Backhands on Young Players

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Phil Daddario, Jun 14, 2005.

  1. Phil Daddario

    Phil Daddario Rookie

    Jun 14, 2005
    I'm currently raising two children. Fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. :) They're three right now, and often see myself and my wife play. They're having their first lesson next Tuesday.

    They both seem very athletic, and just love running, playing sports, etc. Very active. It excites me that they're interested in tennis themselves right now, so that when we start it'll be fun and they'll probably want to continue it.

    But...does starting people this early affect their development for the rest of their life? Obviously, until maybe 9 or 10, most of the lessons are just going to be building motor control and coordination.

    And with this, would I be sort of forcing them to use a two handed backhand for the rest of their life? Even with lightweight junior racquets, managing a one handed backhand is completely impossible at this age. Forcing them to use it would simply result in a loss of confidence, as they wouldn't be able to manage it (they're THREE, come on) and general disinterest in the game. I want to keep their fun and enthusiasm first and foremost, even if they end up not wanting to play tennis.

    So with their two-hander, is this alright? Making a change to the one hander later on, if they do it, would be hard. The boy I've got shows signs of becoming ambidextrous, would hitting one handed on both sides be beneficial? The girl almost always uses her left hand for everything, so she's an expected lefty.

    Thanks, I'm just not really sure what to do. A two hander is fine for the rest of their life, right? Or in the boy's case, it would certainly be interesting to have two forehands. :D I'm trying to find information on that as well.

    I realize this is long. I just want to be sure I have everything and don't make any mistakes right now.
  2. nViATi

    nViATi Hall of Fame

    Mar 6, 2005
    didn't sampras switch to a one hander when he was 14 or something?
  3. TwistServe

    TwistServe Guest

    It's not difficult to switch to a one hander after you've learned the two hander. In fact I think because of an understanding of weight transfer and balance, the one hander will be a very simple adjustment after a few months of practice.
  4. Phil Daddario

    Phil Daddario Rookie

    Jun 14, 2005
    nViATi - Sampras started when he was seven or so. My kids are three. :D

    TwistServe - Thanks muchly. I guess I'm just worried since the stroke is completely different in general. I sort of thought that the change would take place over at least a year -a year in which the kids would have worse results than before. The possible improvement would overshadow it, but it really beats up a kids confidence when they're trying something new and doing worse with it.

    If they enjoy playing at the net though, I'm certainly going to make them attempt the switch to a 1HB.
  5. enk

    enk New User

    May 18, 2005

    Who will be giving your kids lessons? Yourself or some other pro?

    This is what I learn from my ITF coaching course:

    1. From 4-7, start them out with mini-tennis which is mostly fun games with/without ball and/or racquet.
    2. At 3-4, they can use plastic pads instead of junior racquets.
    3. In mini-tennis, you DON'T TEACH about grips, swings & etc. You show them a goal and how to achieve it and they'll try and copy.
    4. Most likely, they will do a 1HBH unless you or the pro taught them a 2HBH or and they copy the 2HBH from you or the pro. 1hBH or 2HBH is just as fine, let them experiment.
    5. Stroke mechanics and stuff doesn't start until 6 or 7.

    From you original post, I am sure you are already on the right track by "keep their fun and enthusiasm first and foremost".

    Have fun.
  6. Phil Daddario

    Phil Daddario Rookie

    Jun 14, 2005
    Enk - Thanks for the response. :)

    Another pro will be teaching. I have some experience, but certainly not enough. I am also more caught up in the "classical" game, and don't know enough on the recent changes and breakthroughs in the game. I wouldn't be able to teach.

    So the children at around age four can handle the one handed backhand? I should go out and just watch a junior lesson and see what they're doing.

    I'll also probably just let the kids do whatever swing comes naturally. If they tend to automatically attempt to go one handed like you said, I'll certainly be happy to let that happen.

    I'm not planning on letting anyone introduce the mechanics until later. Motor and basic racquet skills come first, I just want to make sure that the kids won't be hindered if they want to move to a 1HB or 2HB.

    Our local club has some "adjusted" nets (I'm not sure what to call them, but they're shorter than the normal ones) and general tools.

    If I go out with the kids myself (undoubtedly), I think I'm just going to have them aim at the ball, and learn to watch it. I've heard things about just watching the contact zone, but that's not going to get any success at that age. I just want the coordination to develop.

