start. Make sure that you develop a vision of how you would like to play, and set small, manageable goals that will help you along toward becoming the player that you want to become.

Secondly, you should enter a tournament. Knowing that a competition is approaching will inspire you to practice with a greater sense of purpose. After the tournament, you might be able to better evaluate what areas of your game need the most work- especially if you lose.

Lastly, find a good, certified teaching professional and take a lesson or a local program that has a strong reputation and join a class. Altering your routine, even slightly, will get you back on that track of steady improvement that you enjoyed for the first three years when you began playing. Good luck!

Q. My daughter and I read it regularly. Our question is that my daughter Amanda gets down on herself because her overhand serve is not as smooth and powerful as her teammates. She is 12 years old. Her coach moved her from recreational to team tennis this year. She told me she sees much potential in her. I've told her that her serve will come in time. What would you suggest?

A. Play catch with your daughter. Throw a baseball, or a football, back and forth for a few weeks until she develops a proper throwing motion. The serving motion in tennis is very similar to an athletic throwing motion. This is something that many top players have done, and still do, to develop muscles and a relaxed motion.

Another alternative would be to seek out a qualified, certified teaching professional in your area and have him/her examine your daughter’s serving technique.

Good luck!

Q. I have an eight year old who currently plays with a two handed backhanded. Lately however, he wanted to try a one-handed backhand. Is it too soon to introduce a one-handed backhand, and if it is too soon, when is the appropriate age to do so?

A. ALL players should learn to play shots with a one-handed backhand. I would encourage him to experiment to his heart’s delight. So often, a two-hander is forced wide and needs to release the top hand on the backhand, so knowing how to do this at a young age is invaluable.

As for permanently switching to a one-hander for all backhands, that will depend on taste. I have seen some players under the age of ten with good one-handed backhands, but they are typically more vulnerable at that age than two-handers. In particular, high balls trouble young players with one-handers.

Make sure that he is getting sound instruction. Without an adult’s strength it is even more important to rely on proper technique when executing a one-handed backhand. Footwork is also crucial, which might surprise people. Many think that you gain additional reach, and this is mostly true. However, the strike zone for hitting a one-handed backhanded is a little smaller so there is a greater premium on arriving to the ball early and on balance.

As a history lesson, Pete Sampras had one the best two-handed backhands in the country as a young boy. I know of some top coaches who are convinced that he would have won multiple Roland Garros titles had he kept his two-handed backhand. At the age of thirteen, Sampras switched to a one-handed backhand and struggled mightily for a short while. Of course, Sampras went on to win seven Wimbledon titles with his one-handed backhand so it is hard to argue with those results.

Q. We are trying to get our students to use the continental grip for serving and volleying. I am wondering, however, if it is the right thing to do for those students who are young and or not very strong. Might forcing them to use the continental grip hurt and possibly cause some injury to their wrists?

A. I don’t believe in forcing anyone to do anything.

While it would be fair to say that most top players use the continental grip on serves and volleys, we, as coaches, need to be sure that young (or old) players are ready-especially physically- for what we ask them to do. If you ask an inexperienced player to start out by using a continental grip on the serve, very few will enjoy any initial success.

In fact, I am a proponent of NOT teaching grips when players are learning. Well, not formally teaching them anyway. Players tend to gravitate toward holding the racquet in a manner that is most comfortable, and from there often the modifications are only slight. This is the polar opposite of how I used to teach, but I have learned to place a greater premium on encouraging success at each step in the development process. I used to insist that players learn the “right way” from the very start. Unfortunately, too many of these players would get frustrated and lose motivation. Now, I choose to teach the necessary adjustments when I feel that the student is ready to learn.

I am not sure that this method is the best, but it seems to work better for me. Certainly my coaching philosophy continues to evolve. Good luck in your decisions as you choose how to handle these situations.

Q. My son is a top junior player who is almost 13 years old. When is it time to change from a “tweener racquet” to a tour level racquet? His current racquet weighs 10.8 ounces and we are thinking of purchasing a racquet about one ounce heavier. Is this too heavy of a racquet or is it better to have him get used to it now? He is strong for his age and we noticed some kids his age going to the heavier racquets.

