View Full Version : Teaching someone from scratch.

09-21-2004, 09:29 PM
Tonight was a funny night. I went to the courts to work on my serve, and as soon as I open the door someone says to me, "Do you know how to keep the ball in the court?" At first it sounded like a joke, but this guy was serious. He came out to the courts for the first time and couldn't feed a ball in the court consistently. I had to warm my arm up anyway, so I decided to give him some help. I have helped people learn to serve with a shake hands grip, and improve already competent strokes, but I have never helped a player who would frame the ball off his own feed before. I truly felt like I was on Candid camera most of the time. I started him off with the grip, and I figured the SW would be the way to go. Well, I was off to a positive start, I thought. Most people notice an instant improvement when they use the proper grip, but not this guy, it had virtually no impact. To give you all a comparative mental picture of how this looked, think back to the scene in the Italian Job where the woman was trying to teach Skinny Pete how to putt. That was it, except this guy looked nothing like Pete. I realized that I was going to have to show him from A-Z what a forehand should feel like. I started off with teaching him how to pull the butt cap toward the ball, and he did that pretty well. However, he never squared the racquet up, and instead of a natural pronation, he had a forced supination. Even after showing him the correct impact position he still framed the ball. Teaching him in steps just didn't add up to success, so I had to switch up the approach. I was almost stumped about how I was going to get him hitting the ball in the court. Then I decided to just teach him the forehand all at once. I had him swing the racquet as I instructed until I felt it would produce a topspin groundstroke. The principals were simple. The technique would feature a SW grip, a turn of the shoulders, a pulling of the butt cap on a low to high path with a slightly closed racquet face, impact out in front, and a natural extension after impact. When he finally repeated the technique five times I told him now try to reproduce that with the ball in the way. The first ball he cuts off the followthrough and it dives into the net. Then it finally clicked, the second ball flew a foot and a half over the net and dived into the middle of the court. I couldn't believe it, I had this guy hitting topspin inside of his first 30 min. on a tennis court. I even hit him a few balls, and he was able to hit a majority of them back with some topspin on them. I was willing to teach him more, but we unfortunately ran out of time. I am really happy for this young guy, because most people just quit out of frustration. I hope this will give him inspiration to continue his participation in tennis, and maybe spread the same feeling to other potential players.

Camilio Pascual
09-22-2004, 03:32 AM
I have the highest respect for tennis players who teach others tennis and are not tennis snobs. You are doing what the USTA is trying to do: Growing the game. You gave a beginner a very rewarding experience. Yourself, too. Kudos.

09-22-2004, 05:02 AM
Sw is an intermediate to advanced stroke. EFH for beginners, but props to you for your patience.

Bungalo Bill
09-22-2004, 12:53 PM
You have to be very careful getting someone who lacks the hand/eye and foot coordination when teaching strokes to get into rallies.

Since the person was not hitting the ball properly, I admire your teaching ability to look for the grip first. A lot of teachers out there do not do this. However, I would not have chosen the SW as you did. That is a risky move. I would have chosen the Eastern forehand grip because it places the palm behind the handle and allows the player to feel the ball in his palm when the racquet makes contact. What this does is provides good information to the brain to sense proper timing. It simplifoes the stroke pattern as well and is a versatile grip for hitting low balls and high balls in case you have a bad day feeding balls.

As the players improves and grooves the proper swing, moving the grip towards a SW is not drastic - if they want to move there.

I would not have rallied with the person on the first time around. I would have simply made them hit a lot of slow balls. The first thing I work on is coordinating the swing with their balance. I teach them three simple steps that allows the student to be able to get engaged in their own training.

The first step is to drop the racquet back with the face of the racquet facing downwards. The second step is to bring the racquet up to contact level with the racquet level and the face of the racquet perpendicular to the ground. The third step is to get the racquet to go through the ball and finish high - and keep it there for now.

