Teaching the Pancake serve

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Shroud, Aug 12, 2014.

  1. Shroud

    Shroud Hall of Fame

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    Saw a lesson today where the coach had the student serving with a pancake grip and flat.

    My kneejerk is that this coach is wrong. But could i be wrong. Is there some value in teaching it that only to do a proper serve later??
     
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  2. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

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    In my opinion, no.
     
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  3. 5263

    5263 G.O.A.T.

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    I think there could be some value if it is part of a process, but it's not how I do it.
     
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  4. GuyClinch

    GuyClinch Hall of Fame

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    The value in it is the coach doesn't think the student is a very serious player...so this might fit their lifestyle. Maybe the guy/girl said - I just want to get my serve in.. Pancake can achieve that..
     
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  5. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Exactly, a pancake serve is better than no serve at all.
    How can that be? Try hitting with your OTHER hand. You can probably hit forehand groundies OK, slice the backhands, and even volley a few. But the serve is something else. You serve like an uncoordinated human, at best, your first few tries. So, a pancake eForehand serve get's the ball over to start the point.
     
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  6. SystemicAnomaly

    SystemicAnomaly G.O.A.T.

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    Yes, I see some value in this. I started doing this recently with some of my novice students as a legal means of getting the ball into play early in their development. Note, however, that this is not really part of their progression for a proper serve motion. I've had some students that have had a very difficult time getting a decent toss for a proper serve action. Often these students are not serious enough about their tennis to put much practice time into their ball toss.

    The toss for modified/pancake serve is usually much simpler. I have been presenting two serve alternatives. One of these is a simple "volleyball" serve motion. Usually do this with a semi-conti grip rather than an full conti or an Eastern grip. The racket position is preset (laid back a bit) and the toss is fairly low. The 2nd alternative is an underhand serve. They can use an abbreviated groundstroke (swinging volley) motion for this serve. I'll have them try both of these alternatives and have them work a bit on the one that shows the most promise for a short-term solution.

    I don't spend any more than a couple of classes with these serve alternatives. In parallel with the modified serve actions, we also start to work on a full toss motion (for future work on a proper serve motion in the future). Don't see a whole lot of value in trying to develop a proper serve motion if the student cannot give themselves a decent toss at all.
     
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  7. Topspin Shot

    Topspin Shot Legend

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    If I were teaching, I would rather have my student serve underhand if he wants to play right away than hit a frying pan serve. At least the underhand serve won't provide poor muscle memory.
     
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  8. sjoerdklarenbeek

    sjoerdklarenbeek Rookie

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    I think it's very realistic for (more than) some adult players to try and hit a simple serve that they can actually safely use, rather than trying to learn the perfect pro serve which they will never ever learn.

    It's like the jump serve in professional volleyball. Should every player try it? No! There are alternatives: hitting a simple serve from stance (comparable to the pancake serve) or even hitting underhand (would be a last resort in tennis).

    It's a pity that many players with limited skills are told to try the classical serve in tennis, when they will never be able to. So they resort to an self-made poorly executed pancake serve in daily practice. At least teach them a safe and effective way to execute a pancake serve, or whatever serve they can actually learn. I once saw a decent YouTube vid on this, unfortunately I can't find it back right now. It taught viewers to hit in front and not too low, and where to generate power (more or less something about pulling the arm forward rather than just pushing with the lower arm).
     
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  9. Maximagq

    Maximagq Banned

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    I would only teach the "Pancake serve" if I was training a new employee at IHOP ;)

    Surprised no one made that witty comment yet.
     
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  10. Ash_Smith

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    I can image one or two possible situations where I would teach that, one of which is when working with a quad wheelchair tennis player who needs to tape their racquet. Teaching a non-disabled player that serve would be very much a one off for me I think and require them to be unable to develop the more correct mechanics - perhaps due to injury.

    When it's quite straight forward to develop a conti grip serve though, I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't.
     
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  11. GuyClinch

    GuyClinch Hall of Fame

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    Coaches really have to be careful to protect a players ego. If they are too hard on them and essentially say you suck so just learn this they will not go back..

    The frying pan serve makes player think they are progressing. And in fairness you can some pretty effective fry pan serves if you try..
     
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  12. CoachingMastery

    CoachingMastery Professional

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    Not knowing the situation, I would make these comments:

    First, if this were indeed the "progression" to learning a more advanced serve, the pro is absolutely wrong. Developing patterns that must change for a player to reach higher levels of skilled play is one of the hardest things to happen. The reason is it isn't "just a grip change." The waiter's grip and pancake serve motion is far different than a player who develops a proper serve. The swing path is different, the player's position is different, the contact point is usually different, etc. Thus, a player who is first taught to serve this very simple serve will find it exponentially more difficult to make the necessary grip change along with the other dynamics which are part of a more effective serve.

    I usually see this type of teaching by pros who simply are ignorant in how to train players to serve well. The equivalent is teaching a basketball player to "granny" shoot a freethrow...it is usually easier for kids especially to granny shoot. But, obviously this will never allow the kid to shoot baskets at higher levels of skill. Worse than this example, the tennis equivalent of teaching the frying-pan serve and grip is that if the player starts to compete, they will almost always revert to the methods that they are most comfortable with.