A. By “tweener racquet,” do you mean a standard length ultra-light racquet or a premium junior model? Regardless, I am surprised that a ranked 13-year-old player is still using a racquet like that. Players will always develop a preference for size, length and weight of a racquet, but at his age- and considering that he is “strong”- I would suspect that a heavier racquet would help him.

Generally, I recommend that all players use the heaviest racquet that they can comfortably manage. This is especially true for tournament-level players. Have your son play test some “tour level” racquets. I suspect that he will get used to the additional weight quickly and that it will help him to generate, and handle, more power.

Q. My 12-year-old daughter is a very active tennis player. This summer she entered more than 20 tournaments without any physical problems. Since school started, she hasn’t been able to enter as many tournaments, but she takes lessons and hits regularly with hitting partners. Lately she’s been plagued with blisters on her right hand (she’s a right handed player). Do you have any idea why this is just now happening and what, if anything, can be done to prevent them?

A. It is surprising that she has developed blisters after she became used to playing so much tennis. Usually, blisters occur when your hands are soft. Did she alter her grip slightly on a specific stroke? If so, then that could leave a new area of her hand vulnerable. Her situation seems extreme though. Usually if you play through the discomfort of blisters, then callouses begin forming. This takes a little while though.

If she does not already use an overgrip, then she might consider trying one as a preventative measure. Tourna Grip has long been the most popular and successful overgrip. It absorbs moisture and remains softer than most grips. You might try a few brands before settling on a product, but some changes are in order to assure that she gets control over these blisters.

Q. The top players are all taking the ball at the top of the bounce and connecting the ball between waist and shoulder height. Thus they are inside the court more so they can play attacking tennis.

My question is when coaching beginners and young children would you teach them to move back and wait for the falling ball until their technique gets better so they have more time to play their shots and when they get better encourage them to take the ball at the top of the bounce? I am a coach from England.

A. I think players should be taught to hit all shots from all areas of the court. There is definitely a time and place to retreat and play balls as they are descending. There are also times to move forward, take it on the rise, and force the issue.

The most effective way I have found to encourage this all-around development is to expose players to the "Games Based Approach" (GBA) to learning tennis. If your lessons are structured around the GBA, then you can give them plenty of opportunities to hit all sorts of shots in competitive situations. They will instinctively learn when to move forward to hurry an opponent and when to drift back to play more defensively. This can be done with beginners all the way through tournament-level players.

Experiment with this style of teaching and see if your students benefit from this approach.

Q. I have a twelve year old son who has just started playing USTA Junior Team Tennis. Previously he only hit with me. I hit with a one-handed backhand and he hits with a two-hander. Recently his coach said he hits with a Monica Seles backhand, reversing the hands on the grip (he is right-handed and holds the backhand with his left hand on bottom of the grip). He says he can get more topspin the way he hits it. Is this repairable or should he stick with what feels comfortable?

A. As long as his grips do not place unnecessary stress on his body, then go with what makes him feel most comfortable. Perhaps the greatest aspect of our sport is that there is no single correct way of doing anything. It is an individuals’ sport and the player himself gets the final decision on how he swings at the ball. As long as he is enjoying himself in the league, then you should be pleased.

It is amazing how much more quickly kids improve when they like what they are doing and when they are not burdened by too many rules. The league is providing him with structure, the matches are giving him feedback (he is either successful- winning- or not), and he is learning to figure things out quickly on his own. And… I wouldn’t mind having Monica Seles’ backhand!

Q. Please settle a $1 bet I have with my son who’s playing junior tennis tournaments! I suggested that he take a few steps inside the court to receive an anticipated weak second serve. He insists that he should remain on the baseline and run forward to receive it. The problem I observe is that if he’s off balance and hits with too much power, then he misses. Thanks for your advice!

A. A $1 bet? I suppose that asking for a commission on this wager would be out of the question. On the one hand, your son is correct in realizing that he can play any way he chooses. This is a great aspect to our sport. On the other hand, you’re right that learning to hit return of serves from inside the baseline is crucial, especially against crummy, slow serves. Good players should always look for ways to rush their opponent during a point, and taking the return early surely helps accomplish this.

When your son is returning serves from inside the baseline, he should take care to keep a shorter backswing. From further back, or from behind the baseline, he can afford to take a longer, bigger swing.

