Where Should I Hit the Ball?
VISUALIZING OUTSTANDING VOLLEYS
In the early 1970s, Timothy Gallwey's highly successful book, “The Inner Game of Tennis,” had tennis players around the globe visualizing themselves hitting beautiful tennis strokes. Whether you’re a player or an instructor, it’s invaluable to provide vivid mental images to guide your drills, practice and play. Good images can also help you regain your form when you do make a mistake during match play. Instead of berating yourself, you know where to turn to recoup your shots. Frustration is a real stumbling block for beginners. Visualizing yourself hitting the ball using proper technique is a positive counter action against frustration.
The volley is the easiest stroke to hit and to teach. It’s simplicity at its best. But so many players try to overreach, overswing, and overdo. I like to start players with the image of a prizefighter. His fists are up and in front, ready. His knees are bent, and his weight is on the balls of his feet. The fighter punches from the ready position not using a roundhouse swing. If he were to take his fists back behind him, his opponent would see the opening and punch first. It’s ready and forward, not ready, back, and then forward. Kids like the idea of a punch and can be encouraged to attack the volley like a prizefighter. This image helps the players play the ball rather than the ball play the players. And, the prizefighter regains his balance and resets!
Another useful teaching tool is having players line up in the ready position against a wall or fence to hit volleys. The wall prevents them from taking a big backswing and/or stepping back. It forces players to move forward into the ball.
The third image involves placement. Early goes crosscourt; late goes down the line. How early? How late? Baseball images come in handy here. The batter hits early to left field or third base. He delays a bit to hit later toward right field or first base. I like to use targets when drilling for placement. The player needs a sense of spatial alignment. Meet the ball early with a punch to the forehand corner with the left shoulder pointed at the target in the forehand corner. (In advanced exchanges at the net, a player may only have enough time to slightly turn his shoulder). In order to place the ball in the backhand corner, a player needs to turn his left shoulder, so it points more down the center of the court. Make sure your legs are doing the work and you’re contacting the ball out in front using frontal rather than peripheral vision—like a prizefighter!
Finally, buy a manikin. Kids love to punch those volleys at someone. Dress him up. Make it fun. Put a bull's-eye on the right shoulder. Visualizing doesn't get any better than that!