    There are ways to teach the continental grip with spin and body position that provide for success without resorting to teaching mediocre methods just so the player can "get the ball in the court."

    The ONLY way I would have ever taught this was if a player was so inept that they couldn't garner the means through which my students develop the serve...in other words, if I've exhausted all the ways to teach the right serve, then maybe I would teach this.

    However, in my 35 years teaching, and over 3500 students taught, I've NEVER had to resort to that!
     
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  13. Chas Tennis

    Chas Tennis Hall of Fame

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    Pat Dougherty has this video going into detail on what he calls the hammer serve. I interpreted it to be the Waiter's Tray serve.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjXJGsRtm08

    He says that he can work with players to make this sever more effective and does.

    Pay close attention because he talks fast and sometimes changes between the lower level serve and the 'advanced serve'.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2014
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  14. BMC9670

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    A personal experience if I may:

    When my son was beginning, I was unable to play for about 8 months due to shoulder surgery, so I had him in a group at the local club. They would line them up and every single kid would serve pancake - no instruction from the coach (who was an "experienced" and USPTA cert pro). The only praise was when the serve landed in. He was 7-8 at the time.

    When I got back - it took me an entire year to get him to serve with the correct grip and the correct form. Lots of frustration on both our parts. This is when he was 9.

    Now playing in the 12's, his serve is a weapon and he can effectively hit flat, slice, top and kick serves. Well worth the change. I see young, beginning kids being taught correctly and can learn it just fine. The problem is with parents and pros that want instant gratification and take the easy path.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2014
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  15. TennisCJC

    TennisCJC Legend

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    Pat Dougherty (Bolleteri's serve doctor coach) has a video and he says that if a club player doesn't want to invest the time and effort in learning a conti grip serve that he will give pointers on the EFH grip pancake serve.

    I agree if the players goals are to have a really strong serve for high level rec play or higher, or if the goal is to have a more technically correct serve, you should learn a conti grip serve with pronation.

    But to be fair, I know a women who plays 4.5 level USTA and wins consistently with pancake push serve. I also know a few male players that win at 4.0 level USTA with this type of serve. But, these players are generally getting by with the serve and not winning because of the serve. They usually have other attributes of their games that allow them to over come their serve rather than their serve being a winning weapon.

    Below 4.0 level, pancake serve that goes in, is placed well, and stays low, can actually be a solid shot.
     
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  16. BMC9670

    BMC9670 Hall of Fame

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    If that's where a player is at and has no goals to progress, fine. But the OP asked if there is any benefit to teaching pancake first only to switch later. He doesn't say the age of the student, but the fact that they are paying for a lesson implies the desire to be taught correctly and improve.
     
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  17. SFrazeur

    SFrazeur Legend

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    It can be viable older adults who may have limited range of motion where pronation is not an option.
     
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  18. Shroud

    Shroud Hall of Fame

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    Thanks for the responses.

    This was a women I am guessing in her late 20s, maybe early 30s.

    She seemed to be fairly serious at least the other times I saw her practicing.

    FWIW she seemed to be hitting quite well with the pancake.

    It seemed that she had the skill to master a real serve.
     
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  19. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    After about one year total of hitting right handed, my pancake serve rightie is as strong as most 3.5's serves.
    When I go back to conti grip, my rightie serve goes back down to remedial 3.0 serves.
     
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  20. Attila_the_gorilla

    Attila_the_gorilla Professional

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    I think you could try having her hit nothing but slice serves at the beginning. Even weak slices are ok. Help her understand how to make contact with the ball for a slice serve. And help her work out what sort of grip is best for it.
     
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  21. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Kinda like teaching an ATP style forehand to a beginner.
    Starting with no training, how about using basics first?
    Would you teach Warwrinka's 1hbh topspin to a beginner tennis player?
    Why not get them started in the game with the basics, since most will drop out before they acquire the skills to hit ATP strokes.
     
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  22. Attila_the_gorilla

    Attila_the_gorilla Professional

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    Not sure who your response is aimed at, LeeD. If to me, the slice is the easiest serve to understand and hit properly, and it provides a great foundation to progress into the other serves.
     
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  23. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    If the slice serve is the easiest to understand and implement, then the flat serve should be much harder. Instead of slicing from side to side, just swing forward and through, no?
     
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  24. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Most slices serves are slow and predictable.
    A flat serve gives the server instant gratification. At least he/she can hit it pretty fast for the skill level involved.
    Are we talking about teaching serves to ATP/WTA wannabees, or are we talking teaching serves to the general public who will NEVER come close to solid 3.5 levels of tennis?
     
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  25. willeric

    willeric Rookie

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    Does this really cause this must confusion? The "pancake" serve is the easiest way to produce a fast serve. It's way easier than using a continental. (There is a speed based on your height which you can't get the serve in, but if you are at that level, you already understand this.)

    There's serious limitations at the high end but this serve can take women to 4.5 and men to 4.0.

