Expert Advice: The Top 5 Drills To Evaluate Tennis Players
A skill set that any outstanding tennis coach displays are the ability to evaluate a players technical, physical, and mental attributes. And while evaluating a player’s skill is critical, far more important is the ability to design and deliver a program that improves the player’s further.
It’s easy to get “stuck in the weeds” when defining sporting terms, but having led two international governing tennis bodies, you’ll be happy to know we won’t be doing that. So instead of using the scientific term “qualitative analysis,” I will simply refer to it as “stroke analysis.”
When analyzing the stroke of any tennis player, the coach must take into account the overall context of the player’s history, game style, and level of playing experience. In saying that, every tennis player receives feedback by playing the game, and this “raw” learning process should never be overlooked.
But there’s no doubt that for players to reach their peak performance, they require the support of an experienced coach who can design and deliver an effective training program.
A Holistic Approach To Evaluating Tennis Skills
When it comes to stroke analysis for tennis players, two primary tasks need to take place.
- Firstly, the coach must evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the player
- Secondly, a program needs to be developed that is designed to improve not just the player’s technique but their level of play.
Rookie coaches often limit their stroke analysis to looking for errors that might seem obvious to the naked eye, but this is a critical mistake. To effectively evaluate a player’s technique, the coach must consider factors such as the player’s attitude, current coaching practices, future goals, and the player’s personality traits.
By gathering as much information as possible, you can cultivate an effective plan. It also helps you better understand why the player is using a particular technique to serve, for example.
Limit Your Instruction and Keep It Simple
As a coach, the last thing you want to do is “bombard” players with instructional advice, especially considering most of the time it’s unwarranted. This is where an experienced coach can prove to be invaluable, as they’re able to pinpoint which techniques need correction and those that can wait.
A good example is serving. Time and again, I’ve seen coaches try to address technical problems such as insufficient wrist snap. But more often than not, this has little to do with technique and is generally caused by a wayward ball toss. There’s no use addressing the wrist snap if the ball toss is not corrected first.
Having software to instantly supply report cards to athletes after an assessment, and provide you the coach a solid understanding of where your players are at can be a pivotal next step. SkillShark provides coaches of all sports a leading evaluation software and app to greatly help with the evaluation process. Coaches are seeing a significant improvement in athlete performance through SkillShark’s instant feedback reports generated after each evaluation. Click Here to learn more.
Developing An Effective Program
Once you have prioritized the technical issues, you can develop a long-term plan designed to improve the player’s performance. I would recommend taking a simple approach to not overwhelm the player with new information. Remember, complexity is in simplicity.
To evaluate players’ skill levels, you can have them run through several different drills that look at all aspects of the game, not just technique.
So let’s take a look at five drills I’ve used to test and take junior and professional players to more than 7 National titles and 15 International wins.
Drill #1 “Rally In The Alley”
Purpose: Developing consistent stokes on the forehand and backhand side
Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Equipment: None needed
Level: Advanced junior to professional
How To: Players A and B line up on opposite sides of the net in the tram lines.
Players then rally with Player A only hitting forehands and Player B only hitting backhands.
Players count any ball that lands inside the tram lines and then totals their score at the end of 5 minutes. After one set is complete, players switch sides.
Top Tips: The coach should be emphasizing correct technique, good footwork, and early preparation.
Drill #2 “Keep The Ball Deep”
Purpose: To consistently keep the ball deep with good height and placement over the net
Time: 15 minutes
Level: Beginner to Advanced junior
How: Players start by marking off a shaded area at the back of the court.
Player A starts the rally by dropping and hitting the ball to player B.
If player A’s ball lands short of the shaded area, then they lose the point and are replaced by player C.
The drill is only completed when one team reaches 21 points. Two or four players can complete the drill.
Top Tips: Players should focus on plenty of height over the net and use a variety of spins
Drill #3 “Slice And Dice”
Purpose: Developing the slice backhand and learning to move your opponent
Time: 3 to 5 minutes max
Equipment: Cones, lines, or targets
Level: Advanced junior to professional
How: Player A positions themselves in the backhand corner and then starts by hitting the ball to player B.
Player A then continues to rally by hitting the ball to any of the four targets placed by the coach.
Player A can only use their backhand slice when hitting the targets.
Player B can use any stroke necessary to keep the ball in play.
Top Tip: Because of the amount of running player B might do, the coach must ensure player B rotates every 3 to 5 minutes.
Drill #4 “Serving To Targets”
Purpose: Developing the variety and accuracy of the player’s serve
Time: 30 minutes
Equipment: Targets or Cones
Level: Beginner to professional
How: The coach places 6 targets, 3 in each service box.
Players take turns trying to hit each of the 6 targets with their 1st and 2nd serves.
Top Tip: This drill is difficult, so emphasize having fun and not giving up
Drill #5 “High Ball / Low Ball”
Purpose: To practice identifying the different heights of balls and then choosing the right volley to play
Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Equipment: A full basket of balls
Level: Beginner to Advanced junior
How: The player positions themselves at the net in their ready position.
The coach then feeds a full basket of balls, with each ball varying in height and speed.
If the ball is low, the player plays the shot crosscourt;
If however, the ball is higher above the net, then the player can play the ball to any area of the court. Continue until the basket is empty.
Top Tip: Remind players to track the flight of the ball quickly and get their feet into the ready position and use the split-step. Coaches should also provide constant feedback on the decision-making of their player’s volley.
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About The Author
Brenton Barker: Former Professional Sports Coach/Manager
Brenton is an Australian with 20 years of experience working with professional athletes. These athletes have combined to win more than ten international events. He holds a Degree in Sports Coaching and was the former Head Advisor to the Japanese Government Sports Institute.