12-essential-tennis-drills-for-beginners-and-kids

12 Essential Tennis Drills for Beginners & Kids

Teaching the fundamentals

If you’re just getting started with tennis, drills can be a great way to learn the fundamentals, develop proper technique, improve consistency, build confidence, and accelerate learning. As with most sports, tennis involves the process of stringing together a complex set of movements.

Recognizing this, we can break down the complex set of movements to independent movements, teach proper technique, and slowly build a player’s confidence, so that they can eventually start combining movements.

Try to jump straight to hitting groundstrokes from the baseline with a beginner, and you’ll likely see them flailing and frustrated before long.

In this article, we’re going to look at the following 12 essential tennis drills for beginners and kids. Each drill will build upon the next in a natural progression helping introduce students to a variety of concepts while providing detailed instructions so you can run the drills on your own.

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Warm-Up – Running the Lines

Before your students even begin to hit, I’ve always found it helpful to build some anticipation and get their blood flowing. A great way to do this is to teach players how to run the lines of the tennis court. In my article, running the lines in tennis, I cover the complete drill.

I like this drill for two reasons. One it helps get the player warm and loose, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to point out the names for the lines of the tennis court, which you’ll be referring to throughout the following drills.

The Frying Pan

If your player is a complete beginner and just getting started with tennis, it can be extremely beneficial to start with the basics, such as hand-eye coordination. Most players who’ve been playing for some time take it for granted; however, hand-eye coordination is a key fundamental and critical to any player’s success.

The dribble, while a simple drill, can help your player develop their hand-eye coordination, while at the same time helping them become familiar with the feel of their tennis racquet and developing a sense of touch when contacting the tennis ball.

To start, have your player hold their racquet in their dominant hand face-up, like a frying pan, and have them place a tennis ball on the face, or strings of their racquet. Then, have them slowly start moving the head of the racquet up and down until the ball begins bouncing on their strings. Once it starts bouncing, have them keep it bouncing for as long as possible.

Some players will find this drop-dead simple, especially those who have developed great hand-eye coordination through other sports. Seeing how your student performs at this drill will help you identify their basic level of skill.

If they struggle at first, don’t let them get discouraged. Confidence is key for new players, so encourage them to keep trying and assure them that if they practice frequently, they’ll have it down in no time.

Once they get comfortable with the drill, you can have them begin twisting the racquet 180 degrees in their hand between bounces to help further develop their skill.

The Dribble

This next drill is simply an upside-down version of the frying pan. Again, have your player hold their racquet in their dominant hand and a tennis ball in their opposite hand.

Next, have them drop the ball in front of themselves and hit it with their racquet toward the ground. The ball should move toward the ground and then bounce back up so that they can continue hitting until they get a nice consistent dribble going.

Depending on the type of tennis racquet your player is using, it might be helpful for them to choke up a bit on the handle to make the drill a bit less harsh on their wrist and forearm.

Encourage your player to move around as the ball moves to make sure they can keep the dribble going. Have them keep it going as long as they can and count how many seconds they last to make a game out of it.

If you’re looking to change the level of difficulty, you can have them start at a slow dribble, increase the speed of the dribble, and then slowly decrease back to a slow dribble.

Simple Forehands & Backhands

The first two drills, if practiced frequently, will begin to develop your player’s hand-eye coordination slowly. Since they are easy to practice virtually anywhere, encourage them to practice the drills at home to improve their skills.

For this next drill, you’ll need to position your player at one end of the court at the center of the service line, where the center service line and service line connect. Have your player position themselves for either a forehand or a backhand.

You should stand slightly in front and 4-6 feet to the side of the player with a basket of balls. Before you start the drill, it can be a great time to explain the different grips and have them find one that feels natural.

While there is no perfect grip, having an understanding of the different types of tennis grips will help you understand the limitations of various grips so that you can encourage your player to use a particular style.

Next, demonstrate how you’d like them to hit their forehand. At this point, I typically avoid mention of the backswing and have the student start their racquet at about waist height to keep things simple. My main focus will usually be a strong follow-through.

Once they’re ready, toss one tennis ball at a time so that it bounces in front of the player, about waist high, and have them hit their groundstroke.

If you started with the forehand, simply switch to the opposite side, demonstrate the next stroke and proper grip, and then toss another basket of balls. Keep track of how many you can hit over the net to make a game out of it.

The great part about this drill is it takes much of the complexity out of hitting a groundstroke.

Typically, when hitting groundstrokes, you’re doing the following, all while ensuring you maintain proper form and technique.

  • Moving your feet
  • Tracking your opponent with your eyes
  • Making a split step
  • Judging ball speed, depth, and spin
  • Moving forward or backward to ensure you can make contact with the tennis ball at an ideal height

That’s a lot to put together when you’re first starting. As such, this drill removes most of the complexity from hitting a groundstroke so you can focus on proper technique while keeping your student mostly stationary and making it easy for you to make contact with the ball.

