Program Plus-On Court with Coach Mazza

“Whoever hits the most tennis balls (the right way) wins”  –  The late Jimmy Evert, father of former world #1 Chris Evert


We are very lucky to have such a great group of players (and families) who train with us here at HAT.  This month marks HAT’s 5 year anniversary, and I have been here since the very beginning.  It has been my experience that the players who stick with us the longest and train the most end up seeing the greatest improvement.  We have the stats to back it up too: HAT players who train consistently with us for at least two years improve their USTA national ranking 315 spots, on average.

If you are a HAT player who attends practice two days per week, is there a way for you to attend three days per week?  If you are a HAT player who already attends three days per week, how can you get to HAT for four days?  Here’s the bottom line: figure out ways to play more tennis!

On the other hand, it seems as though more and more junior tennis players are only practicing their tennis game with their coach on court.  While time on court with your program and coach is extremely important, make sure to expand your options; don’t limit yourself.  Become an ambitious and independent practice animal – practice before practice, then go to practice, and then practice after practice.  (If you need help finding the time, see my October newsletter article on time blocking to help organize your schedule and priorities.)

As we approach the colder, snowier, winter months here in Colorado, indoor tennis court time will become increasingly scarce.  As a result, it may become more challenging for motivated, goal-oriented players to practice as often as they would like (especially those who typically practice on outdoor courts).

There is no program in the country like HAT’s that will help you reach your high-level, ambitious goals.  It is “program plus” – a world-class, well-rounded program with proven results.  And remember: you don’t necessarily need a tennis court all the time to practice – be creative!  Below you will find some ideas to kick start your independent practice sessions at home or elsewhere.

Shadow Swings
There is a great quote from the movie Hoosiers, which goes: “Practice isn’t designed for your pleasure; it’s designed for your improvement.”  I will admit that shadow swings are not the most fun form of practice, but be engaged in the improvement process.  After all, the real gratification comes from improving, which leads to winning.  As Vic Braden said, “Winning comes from skills, and skills come from practice and know-how.”

In order to become a high-level player, one must have a solid technical stroke foundation.  Find a mirror at home, and perform rounds of shadow swings of the seven basic strokes (forehand volley, forehand groundstroke, backhand volley, backhand groundstroke, backhand slice, overhead, serve).  The best part about the mirror is that it will provide immediate feedback and give you insight into certain aspects of your strokes that you may not have been aware of.

  • Drill Ideas:
    • Start with static balance – don’t rush through it, and check the checkpoints.
    • Then, add in some dynamic practice with footwork.  You can alternate forehand and backhand volley, forehand and backhand groundstroke, and even alternate topspin and underspin.

Cone Hits
Athletes from virtually every other sport work on technique constantly.  However, most tennis players seem to miss this boat and think they “just need to play more matches.”  At HAT, we teach our players to not be too cool for school and to learn from other athletes.  Major League Baseball players are constantly working on their swing mechanics.  I have heard that Derek Jeter would pay someone $250,000 annually to watch him hit off a tee, and Manny Ramirez would bring his tee with him on road trips so that he could practice with it in his hotel room.  Here at HAT, we eliminate the guesswork.  We can break each stroke down step-by-step for our players using the word-picture method.

  • Drill Ideas:
    • Start with static balance by standing directly behind the cone, taking one step back then one step to your left to perform a forehand groundstroke (or one step to your right for a backhand groundstroke).
    • Then, similar to shadow swings, add in dynamic practice with footwork.

Toss and Catch
No one ascends alone.  Whether we realize it or not, we all need help to improve and ultimately achieve our goals.  Find anyone you can (sibling, friend, parent, etc.), and politely ask them to toss you some balls.  If you do this drill inside your house, I would recommend using a softer ball such as an orange or foam ball so as to not break any furniture or decorations.

  • Drill Ideas:
    • Static balance hit and hold (groundstrokes and volleys)
      • Have the tosser toss the ball onto your strings for a volley or have them toss it on one bounce about three steps away for a groundstroke.  Hit the ball back to the tosser and hold a balanced finish.
    • Hot potato (volleys)
      • Have the tosser toss the ball onto your strings for a volley.  The hitter should hit and then quickly reset right back to their perfect ready position.  Right when the tosser catches the ball, they should toss the ball again immediately (as if the ball were hot). The tosser should be holding at least a few balls as backup in case one drops.  The tosser can choose to feed all forehands, all backhands, alternating forehand and backhand, or a random combination of both.

Ball on a String Hanging from the Ceiling
Overheads are typically the least-practiced shot amongst tennis players, and the serve is the most important shot in tennis.  An overhead is actually an abbreviated serve, so working on either one can have a positive impact on both shots.  The consistency of the serve and overhead depends on the throwing motion, timing, and the contact point.  Program your swing to your toss on your serve; the more consistent your actual toss is, the more consistent your serve will be.

  • Drill Idea:
    • I would recommend hanging the ball so that it is as high as the sweet spot on the strings of the particular player’s racket.  Also, it may be necessary to choke up towards the top of the grip and/or sit in a chair if you are practicing on a ball hanging from a low ceiling.

Hit on the Wall/Backboard
In my personal experience, players who hit on a wall consistently throughout their junior career tend to end up playing at the college level.  Many current and former top players speak about their love of simply hitting tennis balls, and many of these players grew up hitting on a wall, backboard, or even their garage door.  When hitting against the wall, it is important to focus on quality as much as quantity.

Legend has it that Caroline Wozniacki’s father spent most of his time over a 4-year period giving his attention to Caroline’s older brother (who was better at the time) and told Caroline to go hit on the wall.  After improving to the point where she could beat her brother, her father shifted his focus to her.  Her brother quit tennis shortly thereafter (fun fact: he is now a professional soccer player).  Caroline went on to achieve a #1 world ranking in 2010.

On average, a player can hit six times as many balls per hour on the wall than with another person.  As a matter of fact, we have had one particular, long-time HAT player hit so many balls on the wall in his garage that he put a hole in it!

  • Drill Ideas
    • Groundstroke “Wall Challenge”
      • We have a hitting wall at our indoor facility here at HAT, and only a select handful of players have successfully completed the “wall challenge”.  It consists of two levels:
        • Level 1: Player must make 100, 500, and 1000 shots all in a row over the painted net line with a red ball, then repeat the same pattern with an orange ball and, finally, the same pattern with a regular ball (player may hit any stroke)
        • Level 2: Player must make 100, 500, and 1000 shots in a row with a regular ball on the forehand side, then repeat the same patterns on the backhand side
    • Play a set
      • To start the point, serve the ball into the wall over the painted net line, and then proceed to make eight groundstrokes in a row, alternating forehand and backhand.  You must make all eight shots to win the point.  Serve out the entire set, and the goal is to beat the wall 6-0!

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