A lot of new players feel uncomfortable when volleying balls out of the air. One technique I like to use to instruct the novice is called the “bump up.”
Standing at the kitchen line, I like to position players with a neutral open-faced paddle. When hitting volleys, it is important to be able to turn your paddle either way for forehands or backhands. That’s why a neutral position (pointing straight ahead) is preferred by intermediate to advanced players.
Some beginners struggle with a neutral position and prefer a forehand or backhand dominant grip and positioning of the paddle. While this might help with consistency at first, favoring one side over the other can eventually create holes and targets in your volley defense.
Opening the paddle face for the bump up is a non-threatening way for beginners to learn how to volley from a neutral paddle position. Here’s how it works.
Beginning at the kitchen line, hold your paddle out in front of you and keep your knees slightly bent and your weight balanced. Have a friend stand on the opposing kitchen line and feed you a soft volley. Without taking your arm backward, simply flip open your wrist and hold an open face. Next, lift and punch the ball back to your practice partner with a little arc. Again, bend at the knees to get low...and always return to a neutral ready position after each volley.
Make sure your paddle head is up each time so that you can be prepared for the next shot. Beginners often make the mistake of holding the paddle in a downward position, thus exposing their chest to unexpected incoming volley drives. So, keep your paddle head up—somewhere near your nose.
It is important to note that a common beginner’s mistake is to get stuck hitting volleys too far behind the body. This often happens because a player is starting with the paddle positioned in a way that favors one side, but leaves him/her having to scramble to get the paddle around to volley on the other side. A second reason some players wind up late on volleys is because they are taking long tennis-like swings, rather than just flipping the wrist and punching.
After hitting successful bump-up volleys (returning to a neutral position), decrease your paddle loft and hit slightly more firm shots. Eventually, your paddle will be nearly perpendicular to the court and you’ll be placing firm, deep volleys back in the court.
So get out there practicing with your paddle out in front of your body. Work on flipping the wrist, rather than taking your arm backward. Finally, keep an open paddle face and punch upward (don’t swing) at those volleys. Pretty soon your paddle will flatten out and you’ll be volleying like the pros.
Deb Harrison is a member of the PROLITE Pro Team. She is a 5.0 player and a teaching professional. Deb has medaled in multiple National tournaments, most recently at the Margaritaville USA National Championships in Indian Wells, CA. She brought home two silver medals and a bronze.