I’m not sure who should win this bet without observing your son’s playing, but I would suspect that your premise is correct. Don’t spend all of the proceeds from this bet in one place!

Q. I have been teaching my 8-year-old son for the last 5 years to strike the ball with authority and that control will come in time. I entered him in his first novice round robin tournament and he won three matches but lost to a boy that basically just looped everything and his father sarcastically told me that at the 8-10 year old level...just get it in! My thing is that I am not concerned about this level although I want my son to win enough and enjoy the game. I am concerned about the ages between 14-18 where he better have an attacking game. My question is, am I out of my mind in this approach?

A. Your approach is similar to other innovative coaches. It seems that you've already recognized that there is not a direct correlation between the best 12 & under players and those who go on to become, as an example, the best college players. Building a solid foundation might be more important to long-term development than anything.

You also comment on how you want for your son to enjoy the game, which is crucial. I'm glad to see that he is already winning, because nothing destroys motivation more than constantly losing.

My guide to young players is that they should be winning two-thirds of their matches. If young players win too much, then they sometimes become reluctant to change (and harder to coach!). If they lose too much, then they gravitate toward activities where they enjoy greater success. So, establishing a sound competitive schedule can be tricky. On that front, I cringe whenever I see parents force their children to "play up" because learning how to win is a huge part of the competitive development process.

Take solace, from my perspective, you are NOT out of your mind at all.

Q. My daughter is a nationally ranked junior, but has developed a severe western grip. Although successful, many pros are suggesting a radical change. She developed the grip over time and I'm reluctant to tamper with it. Can she stay with the grip and perfect it, or should we consider changing?

A. That's a tough call, Dan. Do you believe that her current western grip will prevent her from fulfilling her potential as a player? If so, then urge her to switch it sooner than later. Consider that there has been tremendous diversity in champions' grips, tendencies and game styles throughout our sport's history.

The grip(s) need to fit the individual. If she is trying to become a net rusher, for example, then a western forehand grip is ill advised. If she wants to be an aggressive baseliner, then the grip suits her style.

Q. My daughter is 11 years old and has been playing tennis since she was 5. She has been in tournaments for the last year and a half and her game has improved immensely. Her only real problem is early morning matches. No matter how much she jumps rope, does drills, and/or hits with a coach before the first match, it rarely goes her way. She always loses the first set, and usually the first match. Is there anything we can do to wake her up mentally before that first match?

A. I would urge your daughter to wake up at least three, and probably four, hours before her match. This takes tremendous discipline. If she has a 9 AM match, this means getting out of bed at 5 or 6 AM. Once she is awake, have her do something physical, perhaps a light jog and then some stretching or maybe even hit some balls, to get her juices flowing. This is different than her pre-match ritual, which she should do as the match time draws near.

I would also recommend eating a full breakfast about three hours before she plays, that way her tank is full for the match. Again, this takes discipline. It is hard to eat a full meal when you are not yet hungry, but this is sometimes necessary for elite athletes. I recall two of the all-time champions, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf, talking about what a big challenge it is to eat when they were not really hungry to be sure that they had the fuel they would need to be at their best. (In retirement, I trust that their eating patterns are more “normal”).

Not every player needs to devote this attention to getting ready for early morning matches, but your daughter sounds like she is not exactly an “early bird.” Some players can simply jump out of bed and serve ‘em up. However, given your daughter’s day, as is typical in junior tennis, then she might need to take a nap during the day to assure that she feels rested for her second match of the day. Getting to that second match will be the first step though.

Wish her luck!

Q. My son is 12 yrs old and a 4.5 club player. He has been doing a lot of drills. But he does not seem to be doing well in tournaments. My question to you is that should he do more drills or play more matches? How much time should he spend doing drills and how much time should he spend playing matches?

A. Because your son is only 12 years old, I would urge you to place greater emphasis on the development of his skills and less emphasis on match results. Make sure that, at a young age, he develops a solid foundation.

As he matures and grows older, results will likely become a little more important. As an example of the importance in viewing his tennis development as a long-term project, consider the perspective of college coaches. I do not know of one NCAA coach who asks a recruit what he/she was ranked in the 12 & under division. On the other hand, I know that many collegiate coaches are concerned that players are arriving on campus as freshmen with incomplete games.

