Player to Player: Teaching Beginners How to Serve

December 13, 2010 12:00 PM
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Last week's question from Aaron
(Please note: There's no need to send additional responses to this question.) 

I'm a junior varsity tennis coach. This year, most of my players have never played before. I'm having a real problem teaching some of them to serve. What can I do to stop the problem of the serve going extremely high (like a lob) over the net? Their service motion and toss seem to be OK

Player Responses:

From Scott, Franklin, WI:

A serve will go high over the net if the ball in stuck in an upward motion.  This could be the result of 1) not snapping the wrist at the point of impact or 2) tossing the ball too far back.  My guess is that the problem is mostly the lack of wrist snap.  Have the kids throw the ball over the net on a pretty level plane (versus a lob throw) and explain that the wrist snap that keep the flight horizontal is the same thing needed to hit a line drive serve.

From Coach Poppie, Palm Bay, FL:

Been faced with the problem for many seasons.  Rule # 1 put the ball in Play.  Rule #2 Never forget rule #1.  Remember the secret of tennis is the ball is going to go wherever you point the strings.  Hence, if the ball is being popped up they are hitting the bottom portion of the ball.  The toss it too far over their heads.  Lift the ball more toward the net will bring it down.  Generally player at this level use a flat pancake serve with a forehand grip.  With this in mind the butt of the racket leads instead of the head of the racket as the serve is performed by pronating. The chances of you getting your players to pronate through the ball in the couple of weeks prior to the season is slim.  So have your player start their serve from the back scratch position this will improve their timing and combined with the toss toward the net should smooth things out.  Remember Rule #1 since their serve is not a weapon getting the first serve in is paramount.  If they still are having problems have them serve underhanded, low and with allot of angle.  This has worked for me in the past, see how it worked for you.  Learn Practice Play

From Jeff, Romeo, MI:

I was a Junior Varsity Assistant Tennis Coach last season.
Many beginners ignore the importance of the toss.
If the player is getting a nice, high toss - they are waiting too long (timing) to hit the ball (resulting in hitting under the ball).  
The player will have to compensate by slowing down their swing to get the ball into the service court.
Have the player try:
a) Toss high and straight up (out in front), increasing the distance out in front (an inch at a time) until the serves go in.  If the serves go into the net – the toss is too far out front.  If the serves go long – the toss is too far behind them.  If the serve hits the tape at the top of the net – they are close.
b) Speed up the timing of the stroke to hit the ball as high as they can stretch.
c) Have the player hold their racket as high as they can and note the height – that is where they should hit the ball (so the toss has to be higher than this – to allow time to swing).
SIDE NOTE: I see too many beginners hurry themselves to get the ball in play and they swing at EVERY toss. Constantly remind the beginners that if the toss is bad – they do not have to swing at it.
Hope this helps!

From Joann, Wilmington, NC:

Chances are they're either not tossing the ball far enough in front, or not fully extending, causing them to hit underneath the ball.  I encourage players to make contact on the back of the ball, as opposed to underneath it, which will give them a flatter trajectory.  You might also tell them to "stand up straight" when they go to make contact, to encourage them to fully extend upward.

From Gerry, Clinton, MS:

Sounds like a relatively easy problem to fix. I would position the players up inside the service line a few feet away from the net and have them serve over the net. During the service motion, the players need to concentrate on hitting the ball down with a downward motion into the service box on the opposite side of the net. Once they feel comfortable from a few feet away, they should move 1 step back and continue the same motion, with the end goal being to serve from the baseline with the desired downward service motion.

It just sounds like the players are getting intimidated by the distance they are having to hit the ball into the correct service box. By leading them in this simple service progression drill, they should get gain confidence in their motion and begin hitting well-directed serves over the net from the baseline.

From Esther, Atlanta, GA:

Grip the racket loosely--the better to bend the wrist way back, facing to the sky--without the 2nd & 3rd fingers.  You can hold the racket just below the bottom of the handle for more leverage.  Get the wide pendulum motion going with the toss--the racket should come around and touch the back.  Then a relaxed solid hit and forward follow-through should land the ball inside, where you want.  I've been there!  

From George, San Antonio, TX:

As a former middle school tennis coach, I also had mostly beginners who had similar problems with their serves.  To help them improve their serve, I first made sure they were using the correct grip for serving.  Many beginners first learn to hit a forehand and become comfortable with the forehand grip.  That usually means an eastern forehand grip or a semi-western forehand grip (sometimes even a western grip).  However, for serving they should be using a continental grip which allows more "wrist action" which is needed for a good serve,  
Some players can develop a decent serve with an eastern forehand grip but in my humble opinion a continental grip is preferred for developing a good serve.  The problem with beginners using an eastern or semi-western forehand grip is that they end up with their racquet in a "waiter’s tray" position (the racquet parallel to the surface of the court) which then causes the player to hit upwards on the bottom of the ball for a lob serve.  Beware; most beginners will be resistant to changing grips because it "doesn't feel right."  However, to me, it’s best that they learn early on that they won't use the same grip for every stroke
Additionally, make sure the toss is out in front of them and slightly into the court.  If the toss is too far behind them, they will again have a tendency to hit up on the bottom of the ball for a lob serve and usually have the racquet in the "waiter's tray" position while doing so.
Lastly, I have the beginners serve from the service line instead of the baseline and then gradually move them back towards the baseline as they improve their serve.
Just thought I'd pass along a few things that helped some of my beginners. I hope they help yours.
Good luck!

From Tony, Haddonfield, NJ:

One approach I use to teaching the serve, which helps getting the serve low and in, is this.
Hula Hoops. I thread a narrow pipe thru the net at the center strap with a thin rod that extends well above the tape line. Then with Velcro strips and I fasten the Hula Hoop to the rod and the net tape. This produces a large target over the center of the net.
Now the key is this: I tell my students the trick is to ignore the hoop and concentrate on the contact point. Everything happens there; pace, spin, slice, kick. Learn to hit the ball watching only the contact point. It works wonderfully well. As soon as they start looking at the hoop, high, looping serves result.
Another useful piece of advice: Tell the students to raise their heads only slightly and to view the contact point with upraised eyes. This prevents the body from going too far back hence a slight lean backward, which is not so useful.
This is sure-fire stuff. Give it a try.

From Eric, Dallas, TX:

Try having the kids take a Continental grip and have them toss the ball lower, and to the side, instead of up and into the court.  Tell them to "Peel the orange" as they take a swipe at the ball with the leading edge of the racquet.  This should produce a lower serve that spins downward and from right to left (for right handers) dipping into the service box.

From Ann Marie, Portland, OR:

First, is the toss far enough in front of them?  Balls coming back over their head because of flicking the wrist in the toss will arch the ball backward and cause a player to contact the ball underneath.   But if there toss seems to be okay, then I would bring them up into the middle of the service box to serve instead of trying to serve from the baseline.

Have them try to hit down into the correct service box starting closer to the net.  If they are close to the net, they can try to hit down on the ball and still get the ball over the net.  Chances are they are coming under the ball to make contact instead of bringing the top tip of the racket to the ball to make contact.  

If they can be successful close to the net, back them up 3 to 4 feet and have then serve from the service line.  Again, once they have had success, they can back up another 3 to 4 feet.  Repeat until they reach the baseline.
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