    Besides mini tennis, would you suggest any other drills or games? For racquet skills, I'm just going to let them swing however they want to and bounce the ball on the racquet a bit. Other than that, I'm just going to have them throw some balls, I'll lob a ball in the air and have them catch it in a cone or just run around and catch some balls.

    Anything else would just include having them run and just try to make contact with the ball, for things on the run.

    Is this rushing things? Or by just focusing on developing mostly motor skills, am I missing out on anything essential for optimum development?

    Thanks for your time, sorry if it's a problem.


  7. Ares

    Ares New User

    May 25, 2005
    I have 2 girls at 7 and 9. Both started "hitting" at 3. I have tought them to use a 2hbh. If they want to switch, they can. I think it would be easier to get to a higher level of play, quicker at a young age with the 2 hander. When they are strong enought to wrist the 1hbh, then let them experiment. Heck, it may be a good idea to play 2handed forehand at a young age as well. Something to consider.

    We started concentrating on strokes at 5 and they both are progressing well. The younger one is really taking off and extremely competitive. Once they both can hit the ball, the great thing about having a sibling is they can hit to each other while you watch and cheer. It truly is a blast to see your children take up the game.

    As far as drills
    1. dribble the ball with the racket on the ground and in the air.
    2. Practice tossing the ball to them and letting them catch it with their hands after 1 bounce. Have them move laterally, forward and backward to get to the ball. This helps with footwork, positioning, and hand-eye coordination.
    3. After they get #2, with a racket let them tap the ball back to you so that you can catch it.

    There are several good books for coaching youth that have some good drills and maybe others can chime in with some more.

    I think the biggest difference in my kids development was letting them play other sports like swimming, soccer and basketball at the local YMCA. These sports build excellent footwork, speed, and coordination. Ive noticed a tremendous jump in speed, strength, and body coordination after a couple of seasons at the Y. My oldest likes soccer more than tennis, but still loves to hit. My youngest has been nagging me to teach her to serve better so that she can play tournaments. There are a couple of 12 yo boys that play in the juniors and she is already talking smack. Gotta love it. So, our plans are to seek out a pro and try to get coaching from someone experienced with children. I have collegiate experience, but its difficult to teach in a way that keeps it fun.

    Good luck and enjoy every minute!
  8. Bungalo Bill

    Bungalo Bill G.O.A.T.

    Feb 19, 2004
    Yes, it is alright. They do not have the strength to hit onehanders.

    Like you said they are only three. Let them have fun, joke around, get them to just love coming to the courts and playing.

    One day, if they choose to get better at tennis, they will say "I grew up on the courts" or "I have been playing tennis since I can remember".

    Holding the racquet with twohands is not going to end them. Your main goal is to build hand eye coordination and balance.

    Have fun Dad, I have three kids of my own.
  9. enk

    enk New User

    May 18, 2005
    Is it a group lesson or a private lesson? I believe group lessons are better. In group lessons, your kids will enjoy the fun games more and get to know more friends. Private lessons are better for learning stroke mechanics later on.

    Also, if you believe in the "fun first & let them experiment" approach, make sure the pro you hire believes in the same thing.

    Well, their 1HBH MAY NOT look like anything like a bio-mechanically sound 1HBH but yes, I have seen kids hitting a backhand with only 1 hand on their racquet. ;)

    If your kids have already watch you and your wife play tennis, most likely they will try to imitate one of you.

    Ares have already named a few good ones. You can always think of new games.

    One thing we had to do in the ITF course is to make up 5 games for each of these 4 categories:

    No ball. No racquet.
    Ball only.
    Racquet only.
    Ball + racquet.

    The games doesn't always need to have DIRECT RELATION to learning tennis. Any game the kids find funny and loves to do is already a good game.

    I am also 100% agree with Ares that you should let them play multi-sports. ITF suggest multi-sport for young tennis players at least up to pre-teens (when they really start to play more seriously).

    I can surely relate to this feeling as I'm a new father myself (my son is not yet 2). I can understand how you really want to do it RIGHT the first time around. Don't focus on "development", let them have fun and they will come back for more.

