Watch the Ball
If “watch the ball” is a phrase you often use, then try to be more specific. Most players watch a green blur at best, and some only watch the ball until it bounces. The lines and the logo on the ball can be invaluable to your students. Either one can be used as a focus point to help them make better contact. Ask your next student to “watch the lines on the ball” or “watch the logo” and notice how they immediately begin to strike the ball better.
Listen to the Ball
Before flight patterns were altered, play would stop at the U.S. Open while planes flew overhead. Professional players knew the value of hearing the ball, in addition to seeing their opponent hit it. Your students should be no different, but few realize the signals that ball sound can give them. The difference in sound between a firmly hit ball and a finesse shot is obvious, and when combined with players seeing height and spin, the reaction phase of each stroke can be expedited. Explain the difference in sound of a mishit ball, and players will be waiting on the shorter ball that usually follows.
Read the Ball
80% of balls that are hit by a balanced opponent are hit across their body i.e. right handed forehand from the deuce side will go crosscourt; backhand will go down the line. So why do tennis professionals teach students to track with the ball? Your students can be taught to cover the middle of the court when their opponent is hitting a balanced “outside” shot (right hand forehand/left hand backhand) from the deuce side, and give up the alley. Players cover their own half of the court when the opponent is hitting a balanced “inside” shot (right hand backhand/left hand forehand). The opposite is true on the Ad side. All players are afraid to get “burned” down the alley. Your explanation should include how many times they are getting “burned” crosscourt. Teaching tracking with the ball is not wrong – your students will rarely get burned down the alley, but they will also rarely hit a ball at the net.
Follow the Lob
Most students are aware of two pieces of information: a lob hit usually brings a lob in return; and if their lob bounces, they go to the net. Unfortunately, the piece that is often left out is that having either player closes inside the service box, the outcome is normally not good. Most players move significantly better forward than back. So if the player nearest the net remains on or moves to the service line on a bouncing lob, and the baseline player closes to the service line, then both players are in a position to both defend against a great lob or attack a weak return.
Get Out of the Ocean
Our students are used to being told to “stay out of no-mans-land”. The difficulty with this phrase is that this area is somewhat random. A fellow pro once called the entire back half of the court “The Ocean”. Your players can “swim” between the service line and the baseline for a short while, but if they stay in there too long they will “drown”. Your explanation should include that moving through the box is okay, pausing to read the ball or hit the ball is acceptable, but hanging out or “swimming” is the beginning of the end.
Make Your Opponents Hit Up
Beginner players tend to hit the ball softly in order to get the ball in the court. As players advance, they typically feel that hitting the ball harder will increase their chances of winning. While this may be true in some cases, the reality is that increased ball speed does not allow the drop on its own. Players need to be made aware that attacking a waist high volley will probably give your net opponent the opportunity to attack back due to the height of the ball when it reaches them. The team volleying down will usually beat the team volleying up. Advanced players learn have learned which balls to attack, and which balls to hit defensively.
Touch Every Ball
No ball is unreachable – not one. Teach your students to have a mindset that they will get a racquet on every ball. Nothing is let go because they don’t think they can get there, or they think the shot is too good. Their initial reaction may be correct, but soon your players will find themselves reaching balls they would not have tried for in the past, and then they will begin to get those balls back in the court. Don’t let your students underestimate their ability.