By Steve Amaro
To achieve success in tennis, coaches have to stress both proper technique and tactics. Mostly an individual sport, tennis coaches may find themselves with players of various abilities, yet coaches also need to create environments in which student-athletes can build community and have fun.
Competitive games-based drills give participants opportunities to try new techniques and tactics in a relaxed, fun environment. In such a setting, players are encouraged to take risks with their game, build positive relationships their teammates and have fun. Following are three activities that can help team unity and also create fun competition.
Super Bounce Tennis
Super Bounce Tennis is a modifiable game in which you can place the most basic athlete against the advanced. Instead of using the lines and net on the court as boundaries of play, the entire court becomes a usable space. The premise is as long as the ball is bouncing, the ball is in play. If a player hits the ball to the opponent’s side of the court and the ball stops bouncing, the point is over. Fences and nets are still in play as long as the ball is bouncing. It’s a great way for athletes to work on footwork and get active immediately. Whether the game is played to 3, 5 or even 11 points, all levels of athletes can participate.
Like many activities, coaches can modify this drill to fit their needs. Some popular variations are adding additional players to each side of the court and making it a game of doubles, triples or quads. Another popular version is to limit the number of bounces a ball can land before a successful return over the net – in essence, a handicap in which the better player has limited bounces while the novice player gets more.
At a USPTA conference 10 years ago, Bob Bryan, the father of the top-ranked doubles team in the world, the Bryan Brothers, demonstrated a particular drill that raises the heart rate, gets athletes competitively focused and brings smiles to all. It is a fast-paced drill that increases competitively as the game goes on. In its most basic version, 21 starts with nine players – three players on a defensive side, three players waiting on the sideline, three players on the offensive side of the court and the coach on the defensive side feeding balls outside of the court of play. The goal of the game is for one team to get to 21 before the other two teams.
To start, one player from the offensive team takes the court as the coach feeds in the ball while the other two offensive players wait off the court. The offense is now playing one player vs. three until the point is completed. At the end of the point, the team that won yells the score out and the coach immediately feeds in the second ball to a second offensive player who joins his teammate for a point of two against three. At the completion of that point, the third offensive player comes out to play the evenly matched three against three. Whether points are won on offense or defense, point totals are yelled out by team members. If the coach doesn’t hear a point total, the team loses ALL of its points.
Here’s where the excitement builds and the coach gets to decide how quickly he wants his team to move. At the end of the third point, the defensive team runs off to the sideline, the offensive team dashes across the court to play defense, and the sidelined team now sends out its first offensive player to attack the new defensive team. The game continues in this rotation until the first team gets to 21.
Variations of this game include larger teams or even additional stakes. For instance, some teams play for pushups – losing teams take their point totals and do pushups to make up the difference until they reach 21. With creativity, there are lots of ways to create fun and learning.
Around the World
Around the World is a great game to start or end practice. Coaches divide the teams in half and have them line up in single file on opposite ends of the court. The coach stands outside the playing area. The coach feeds the ball to one player who attempts to hit the ball in play. If the ball is in play, the player runs to the opposite side to the end of the line to await his next attempt while the teammate who receives the ball attempts to make a successful return shot. As soon as a player misses a shot, the player is eliminated from the game and the coach starts the next point. Eventually, all players will be eliminated except the final two who play out a regular point and decide the winner.
Although there are many ways tennis coaches can address tactics and techniques to help improve athletes, games-based activities are great ways to incorporate fun and community in the process. These activities can create positive memories for students and become benchmarks of successful teams.
About the Author: Steve Amaro has been a USPTA certified tennis coach, athletic director (CMAA) and English teacher at Freedom High School in Oakley, California for the past 13 years as well as a current doctoral candidate in educational leadership at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. A current member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Accreditation Committee, he is also president of the North Coast Section Athletic Directors Association, a member of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Athletic Administrator Advisory Committee, a representative at the section level of the California Coaches Association (CCA), and an NIAAA LTI instructor at the state level.