    Like BB and Ares said: "Have fun and enjoy every minute"
  10. oumpapa

    oumpapa New User

    Apr 1, 2005
    It's very difficult to instruct small children. Basically I think the rigth approach is to simply let them learn by trial and error. Kids will usually try to copy the grown ups - so letting them watch some tennis on tv - or even better on court - will help them much more than any verbal instruction.
    In my experience with my own kids what's important is to let them develop their motor skills through all kinds of physical activities. For instance my son is an incredible hitter with all kinds of bats and racquets. He's 6 and I've never once tried to coach him verbally - I just made sure the he was always surrounded by balls and bats and that I was always available when he wanted to play - he did all the learning him self.
  11. nViATi

    nViATi Hall of Fame

    Mar 6, 2005
    hm.. i wonder what'll happen if you let them watch Sampras? ;)
  12. Bungalo Bill

    Bungalo Bill G.O.A.T.

    Feb 19, 2004
    I have my kids play that Mario Smash Brothers tennis game. They have a lot of fun with it. One of the neat things they learn is:

    1. How to keep score in tennis

    2. When a ball is out

    3. Where to serve from, etc..

    I sometimes sit down with my daughter and son and teach them shot selection and court positionin both after they hit and before they hit.

    When they play the doubles part I teach them how to move about playig doubles and why they should keep the ball between them. I also help them see when they overcommit to a ball and what the response of the partner should be.

    My daughter, when we play Topspin (X-BOX), likes to use the power shot. So often she tries to hit a winner when clearly I am set and in position to handle any of her replies. She loses the point 9 times out of 10. I then teach her that going for winners when you shouldnt is not a good idea even though it looks tempting.

    I also teach her what the slice does and what it can be used for and where to recover based on how she hit the ball.

    On the X-BOX system the stroking technique is pretty darn good so I can help her see what topspin does etc...this is stuff you can teach kids that they can get. They dont even need to pick up a racquet. When they learn more about the game and understand what is going on, they become very interested.

    Plus, it is an excellent reason to give your wife (she just cant refuse you now)to get an X-BOX if you had your eye on getting that Halo 2 or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory games.

    I have been married for over 12 years, believe me, I have learned over the years on how to position things. LOL
  13. Rickson

    Rickson G.O.A.T.

    Jun 16, 2004
    I was watching a kid play with his coach and the kid had an awesome 1 hander with good power. The kid looked like he was around 10 and he was barely 5' tall, but it shows that not all young kids play with 2 handers and even small young kids can have a good 1 hander if they practice it.
  14. Phil Daddario

    Phil Daddario Rookie

    Jun 14, 2005
    Thanks all of you for the detailed responses. I'm thankful for the drills and advice.

    Enk, Ares, and Bungalo Bill -Thanks even more. As a relatively new father, I don't want to have anything wrong happen -I've got twins, I'm not planning on having any more kids. I'll try to keep it as fun as possible, and see how things develop.

    BB -I've played that Topspin game on the XBox. I couldn't resist buying one. :) I have to admit that even as a 45 year old man, I find the Halo 2 quite enjoyable. I also used to have some addiction to a game called Ninja Gaiden. When I bought that, all the kids buying things around me were looking at me strangely.

    Actually, the Topspin game helped get my kids into tennis. You don't necessarily have to be able to read to to a lot of it, and even at three the twins watch me play it and even started playing themselves last week. As three year olds, it's sort of hard for them to get used to moving a control stick and having it affect the player on the screen, but I figure it's just more coordination. They've figured out how to hold the A or B button down to whack the heck out of the ball. :p

    With their junior racquets, we went out on the courts for a bit. We've already paid for group lessons, and the program looks like it'll work for us.

    I just bounced some balls around, and had them hit it. Then after a bit, we just started running around and catching/throwing balls over the net from around the service line. They both wanted to start playing with the racquets again, and just generally played around. It was great to see them both holding racquets -I hope it lasts when they're older.

    My girl started hitting with one hand on the backhand side, as her player in Topspin does. She found it uncomfortable, and after two or three shots put both hands on the racquet. She asked if it was ok -of course I told her it was fine. It's still great to see her do that naturally.

    The boy is hitting with one hand on both sides, except -as I said, it's more like two forehands. On his left side, he'll try to whack it with his left hand, and on the right side he'll just whack it with his right.

    Would any of you happen to know about that? He was fumbling around when switching between forehands and backhands (or actually for him, left side and right side), since he wanted to hold the racquet at the same place when swinging.

