How do you feel about mini tennis? Most people want to rush through this preliminary warm-up or skip it altogether. But mini tennis can be a very helpful drill and players at all levels – including the pros – use mini tennis to improve their game. In this episode of Tennis Quick Tips, I'll tell you exactly how mini tennis can help you play better tennis. You can listen to this episode by clicking on the media player above or by listening in with your favorite podcast app. You can also subscribe in iTunes by clicking on this link: tennisfixation.com/itunes.
Around here, warming-up for a match, a clinic, a lesson or drills always starts with “mini tennis.” You stand at the service line and your opponent, across the net, does the same. In singles, you’re in the middle of the court, at the center of the service line, on the T. In doubles, you’re on the service line at the back of whatever service box is on the side you’ll be playing (forehand or backhand side). Then you just “tap” the ball back and forth with your opponent. The goal – keep the ball in the service box across the net and hit it after one bounce on your side. This is not a volley drill so you don’t take the ball out of the air.
Sounds boring, right? Most people want to rush through this little preliminary warm-up or try to skip it altogether. Even those who play a few minutes of mini tennis don’t try too hard – they’re OK with the ball going anywhere but the opposite service box and don’t care if they keep “lobbing” you, with the ball going over you and behind you and into the other service box and onto the next court.
But mini tennis can be a very helpful drill. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Players at all levels – including the pros – use mini tennis to improve their game. I once was on a court next to Mashona Washington, a pro ranked as high as No. 50 in the world, and watched her play mini tennis for over an hour! She was just tapping the ball back and forth over the net with a partner. And I thought, “If it’s helpful for Mashona Washington, surely it can do something for me!”
So let's make sure you understand what mini tennis is. This is not a game that uses the full court. Instead, you stand on or just behind the service line, with your partner directly across the net from you. And then each of you hits the ball back and forth, keeping the ball in the service box. You are taking a full swing with your racquet but you are not using all of your force or your power. You're not volleying or half-volleying. And if you are, you may need to back up a few steps.
Now that you know how to play mini tennis, let's talk about the benefits you can get out of playing mini tennis:
1. Mini tennis is a great warm-up.
Because you are using your full swing and moving your feet to get every single ball, mini tennis puts all of the muscles you'll be using in your match to use. But because you're not using all of your force and power, you have some time to warm-up those muscles and get your blood pumping before jumping into your match.
2. Mini tennis helps you practice placement.
By now I bet you've realized, placement is often more important than power, especially in doubles. In mini tennis, the area you are supposed to hit into is only a fraction of the size of the whole court. To be successful, you must place the ball much more accurately.
3. Mini tennis helps you practice restraint.
Most of us want to hit the ball hard. At least I do. In mini tennis, you have to learn to control your power. You are going to have to practice restraint and patience to keep the ball in and to keep the rally going. Restraint can be a very valuable tool during a match when a small tap over the net results in a point won where a hard whack at the ball often ends up in the bottom of the net or off the court.
4. Mini tennis helps you practice topspin.
One way to keep a ball in during a full-court game is to take a full swing at the ball, hit hard and flat and cross your fingers that the ball doesn’t go out. Another way is to take a full swing with topspin, causing the ball to drop in at the last minute. In mini tennis, you can practice this by taking a full swing at the ball, a complete stroke, and keeping it in with topspin. You will have to put massive topspin on that ball to get it into the opposite service box, much more than you would usually use in a match.
5. Mini tennis helps you with footwork.
When you are playing mini tennis against someone who really doesn’t care where their ball goes, you will find yourself running down all kinds of things. When this happens, don’t get frustrated with players who do not know how to do a “proper warm-up.” If you can consistently respond to this by not only returning those balls, but also placing them back in the opposite service box, i.e., playing proper mini tennis, you will not only be warmed-up, you will eventually have vastly improved footwork.
How do you feel about mini tennis? Love it? Hate it? Let me know my leaving a comment below.
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