While all students are different, and that is one of the things that makes coaching so fun and fresh, there are some universal truths that I find myself saying repeatedly to my students. Some things I’ll rattle off more to high-performance juniors, and some of the other things to serious but recreational adults.
Off of the top of my head, I’ve ranked what may be the most common non-technical instructions I have given, from least often to most often, not necessarily least important to most important, over the course of the last year:
25. If you’re serving-and-volleying (yes, a rare occurrence these days) volley into the open court (the side of the court your opponent is not) if you can put away the volley. Go back behind your opponent if they are going to have a look at a running passing shot.
24. 80 percent of the time, people choose “up” on the racquet flip.
23. It’s a fine balance but unless your opponent’s weakness is so extremely weak it never goes in, the less you go to that weakness, the more it will break down when you actually go to it.
22. Shot selection boils down to this mathematical equation: Probability of shot going in multiplied by probability of winning the point when the shot goes in. You can’t do the math on the fly of course but you can have a sense. Most times players get passed with the second shot. In most cases, try and make your opponent hit a low volley first, which is harder to put away, which should set you up for an easier passing shot.
21. Toughness isn’t how hard you can hit but how hard you can be hit—Yes, I took that from the legendary Rocky Balboa!
20. Slicing neutralizes a point, so if you are in control of the point, don’t slice if you can hit topspin or drive the ball.
19. If your opponent loves their forehand, go wide to their forehand a lot in the first few games. It will open up the backhand and most people like hitting their forehands more from the middle of the court.
18. In doubles, if you haven’t gotten beaten in your alley at least once a set you are guarding your alley too much and can be even more aggressive.
17. Never slice a passing shot.
16. You can try to hit flat approach shots with an orange ball and small court but don’t expect them to go in too much.
15. It’s always easier to add pace to a forehand than a backhand.
14. Some players don’t want to hit a particular shot down the line. Try to pick this up quickly and when you do, cheat cross-court to the point that they know that you know they don’t want to hit that shot. You will get down the line errors or easy rally balls to hit cross-court and control the rally.
13. The ability to step into the court to put away a ball is so important and development of that is often overlooked at the 10-14-years-old age range. Often players absent of this often have trouble understanding why they hit the ball so well but can’t win.
12. Most opponents prefer returning first serves on their backhand side and second serves on their forehand side.
11. Come in like you mean it. Half of the time that you come to net, you won’t even be hitting a volley, so put pressure on your opponent using your attitude.
10. Almost all tennis, even at the professional level, is decided by errors. If you can get your racquet on the ball, you had the potential to get the ball back in play. Don’t lose site of the fact that the object of tennis is to put the ball in play one more time than your opponent.
9. Players who split-step are tennis players; kids who don’t are children who play tennis.
8. Shot tolerance is extremely important but at the same time, most points end before five shots have been made.
7. Most sports have a clock, but tennis does not. Never give up and treat each game as if it were a new match.
6. If your opponent hits a deep ball and you are going to fall back while you are hitting it, then take it on the rise.
5. When your opponent is stretched out wide and you are expecting a floater, move up to no-man’s land so you can’t get passed, and you can still close in to put away a volley.
4. Look at which way your opponent is leaning, how far back their racquet is and the angle of the racquet to anticipate their shot.
3. When you are at net playing doubles and the player diagonal from you is hitting, cheat big time towards the middle and don’t worry about your alley too much.
2. Play hard and stay focused every single point. These are the players who other parents watch from the lobby window and wonder why that child wins so often.
1. When your opponent is in trouble, move forward!
Ricky Becker is The Director of Tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club and independently coaches high-performance juniors year-round predominantly at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Teams. He was ranked number one in the Eastern Section and fourth in the United States in the 18-and-unders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 516-359-4843 or via JuniorTennisConsulting.com.