    While I'm not going to teach him about grips or actual strokes until later, it'd be nice to sort of incorporate good habits from the beginning. Would he be better off with an actual backhand instead of "two forehands"?
  15. Return_Ace

    Return_Ace Professional

    May 31, 2005
    You know I've always been wondering that, I mean they say that Nadal and Sharapova could play equally well off both sides and Nadal's Coach told him to go Leftie whilst Sharapova's told her to use her Left hand to make a strong BH..............Why didn't they just let them have two forehands? surely this would be better?
  16. Phil Daddario

    Phil Daddario Rookie

    Jun 14, 2005
    I believe it's possible that it would take to much time to switch around.

    You can only have one hand on the bottom of the racquet, right? That might be it. I'm not sure though.

    I'll have him play a lefty forehand and get him started with a twohanded backhand if I find out "two forehands" could possibly hurt him later on.
  17. Bungalo Bill

    Bungalo Bill G.O.A.T.

    Feb 19, 2004
    WARNING: Skim through this and print this out to read it when it is convenient. Sorry for any grammar or spelling errors. No time to proof.

    Yeah, I am permanently addicted and no longer ashamed of it. I go to parties and find out a lot of people I meet have this addiction. I mean who wants to say they love X-Box at over 40 to everyone? Currently, my friends and I form secret x-box societies and sometimes start play around 11pm at night when the kids and wives are in bed. Then all hell breaks loose.

    We either play Topsin Doubles, Halo 2, and now I am totally into Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Next to Halo, this is the coolest game ever.

    That's it. My youngest daughter (now 5) hits X, or A. I put my player in the middle of the court and she the same. We hit 20 - 30 ball rallies just slicing the ball back and forth - sort of like a slow game of pong.

    At their age, just bounce the ball in front of them and let them swing at it. Stand next to them, drop the ball and let them hit it - that's it for now. Let them get used to swinging the racquet properly without having to calculate too much.

    Just let it happen over time. If she is a onehander it will come out - especially if you are open minded about her learning either one. You just want them to enjoy being out their and having some success.

    Again, let them enjoy the atmosphere of tennis. Everytime they go out with Dad (especially now) it should be an enjoyable experience.

    It is perfectly fine to help your child to hit with proper form. You just need to understand that their nervous system and their learning system is not mature. If he hits a couple of forehands on both sides, calmly have him hit a couple backhands with twohands on the side he should.

    Well you dont need to have them recite the different grips but they should know what the name of the grip they are in is called. This will be learned over time. I highly recommend you continuously watch to see that they are in good acceptable grips when they swing.

    Most children love structure. They also like things to be fun, challenging, and be able to hit attainable goals. I like to encompass the lessons with my children using what I call "fun discipline". In order to do this you have to have a fun atmosphere with attainable goals.


    I use a three point swing when teaching. The reason I do this is because I know the human body will fill-in the blanks and teach itself as their skills improve. So I focus on three key areas for the swing.

    OVERVIEW: In each position you need t verify that they are in the correct grip. Remember, without telling them you are teaching their brains to accept the handle position in their hands as correct. The brain over time will learn how to control this position, keep this position, and fire the right muscles to accmplish the overall objective.

    Further, throughout training it is perfectly ok to do non-ball swings to develop balance and technique. You should alternate between non-ball, dropped ball, and very slow one to two bounce ball drills.

    1. THE TAKEBACK: The takeback focuses on bringing the racquet straight back with the strings parallel to the ground. If they the racquet back like that and a dog walked up and placed its head under the strings, you could pat the dogs head. I usually call this position "the pat the dog on the head" or if I want a Western theme "so you think your tough, huh?" position.

    When you call for this position the children will bring the racquet back, fumble around with the string position and will sometimes need a bit of correction and reinforcement.

    The racquet takeback does not go pass the line that is created by the imaginary feet in their hitting stance. Usually it is a line that is perpendicular to the net. Ball feeds here can help the brain get used to correct form without telling the child anything. The body will get used to taking a racquet back only so far because your ball feeds are encouraging a shorter takeback. This is what I call "stealth training", this is something only you know you are doing - not the player.

    2. CONTACT POINT: This is when a player makes contact. Pretty obvious. However, this is where you through all the bull that exists out in the tennis world regarding "how a pro hits the ball". We all think for some magic reason a pro bypassed a lot of the fundmentals that exist only for us "lesser folks". Not so. Pros were little children at one time as well. They also had difficulties holding the racquet with one hand as well. Obviously, they had talent and excellent hand/eye coordination that probably helped them surpass us to the top.

