Welcome to Pre Season kids, meet your Continental grip
As a tennis coach, I primarily work with kids between 8 and 14 years old who enjoy playing and improving. These kids are in year 4 through to around year 10 with some staying on the path longer. This period of about 6 years will see the kids have a training routine during the term time and then a school holiday schedule.
Training and playing blocks in a school year
These kids play in a school year cycle of 4 terms (around 10 week training blocks) along with 3 blocks of 2 weeks of term holidays and 1 block of between 6 – 8 weeks of summer holidays.
What is the beginning of the year?
I find it easiest to consider term 2 the beginning of the year. Term 2 starts just as the competitive part of the tennis year in the Jan – April period finishes. This includes summer pennants along with school tennis, term 1 holiday tournaments, club championships, representative teams and more. So Term 2 is the pre season.
What to do in the pre season ?
On court, we want to do anything that needs to happen that takes the longest time to achieve. Its the beginning so you want to learn/teach something that will take some time to achieve but will be a foundation for other areas as the year goes through.
This year for my term 2 private lessons, my focus has been on continental grips. It is the most commonly used grip in tennis. All but the forehand, the one hand backhand (arguable but eastern backhand would be 1st choice), the kick serve and what the left hand does on a DH backhand will involve the continental grip. Sometimes the continental grip doesn’t take a hold on a kids game and it can take years to achieve it whilst they use a compromised grip as they develop. It ain’t easy teaching continental grips for us coaches. I have tried a thousand different ways and it is still a slow burn but so important. Continental Grips include FH and BH Volley, Slice backhand, DH Backhand (lower hand), Serve, Drop Shot, Smash. Slice/Chip forehand.
Generally speaking, I will try and not feed too much and use a more open learning, game based approach. I prefer encouraging a serve start or the players own drop feed. But in term 2, I feed alot more than other parts of the year. I am also including a volley challenge each week for the term. Its a fun test for the kids and although I haven’t actually been timing it, the improvement each week has been noticeable with all students. I have done similar activities before but formalising it to be the ‘8 level volley challenge’ will hopefully will yield some benefits.
8 Level Volley Challenge
The 8 Level Volley Challenge is a fancy name for a game to help the kids improve their continental grips and compete against themselves. The coach stands close to net and gives easy feeds to the player who must using correct technique to hit the spots.
Level 1 and 2 – land the ball in the coach basket which is located 1 metre from the net and 1 metre from the centre line. Forehand and then Backhand.
Level 3 and 4 – land the ball in the coach basket which is located in the middle of the service box, forehand and then backhand. Athough you wont very often want to land a ball in the middle of the service box, it gives them a chance to get strength with their grip.
Level 5 and 6 – Either land the ball in or hit the top part of the coach basket on the full. The basket is located 1 racquet length in from the singles sideline on the service line and you do both forehand and then backhand side.
Level 7 and 8 – Either land the ball in or hit any part of the coach basket on the full. The basket is located 1 racquet length in from the singles sideline and 1 racquet length in from the baseline.
Things to emphasise
- Keep correct grip.
- Support the throat with other hand
- Keep swing compact and in front of body
- Start low
- For Level 5 and above emphasise the leg transition from the pivot to the front leg.
- If they miss the target but are close, tell them to be encouraged by being close not discouraged by missing closely.
I am on week 4 of this regime so time will tell how well they get a hold of their continental grips. If they improve it through the volleys then when I transition this to the slice or chip shot it should come together nicely. That is the plan anyway.
Apology to the purists
As a player my forehand is semi western to western. I also used to not respect the use of continental grip focusing instead on topspin and the modern ‘Spanish’ style methodology. I did this as a player and stumbled my way through continental grips with my soft hands carrying me alot more than my correct grip use. I started a little bit this way as a coach for a few years before coming to terms with the importance of teaching this at an early age and at the earliest part of the tennis year. So to those ‘old school players and coaches’ who I thought focused on outdated values and methods, I stand corrected and agree that the development of the Continental grip is essential early and then develop explosive power and top spin together with that continental grip proficiency will complete a player.