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 is really just the process of stringing together a complex set of movements.
Recognizing this, we can break down the complex set of movements to unique independent movements, teach proper technique and slowly build a players 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 too 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 your student to a variety of concepts, while providing detailed instructions so you can run the drills on your own.
- Warm Up – Running the Lines
- The Frying Pan
- The Dribble
- Simple Forehands and Backhands
- Ball Toss Forehands and Backhands
- Side to Side Forehands and Backhands
- Hit and Catch
- Forward and Backward, Forehands and Backhands
- Service Toss Accuracy
- Simple Service Motions
- Toss and Block Volleys
- Split Step Volleys
Warm Up – Running the Lines
Before your player even begins 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 the player how to run the lines of the tennis court. In my article, running the lines in tennis, I cover the complete drill from start to finish, which should provide you with a good overview.
I like this drill for two reasons. One it helps get the player warm and loose, but it’s also a great opportunity to point out the names for the different lines of the tennis court, which you’ll often 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 players success.
The dribble, while a very basic 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 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 starts bouncing on their strings. Once it starts bouncing, have them keep it bouncing for as many times as they can.
Some players will find this drill drop dead simple, especially those who have developed great hand eye coordination through other sports. However, 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 ensure 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 off the strings to help further develop their skill.
This next drill is simply and 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 the ball with their racquet towards the ground. The ball should move towards 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 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 slowly develop your players hand eye coordination. 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 of and a 4-6 feet off to the side of the player with a basket of balls. Before you start into the drill this can be a great time to explain the different grips and have them find one that feels natural for them.
While there is no perfect grip, having and 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 will avoid mention of the backswing and have them start their racquet at about waist height to keep things simple. Instead, my main focus will typically be placed on the importance of the 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 ground stroke.
If you started with your forehand simply switch to the opposite side and toss, 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 ground stroke.
Typically when hitting groundstrokes you’re moving your feet, tracking your opponent with your eyes, making a split step, judging ball speed, depth and spin, and then moving forward or backward to ensure you can make contact with the tennis ball at an ideal height – all while ensuring you maintain proper form and technique.
That’s a lot to put together when you’re first starting out. As such, this drill removes most of the complexity from hitting a groundstroke so you can focus with your player on proper technique, while keeping your student mostly stationary and making it easy for you to make contact with the ball.
This 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 and Backhands
Next up, we’ll take the previous 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 start to simulate the feeling of playing tennis by putting you and your student 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 about two to three feet from the net. As in the last drill, have your player stand at the center of the service line standing ready for a forehand or backhand.
In this variation, you’ll gently toss a tennis ball towards the player so that it bounces in front of them about waist high. For you, this may feel like exactly 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 will be starting to gain some confidence we can repeat the above drill with a slight twist. Rather than tossing a ball directly to the players forehand or backhand we can have them start in the ready position and alternate tossing balls to their forehand and backhand.
I’ll usually take a moment to discuss the importance of the ready position and keeping the racquet head high, so that they’re ready for when the ball is tossed, however I typically won’t introduce the split step just yet to keep things simple.
At this point you should be able to assess whether or not a player feels comfortable with the strokes. Depending on how comfortable they are you may choose to stick to the drill or potentially take a step back to continue practicing the previous two drills until they feel more comfortable.
It’s important to challenge your student, 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 you’re student is excelling with this drill, you can step it up a bit more 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 exactly where you want your player to be.
Hit and Catch
In this next tennis drill, which is great for beginners and kids, we’ll switch things up a bit, however you’ll want to have a cone on hand for this drill. Once again, have your student stand at the center of the service line standing 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 cone in 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 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 student will start to recognize the importance of being able to hit the ball in a certain direction and they’ll also be working to further 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
As mentioned previously one of the biggest challenges for new players is judging the speed and depth of a tennis ball that is coming towards them – something most experienced players take for granted.
In this drill we’ll challenge the student to further 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, about two to three 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 towards the ball and hit their shot.
After each shot, the player should then return to the service line. Next you’ll want to toss a ball that forces your student to move backwards to be able to hit their shot.
This is a great time to stress the importance of footwork to help position yourself to catch the ball at about waist height to ensure a consistent stroke each and every time, no matter where they are on the court.
You can take this drill to the next level simply 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.
Service 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 to underscore its importance.
With a basket of balls, head to the service line on either side of the court. Next, position your student as if they were going to serve into the deuce court or just to the right of and behind the center service line.
We’re going to start the player at the service line to make the idea of hitting a serve less daunting compared to working from the baseline.
Next, with the student standing in a closed stance place the basket, off it’s legs so the bottom of the basket sits on the ground, in front of your player. It should be placed 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 nice smooth movement, how to hold the ball to ensure a clean release and the approximate height they should be tossing the ball.
The goal of the drill is to have the player consistently toss the ball and have it land in or within a few inches of the basket. You can make a game out of it by awarding 3 points for making 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 players racquet on the ground in front of them and have the string bed of the racquet act as the same 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 in 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 student 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 you feel they’re keeping proper form.
Next, we’ll have them add in the second position. Have them “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 be forming a nice 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 position two. Once they get a 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 complex motion for players, so this drill can help simplify it and make each part of the motion more concrete for the player.
Toss and Block Volleys
In this drill we’re going to introduce our student to volleys. In the most basic sense, volleys are simply 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 ensure your player is holding a continental grip, in which the player holds their racquet as if it were a hammer.
Have your student head to one side of the court and stand on the center service line and about three or four feet from the net. You can head over 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 their way go over the basic movement for a forehand volley. Have them get in their starting position with their racquet head held at about eye level and knees slightly bent.
Next, have them release their hand and have them step their opposite foot forward and across their body keeping their racquet in front of their head to punch the ball with their racquet. It can be 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 they’re 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 student to the all important split step, which will help them gain their balance prior to 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 at the middle of the service line.
Start by explaining the split step and it’s importance as it relates to volleys. Next, show them how to perform a proper 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 they 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 them repeat this process for their backhand. If you’re feeling 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.
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 be adjusted 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 can be helpful to keep a high level of energy and offer plenty of encouragement. You’ll find this helps keep your student excited and engaged.
At the same time, it’s important to evaluate your player closely during each drill and be comfortable enough to 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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