Contrarily, there is a strong school of thought which indicates that the more specific the training, the better. By this I mean, if you want him to become a good match player, then he needs to go out and play lots of matches (practice matches and tournaments).

The key is to find the proper mix. Always make sure that his learning environment is an enjoyable one. Good luck in finding the ideal balance for your son.

Q. I have a nine-year-old daughter who plays at the championship level in Houston. She has a big serve that is not very consistent. The problem is the BALL TOSS. It is usually all over the place. Most often, she releases the ball early, forcing her to take a step towards the ball before making contact with it. I’ve tried all sots of techniques to get her to hold on to the ball just a little longer before releasing it. I even got her a “toss doctor.” Nothing has worked thus far. Any suggestions on how I can get her to start tossing the ball more consistently to the right location?

A. First of all, what in the world is a “toss doctor”? Do you need to attend graduate school before getting a degree in how to teach the ball toss?!?!

My all-time favorite player on the women’s tour is veteran American Nicole Arendt. Nicole, as you might know, has a terrific lefty serve and has enjoyed a long, successful career, particularly in doubles. I remember Nicole telling me that as a junior she would practice her ball toss in her garage for five minutes every single day. As she got older and more experienced her toss, and in fact, her entire motion looked smooth and effortless. It might have looked effortless, but she spent hundreds of hours perfecting her technique before it became completely natural.

Your daughter is obviously highly motivated. I would encourage her to patiently (and productively) put in the time and, with talent, it will come around. Enjoy the process!

“Framing” the palm of your hand beneath the tossed ball is an effective way of corralling a wild toss. Simply have her keep her tossing hand up a little longer. That usually works.

Q. My son is just turned 6 and plays about 2 hours of tennis a day between myself feeding him balls and a local tennis pro working with him. He loves to play and is doing very well. My question is should he do other things off the court that could improve his speed and strength. He is only six so I know you can only expect so much but I was wondering if there was certain drills or small weights or would you recommend anything at this point. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

A. Kurt, Kurt, Kurt! Take it easy! Your son is only six years of age. If he has the concentration to play tennis fourteen hours a week at this stage (two hours a day), then I would be amazed. Remember, he still has a full six years left to prepare for the 12 & under tournaments. Your goal should be to assure that enjoys playing so that he wants to play in a few years.

First of all, please make sure that he is having a LOT of fun every time he steps on the court. If he leaves the court with a big grin, then you will have done your “job.” Secondly, I would discourage you from having him lift weights at this stage. He still has a LOT of growing to do (I hope). Fun movement and balance drills are a good idea with little kids, but anything too physically demanding should be avoided (or, at least, very carefully considered). “Working” on his speed at this age is tricky. So much will depend on his physical development.

There has never been a direct correlation between tremendous success in 12 & under tournaments and, say, Division I college tennis. Your son still has a long way to go! Bearing this in mind, maintain perspective with your little guy. I think the most crucial role that you have is to help him foster a great appreciation and respect (and even love) for the sport. If he grows to love tennis, believe me, he will later be willing to “work” hard on his game.

Q. My daughter is 5 and is just starting to play tennis regularly. She feels more comfortable and seems to have more control using a two-handed forehand. Do you think that it is okay to let her learn using the two-handed forehand or should I get her to learn to use the more conventional one-handed forehand?

A. I think that it is actually highly effective to teach really little children to play with two-hands, even on their forehand side. This will make it easier for them to make contact and have success immediately. Naturally, we all gravitate toward the things in which we excel, so anything that promotes success is great.

As these children get older and stronger, it is likely that they will be taught a one-handed forehand. Their initial experiences with two-handed forehands will not be difficult to change. In fact, it might even help the young player to get a better sense of the spatial relationship to the incoming ball(s) and assure that they learn a full shoulder turn on the swing (more obvious with two hands than with one).

Of course, the single most important factor in teaching your young daughter is to make sure that she has fun. If she is smiling when she walks off the court, then you have done your “job.”

Q. I like your drills on consistency & pace. Do you have any other favorite drills that help JUNIORS become steadier from the baseline, develop feel, placement and then pace?

A. I think that “alley rallies” are great training for developing control and accuracy in players. Ask your juniors to hit the ball back and forth from the baseline, but they MUST keep the ball inside the doubles alley. If they learn to keep the ball within this 4½ foot wide area, they will definitely develop control and accuracy. Be sure to insist that they practice both forehands and backhands in this drill.