    If you have played USTA you know there are folks who have maximized the potential of the pancake including adding a "reverse slice".
     
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  26. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    I guess, if you need LESSONS on how to hit a pancake serve, you will never ever reach 4.0 men's level of play.
     
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  27. Attila_the_gorilla

    Attila_the_gorilla Professional

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    Swing forward and through, with the pancake grip. Yeah.

    But I'm talking proper serving. A proper flat serve (or proper flat overhead) is a lot more difficult to understand and learn than a proper slice.
     
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  28. user92626

    user92626 Legend

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    This is where I don't follow.

    If slice is so easy, shouldn't flat serve be not much harder at all? Instead of slicing, you hit forward and through. (Uh I just repeat what I said above). What else is there about the flat serve (besides hitting forward and through, with more or less the same concept of slice serve)??
     
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  29. MethodTennis

    MethodTennis Hall of Fame

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    I like to make slow grip changes. You can do a lot in that grip. I hate making players that play occasionally instantly worse. It'll be a case of well can you get the ball to do X. No? Okay well what do we need to change technically to enable that, then maybe it's grip change time. I wouldn't change grip of a frying pan serve unless I knew what we wanted to achieve from it.

    I would always teach a complete beginner a conti serve off the bat, it's just better to not ingrain bad habits early on for no reason.

    Depends on the player and the coach and what they're trying to improve on the serve tbh.
     
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  30. CoachingMastery

    CoachingMastery Professional

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    Depends. For younger players, understanding spin, the effect it has on a moving ball, and the difference in aim to accommodate various spin axis is usually foreign.

    For most players a linear swing with an eastern forehand grip, (IE: Pancake serve or waiter's grip serve), is easy to comprehend and hit. The problem, of course, is that with that grip, it is next to impossible to impart the right spin axis to create a ball that arcs down into the court at higher speeds.

    The pancake serve generally creates gravity-reliant servers. Not a big deal in the first serve arena, as some can get a first serve in occasionally with some pace. (Relatively speaking.) The problem comes in the development of a second serve that can be hit with effect. Pancake servers simply serve softer to get a higher percentage of serves in.

    However, a player who develops a proper grip and serve motion actually swings as hard, and sometimes harder, than a flatter first serve to insure that the serve goes in. (Because the spin they are putting on the ball increases the opportunity to clear the net by a high margin but still get the ball in...and, as a result, hit usually a more effective second serve as a side effect!
     
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  31. Chotobaka

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    A bit off topic, but I would love to hear peoples' opinions on offbeat serves to deal with sun at positions that make normal serve mechanics impossible. The sun is a bugger!
     
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  32. FitzRoy

    FitzRoy Professional

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    Think I have to agree with this post, seems like pancake grip would be an issue for later muscle memory.

    Anecdotally, a good friend of mine on back on my high school team (we both started playing our junior years) was able to have a really, really fast serve within just a few weeks of playing with the pancake grip, but struggled with consistency and eventually listed to the team's coach and switched to a better grip. But that switch took him a really long time, and his serve suffered for a while. I actually had the better serve between us that summer, despite him having much more natural ability in my opinion, so I feel like if he had switched earlier he probably would have been way ahead of me.
     
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  33. Attila_the_gorilla

    Attila_the_gorilla Professional

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    The slice makes it easy to understand the need for the continental grip. Because you're contacting the ball from left to right, it's easy to visualize why the continental grip is best. You stand sideways, you swing up and out, and the conti grip gives you the correct racket face alignment. The pancake grip will not work.

    Whereas if you start trying to hit flat overheads or serves, you may find it very hard to understand how to hit through the ball with anything other than a pancake grip. Due to the much more pronounced pronation prior to contact.

    That's why starting with the slice serve is the logical progression.
     
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  34. Jim Lefty

    Jim Lefty Rookie

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    In my humble assessment, there is never a justification for knowingly teaching blatantly erroneous technique.

    The concept of lowering the bar of tennis to the level of the student...well... I'd better not say. :-|
     
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  35. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Serving facing the sun.
    It's tough for everyone, including the best pros.
    You need to use your higher percentage serves most of the time, use your flats less often, and mix up spins and directions.
    Then, when you serve with the sun behind you, you go for serves that you didn't use facing the sun.
    Since you tossed the ball up with your exact stance and pre position, you should be able to hit the ball without fully tracking it's toss path.
     
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  36. SystemicAnomaly

    SystemicAnomaly G.O.A.T.

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    I fully agree that a pancake serve (with a Fh grip) should not actually be taught as part of a serve progression. Instead, something like this can be shown to a novice player, not so much as an actual serve, but more as a means for further developing hand-eye coordination and ball placement for very low level novice players. Something along the lines of learning "ups and downs" to develop hand-eye. I have started to spend part of a single class teaching an underhand serve and a "volleyball" serve that uses a semi-conti grip (rather than an Eastern Fh or panhandle grip). We do not spend any more than 1 or 2 classes on this since we do not really want to develop inferior "serve" habits that will be difficult to change later.
     
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