A less complicated drill is important for two reasons: It will help further strengthen their hand-eye coordination, and it will also help build their confidence in making contact with the tennis ball.

Ball Toss Forehands & Backhands

Next, we’ll take the simple forehands and backhands drill, and add a ball toss, which will force your student to start judging ball speed, move their feet a little and focus on their timing. It will also begin to simulate the feeling of playing tennis by putting you and your students on opposite sides of the net.

With your basket of balls, head to one side of the court and stand on the center service line 2 to 3 feet from the net. Have your students stand at the center of the service line, ready for a forehand or backhand.

In this variation, you’ll gently toss a tennis ball toward the player so that it bounces in front of them about waist high. For you, this may feel like the same drill as the last. However, there is a critical difference for the player.

Where in the last drill the ball was barely moving and simply bouncing in front of the player, this drill forces the player to judge the speed of the ball and slowly adjust their footing to help ensure they can make contact with the tennis ball.

Side to Side Forehands and Backhands

Now that our student is gaining some confidence, we can repeat the drill with a slight twist. Rather than tossing a ball directly to the player’s forehand or backhand, we can have them start in the ready position and alternate tossing balls to their forehand and backhand.

I’ll usually discuss the importance of the ready position and keeping the racquet head high so that they’re prepared for when I toss the ball. However, I typically won’t introduce the split step just yet.

At this point, you should be able to assess whether a player feels comfortable with the strokes. Depending on how comfortable they are, you may choose to stick to the drill or take a step back to continue practicing the previous two drills until they feel more comfortable.

It’s important to challenge your students. However, there’s a fine line between challenge and frustration, which can make a big difference in how a player feels about their progress.

If your student is excelling with this drill, you can step it up a bit by not telling them whether you’re going to toss them a forehand or a backhand. Between moving their feet, switching to the proper grip, and judging the depth of the ball, many beginner tennis players will find this challenging yet doable, which is where you want your player to be.

Hit and Catch

In this next tennis drill, which is excellent for beginners and kids, we’ll switch things up a bit. You’ll want to have a cone on hand for this drill. First, have your students stand at the center of the service line in their ready position, waiting for a forehand.

You’ll want to stand on the center service line, about halfway between the net and the service line, with a few balls in your pocket and the cone in your hand. With the previous drills, my main goal is to introduce the player to the basics and get them comfortable on the court so that I can slowly build their confidence.

However, after your student becomes comfortable with the previous drills, this drill can be helpful to challenge them a bit more, simply by asking them to direct their shots.

Once you’re both ready, you’ll want to toss the ball to your student’s forehand and ask them to hit it right back to you so that you can catch it with the cone – either in the air or off the bounce.

There’s nothing particularly special about the cone other than that it adds a bit of novelty, which keeps the drill interesting. It’s also slightly more challenging to catch the ball than using their hands. Repeat this process for their backhand and then ask them to switch positions with you.

Now the player should be tossing you the ball, and they should be catching.

The benefits of this drill are twofold. First, your students will start to recognize the importance of being able to hit the ball in a specific direction, and they’ll also be working to develop their hand-eye coordination.

You can make this into a simple game by having your student try to surpass the number of successful hits and catches from their previous turn.

Forward and Backward, Forehands and Backhands

One of the biggest challenges for new players is judging the speed and depth of a tennis ball that is coming toward them – something experienced players take for granted.

In this drill, we’ll challenge the student to develop their feel for speed and depth of the tennis ball, which they’d experience in a live rally.

With your basket of balls, head to one side of the court and stand on the center service line, 2 to 3 feet from the net. Have your player stand at the center of the service line, ready for a forehand or backhand.

In this drill, you’re going to start by tossing them a ball that doesn’t require them to move too much, as you did with the drill “ball toss forehands and backhands.” However, on the next shot, you’re going to toss the ball a bit shorter, which forces them to move toward the ball and hit their shot.

After each shot, the player should return to the service line. Next, you’ll want to toss a ball that forces your students to move back to be able to hit their shot.

During this drill, you can stress the importance of footwork to help position yourself to catch the ball at about waist height to ensure a consistent stroke every time, no matter where they are on the court.

You can take this drill to the next level by not telling them whether you’re going to toss it short, right at them, or long, which will force them to anticipate and watch you and the ball more closely to gauge how they’ll have to move.

Serve Toss Accuracy

When learning to serve, one of the most underrated fundamentals is developing a great toss. As a result, when teaching a beginner or young student, it can be extremely beneficial to start with a toss.

With a basket of balls, head to the service line on either side of the court. Next, position your student to serve into the deuce court, or just to the right of and behind the center service line.

For this drill, we’re going to start the player at the service line rather than the baseline to make the idea of hitting a serve less daunting.

Next, with the student standing in a closed stance, place the bottom of the basket on the ground in front of them at about 2 o’clock if they’re right-handed, and about 10 o’clock if they are left-handed.