For developing more pace, ask them to hit as hard as they can without losing control. This will assure that they are willing to test their limits, and to learn how to add pace when necessary in a match. Also, I prefer “live ball” drills to “feeding drills” (from a cart/basket), but for developing explosiveness and power, then feed balls to your players and ask them to hit as hard as they can. This too will expand their limits.

Good luck with your players.

Q. What is the best way to teach young players how to hit topspin?

A. The “best way”? I am not sure there is ever ONE best way of doing anything. I once had a coach who insisted that his players all follow-through on their groundstrokes in a certain manner. His rationale was always that if you “finish hitting the shot correctly, then all of the little things will take care of themselves.”

He insisted that his students finish their (right-handed) forehands with their (right) “elbow in front of the nose” and their (two-handed) backhands with their (left) “elbow in front of the nose.” These follow-throughs allowed the players to fully rotate their hips and shoulders during the execution of the shot and left room for a long, flowing finish (assuring plenty of racquet head speed during the swing). By finishing with your hitting arm wrapped around your neck (a la Sampras, Agassi and the Williams sisters), you will have completed the famous low-to-high loop.

I can’t say with authority that there IS a “best way,” but try this method, Joseph, and see if it works for you.

Q. I have a nine-year-old daughter who plays at the championship level in Houston. She has a big serve that is not very consistent. The problem is the BALL TOSS. It is usually all over the place. Most often, she releases the ball early, forcing her to take a step towards the ball before making contact with it. I’ve tried all sots of techniques to get her to hold on to the ball just a little longer before releasing it. I even got her a “toss doctor.” Nothing has worked thus far. Any suggestions on how I can get her to start tossing the ball more consistently to the right location?

A. First of all, what in the world is a “toss doctor”? Do you need to attend graduate school before getting a degree in how to teach the ball toss?!?!

My all-time favorite player on the women’s tour is veteran American Nicole Arendt. Nicole, as you might know, has a terrific lefty serve and has enjoyed a long, successful career, particularly in doubles. I remember Nicole telling me that as a junior she would practice her ball toss in her garage for five minutes every single day. As she got older and more experienced her toss, and in fact, her entire motion looked smooth and effortless. It might have looked effortless, but she spent hundreds of hours perfecting her technique before it became completely natural.

Your daughter is obviously highly motivated. I would encourage her to patiently (and productively) put in the time and, with talent, it will come around. Enjoy the process!

PS: “Framing” the palm of your hand beneath the tossed ball is an effective way of corralling a wild toss. Simply have her keep her tossing hand up a little longer. That usually works.

Q. I just started a small tennis program in Upstate NY this past September as part of an after school program. I work with kids ages 5 - 12. I get parents of younger kids (5 and 6) who want to practice with their kids outside of my regular sessions. What drills would you suggest for kids that age to do with parents with little tennis knowledge? I honestly feel that they shouldn’t do this as it may interfere with my teaching. What do you think? And what do you think the average daily session should look like for children of that age?

A. For youngsters, typically receiving skills, not striking skills are most important. Thus I would encourage parents to play lots of catching games with their children including overhand throws and catches as well as underhand tosses and even rolling the ball back and forth to develop shoulder turns and pivot work. Frisbees and nerf footballs are also complimentary skill developers.

Hitting options would include alternative balls and backboard work where the objective would be to control the ball off the wall on one bounce to develop rhythm and consistency.

Your lesson plans should include the foam and alternative balls and you might find the book available thru the USTA called Coaching Youth Tennis to be quite useful.

Thanks for your tennis passion!

Q. Hey, I'm in Boys 14s and I like tennis a lot. What suggestions do you have on how I can improve my game faster?

A. The A, B,C’s of improvement involve instruction, practice, and competition, along with physical conditioning. These are best performed sequentially in a repetitive cycle known as periodization.

(A) LEARN techniques and develop fitness base.

(B) PRACTICE applying techniques into strategic situations, and improve fitness

(C) COMPETE and maintain fitness.

After this, a fourth period is added; ACTIVE REST. This is a time to recover, evaluate and refine the plan for the next cycle of periodization. Your coach should help you select the competitions, and then develop the periodized plan to peak during these events.

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