Hi Nick, I’m training our eight-year-old son to be a well-rounded tennis player with the big aim of having him become a pro. At the moment, he’s decent enough during practice and coaching sessions. He hits through the ball, preps well before striking and sees the ball quite well off the opponent’s racquet. I’m finding, however, that he needs to develop his 1) agility through footwork and quicker reflexes and 2) racquet-head speed to have more weight in his groundstrokes. I’m also finding difficulties in coaching him on serves. Thank you in advance and looking forward to your advice.—Anton Soepardi, Melbourne, Australia
Here’s a drill: Have several balls in your hand. Stand close to the hitter. Toss the ball and say, “Get your racquet back.” Do this for several balls in a row.
For the serve, start him at the service line. Use an Eastern grip and then move to Continental. Place the racquet behind his shoulder and make sure he does not release the ball too soon. After the release, let his tossing hand stay up as if he is trying to catch the ball. Make sure he hits up on the ball.
Before doing this, get a little football and just work on his tossing motion; then try to get him to do the same with the racquet. Don’t worry about consistency. Learn how to coordinate the racquet and ball.
Now, you may get mad at me for saying this, but I think you are trying to teach your son far too much. Go slower and make sure he has fun. Do not jeopardize your relationship with your son. I have four suggestions:
1) Train him not to be a professional but to play and enjoy the game. Let the goals set themselves as he gets older. 2) Introduce him to basketball and soccer, two sports that help footwork and agility. 3) Go to a qualified performance coach so he can evaluate your son and give you a few more simple drills to practice. 4) Remember that your son is only 8 years old. Be sure to use the 10-and-under balls that will give him time to increase his racquet-head speed. Another drill is to pitch balls to him with a closed stance and only step with the front foot. Keep the back foot in place, which will force him to increase the speed of his racquet head.
Hi Nick, I am an aggressive-style player but with mild strokes. How do I improve my groundstrokes so I can hit harder?—Babak Pakravan, Lawrence, Kansas
Hi Babak: First off, please understand that hitting harder is not the only key to getting better. Hitting harder with control is what you must achieve first. The best tips I can give you are:
1) Prepare early and make contact out in front of your body; 2) make sure you drive through the ball and out to your target; and 3) remember that you get power from your waist down to your feet.
Hi Nick, I am a righty and play league doubles with a southpaw who insists on playing in the ad court when we’re receiving. He feels that having his forehand on that side gives solid coverage and his backhand guarding the middle is his better stroke. Fair enough. However, he is not a clutch returner, and he often dumps the ball if it’s an ad-game, no matter what stroke the ball is served to. I say it’s better for me to play the ad court as I have a solid backhand and forehand return, and I get the ball into play much more often than him. We need an expert to decide who is right: Can you help?—Robert Fox, Los Angeles, CA
Hi Robert: You both must determine that there is no set combination, whether you are righty or lefty. Both of you must speak up and decide what your strengths and weaknesses are. I would suggest that you try different combinations and let the results determine your most productive position. No matter what, stop thinking so much—go out there and make it happen.
If I had to give just one tip that will help all levels of play and can be practiced each and every day, it would have to be this: As soon as you see the oncoming ball coming to you, take the racquet back right then and there! This is essential for every shot you will hit in every match. To see what I mean, watch Serena Williams. No one in tennis has a faster backswing than she does. She gets her racquet ready immediately and is always ready to strike.
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Nick Bollettieri founded the IMG Tennis Academy. He has coached 10 players who have gone on to rank No. 1 in the world.