With the player in position, teach them the fundamentals of a proper toss, including tossing from the shoulder, keeping a smooth movement, how to hold the ball to ensure a clean release, and the approximate height they should be tossing the ball.

The goal is for the player to consistently toss the ball in or within a few inches of the basket. You can make a game out of it by awarding 3 points for making it in the basket, 2 points for hitting the basket, and 1 point for missing the basket completely.

If you don’t have a basket with handles that can fold to the side so that it sits on the ground, you can also position the player’s racquet on the ground and have the string bed of the racquet act as the target.

Simple Service Motions

Once the player has begun to develop a solid feel for their toss, you can move onto this drill to help them develop a proper service motion.

For this drill, the player won’t need their racquet, so you can have them place it to the side. With the same court positioning as the last drill, have the player hold the ball in their dominant hand.

In this drill, we’re going to break the service motion down into three phases, or positions.

In the first position, we’ll have the students raise both their arms, keeping them straight to form a “t.” You might want to reference this as “spread your wings” or something similar, so they remember the pose.

Have them practice making this a smooth motion until they feel comfortable, and you think they’re keeping proper form.

Next, we’ll have them add in the second position. Have each student “spread their wings,” and then have them drop their dominant arm’s elbow and raise their tossing hand to form the “trophy pose.” They should create a clean line that stretches from the hand of their tossing arm down through the shoulders to the elbow of their dominant arm.

At first, have them move to position one, pause, and then move to the next. Once each student gets the hang of it, have them link the two movements together smoothly.

Lastly, have them incorporate the third position where they drop their tossing arm, twist their torso, and then extend their dominant arm forward until it’s completely extended, at which point they can release the ball into the service box.

Have them repeat the service motion so that you can watch their form and provide feedback. The serve can be a daunting and complicated motion for players, so this drill can help simplify it and make each part of the action more concrete for the player.

Toss and Block Volleys

In this drill, we’re going to introduce our students to volleys. In the most basic sense, volleys are catching the ball in the air before it bounces and blocking it back to the opposite side of the court.

In practice, volleys can involve a lot of complex movements, so we’re going to start simply by getting them comfortable at the net.

Start by ensuring your player is using a continental grip, in which the player holds their racquet as if it were a hammer.

Have your student stand on the center service line, 3 or 4 feet from the net. You can head to the opposite side of the court and stand at the service line, or a few feet closer to the net, along the center service line as well.

Before tossing any balls, go over the basic movement for a forehand volley. Have them get in their starting position with their racquet head at about eye level, and knees slightly bent.

Next, have them release their hand and step their opposite foot forward across their body while keeping their racquet in front to punch the ball. It’s important to stress that they shouldn’t swing at volleys, as this is a tendency for beginners.

It can also be helpful to mention that they should avoid “breaking” their wrist by keeping their racquet head firmly in position. In many cases, the player will need to bend their knees and get low, so that their racquet and head are about level with the tennis ball when they’re hitting it.

Once they’re comfortable with the movement, have them hit a series of forehands, then repeat the same process for their backhand.

The backhand can be awkward for some players at first and particularly hard on their arm, so be sure to encourage them to use two hands at first if their arm isn’t strong enough to support the racquet.

You can make this drill increasingly difficult by alternating forehands and backhands and then not telling them which direction you’re going to toss the ball.

Split Step Volleys

In this final drill, we’re going to introduce our students to the all-important split step, which will help them gain their balance before hitting a volley so that they can quickly move in the direction of the ball to hit a forehand or backhand volley.

You’ll want to position yourself in the same way as the previous drill. However, this time you’ll have your player start in the middle of the service line.

Start by explaining the split step and its importance as it relates to volleys. Next, show them how to perform a split-step standing in place and have them repeat it a few times.

Then, demonstrate moving forward a few steps and ending in a split-step with their knees slightly bent so that they’re ready to move forward into a forehand or backhand.

Once you feel like your students have the concept down, have them start back on the service line. They’re going to be putting together quite a few new skills at this point, so I’d recommend practicing only their forehand or backhand to start.

Have them take a few steps forward and then call out “split,” and toss the ball to their forehand, at which point they should step forward with their opposite foot to punch the ball.

Have your students repeat this process for their backhand. If they’re getting the hang of it, you can make this drill a bit more challenging by not telling them where you’re going to toss the ball.

Wrapping Up

While this is one set of tennis drills for beginners, it’s important to note that there are hundreds of other great tennis drills to get players started.

Depending on your player and their skill level, you may need to adjust the drills to keep your student challenged or to keep them from getting overly frustrated, which may lead to burnout.

As the instructor, it’s helpful to keep a high level of energy and offer plenty of encouragement. You’ll find this helps keep your students excited and engaged.

At the same time, it’s important to evaluate your player carefully during each drill and introduce new drills depending on whether they are picking things up quickly or not.

Hopefully, you enjoyed these drills and found them helpful. Have suggestions for other tennis drills for beginners? Let us know in the comments below.

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