Within these steps I show them why it is important to have certain things happen, such as: grips, firm wrist position, backswing, swinging low to high and brushing for topspin, racquet control by hitting the ball with the racquet level and perpendicular to the ground, and on the finish the areas of balance and the critical step into the ball and the role it plays.

Once the student can demonstrate this while I correct any misunderstandings, I have them stand at the service line and feed them balls from behind the net. I feed 15 balls to their forehand and 15 balls to their backhand. If there are any problems we work on fixing them at this time. I watch the strength of their hand and their ability to maintain the correct grip and a level racquet after several balls. I watch for too big of a swing especially when they feel they can "spread their wings" a little after several successful shots. I watch for balance issues, etc. On the finish, I count to 10 seconds while they hold their balance and the racquet is high. I am training the body to go through the ball and finish in balance to set them up for the critical recovery step that happens later.

After that they continue to stand at the service line and I have them hit alternating forehands and backhands. This time I want to bring grip changes in the picture and work on balance and any other thing that might break down. Remember I am feeding them slow balls.

When that drill is done, I have them take about two steps out and hit a forehand, then shuffle back to the center in the ready position with knees bent. Then I hit to the backhand side. I am trying to incorporate footwork, timing, adjusting steps and provide a workout. All areas need to come together at this time for the lesson. If things breakdown, we backup and find out how to solve the problem.

To finish the lesson, I go back and have them perform stationary hitting again to solidify the stroke and their balance. I feed balls according to the first drill but this time counting to 5 seconds with them finishing high while staying in balance.

At the end, we talk about what they need to practice and any things that need to be cleared up.

Just like watching slo-mo video of pros, you have to slow things down to provide benefit to helping someone understand why they are to do something. Slowing things down also allows you to see the subtleties of the stroke and possible areas that could form a hitch or a bad habit.

09-22-2004, 07:13 PM
Bill always gives good, detailed advice.

09-23-2004, 06:25 AM

What an inspiring story! I'm ashamed to say that I would have been a bit perturbed by a stranger coming up to me and asking for a free lesson. I think I'll view this scenario differently now.


09-23-2004, 08:08 PM
Some good replys, thanks. BB, I agree about the sw forehand. I was second guessing myself in teaching him that grip, but I took the chance because it seemed the most natural to him. He naturally tended towards an open stance, so I figured an eastern would require another adjustment. I also figured that if I could get the rest of the stroke to fully compliment the grip it would work out. Fortunately, it did. I really like that tip you included about getting them to bring the racquet face through facing down. That was the tip that finally brought everything together, because he kept the racquet face opened up to the sky by a supination move with the wrist. I really had to laugh at myself at some points in the lesson, because for every positive thing he learned, one really terrible move limited it. Once he finally eliminated the supination move followed by a cut off follow through it got much better. Just for the record, I didn't have him rally except for a few balls prior to him leaving. He started to exhibit control over hitting feeds to me and I just wanted him to get a look at some incoming balls with his improved technique. Most of the time was taking swings without a ball and then having him reproduce it on his feeds. Overall, it was a great experience, and one I wouldn't mind doing again.

09-23-2004, 10:15 PM
If you take on this project good luck (too much reading but I got the just of it after the first sentence).

I just graduated from high school a year ago and I've spent a lot of time trying to help out the high school team and my job has basically been... look there's a new person! here you go, teach them how to play. So I understand where you're coming from. I'm leaving for college this week and it's killing me having to leave the team where I have five beginning level players that I've taken from the first moment they ever got on a tennis court.

Do to more reading that I didn't do, I'm assured that Bill did an excellent job on helping you because that's what the guy does... Professor Bill? I guess that's just the college student in me. I'll read it at some point because I'm interested in what he has to say.

My biggest suggestion is to make them do everything right! Don't let them get by by hitting the ball in any way, shape, or form because you'll end up having to deal with unlearning... if you think getting someone to learn is hard, you don't want to mess with unlearning...