    This position simply places the racquet within the contact zone for the grip (I have yet to start kids in a Western type grip and have always taught the Eastern). The racquet face is square and the contact point is in front of thebody with the elbow past the side and in front. You need to make sure to check their grips. I call this the "Draw!" position.

    So so far you have:

    a. So you thnk your tough, huh (racquet face down and back)

    b. Draw! (racquet face square, grips checked, racquet level)

    3. FOLLOWTHROUGH AND EXTEND TOWARD THE TARGET: Many players today do not extend enough after contact. Extension is critical to hittiing a heavy ball because it helps to ensure that you went through the ball. It also forces the body to not overrotate or prematurely rotate out of the shot.

    Teaching a young child to extend/followthrough is what I call the "Reach for the Skies" position. Yes, the Toy Story saying from good ol' Woody. The racquet points straight up towards the sky and their hand is at forehead level and centered. They have to pause and maintain their balance for 7 seconds. Make sur eyou make this part a lot of fun. Like think of some challenge.

    SWING SUMMARY: Always check grips on every position. Do non-ball swings at first to warm-up. Drop balls in front of them or from the side and have them use the swing and make contact with a ball. They then hold the third position and then break off. Eventually you will feed balls from a distance to them.

    You do not need to worry about how far the racquet is away from the body (like the ball under the arm pit tool) because the way you are teaching them is allowing the body to teach itself that from the beginning.

    You do not need to worry about them developing a loop in their swing. This almost always happens naturally and over time.

    You do not need to worry about them having a jerky swing. When you let them swing away, the brain automatically knows to swing smoothly through the three key points you gave it. The brain will connect the dots for you.

    I usually start the grips in the Eastern but that is my preference. I am not stuck on this in anyway or fashion. I also could use the SW. I am not so much a fan for the Western only because of the requirements in forearm strength to really do it properly and the torque it can place on the arm.

    If you use either grip, tell the child what it is called. This way you can refer to it. Because you are their Father, they will try to impress you a lot out there. Make sure you aren't to hard on them or want them to develop too fast. Alway, always, always bend down at the knees and look at them at eye level to communicate and help them. Do not talk over them. DONT FORGET THIS!!!!

    Always make sure the sun is to their backs during a lesson.
  18. Ares

    Ares New User

    May 25, 2005
    I really like the 3 point method as well.

    As far as the 1 hand on either side. The problem I see is that on one side the hand will be higher up in the grip if he doesnt adjust. If you hold the racket in the ready position ( 2 hands w/ racket in front of body) and dominant hand on bottom you may notice that he has his nondominant hand higher up on the grip when hitting on that side. Unless he readjusts it. This could cause the fumbling around. I would try to keep grip movements minimal by using the 2 hands on the nondominant side. Heck, I think it may be worth experimenting with 2 hands on both sides. If you can keep it fun and interesting, you can start teaching technique now.

    One problem I notice is that alot of pros have a student stand in one place and they just feed balls to them. This is all well and good, but I think movement needs to be introduced as early as possible. Learning to run or move to the ball on the forehand or backhand side is extremely important. Many juniors can look like pros when they warm up, but if they are pulled wide they have difficulty positioning and making good contact. So, in effort to work on this. I would start with my daughter at the intersection of the back service line and the side line and feed a ball so she can hit it and feed another one immediately after they hit the first about 3-4 feet to their side so they have to move toward the middle of the court to hit the next ball. Do about 4 or 5 balls until they reach the other side. Then switch and go back. Of course this is after they get used to hitting a ball. They dont even need to hit over the net. You can do this anywhere. I think its important that they learn to move to the ball in such a way they can get there and make contact. Doesnt have to be a run and doesnt have to be a pretty shot with perfect technique. Just move to the ball and hit, move to the ball and hit, move to the ball and hit. We would also do this in the driveway or in the garage when it was raining. It helps coordination and footwork without them having to think about anything. Tell them what you want to do and keep track of how many they hit and make it a game to see if they can beat it the next time. Once they get good at this you can start tossing balls randomly to either side and get them to go and hit it and come back to a mark to get ready for another.

    Oh yeah, now would be a good time to invest in a hopper and fill it with balls.

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