Tennis is a great sport. But it can be a little frustrating at first. You have to get to an intermediate level – able to keep a rally going with your forehand and backhand – before you can really start to have fun playing with other people.
A lot of people give up before then. Or they don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars in lessons and clinics to get to the intermediate level. And that’s a shame, because tennis is one of the best ways to exercise if you’re over 35. It’s social, it’s fun, it gets you out in the sunshine, and you hardly feel like you’re exercising.
Well, I’m about to reveal a little secret that very few beginning players ever try. But, ironically, that practically all good players have used.
You won’t hear about it from your local tennis pro because it doesn’t involve lessons. It doesn’t involve court time. In fact, it won’t cost you a cent!
But it’s so useful that I’ve even seen professional players use it.
What’s the secret? It’s hitting against a wall. Now, that may not sound exciting to you at first, so let me explain why it’s powerful.
First, when you’re just starting out as a beginner, hitting forehands and backhands against the wall can help you overcome the biggest challenge to improving: Hand-eye coordination and judging the distance between your racquet and the ball.
Beginners flub easy shots because they often don’t judge the bounce of the ball correctly. There are umpteen little adjustments in your foot position, distance to the ball, and height of the bounce that you have to make. Your teaching pro can scream “wait for the ball to reach the top of the bounce” over and over. It still doesn’t replace actually doing it hundreds of times.
Your hands, eyes and brain have to program themselves to make these adjustments. And that takes repetition. You have to hit hundreds, even thousands of the same shot, over and over, before your body can automatically make those adjustments.
There’s no better way to get this repetition in faster than hitting against a wall. You can hit 100 forehands in less than 10 minutes – even if you make mistakes. That would normally take an hour or two on the court. Can you see how that speeds up your learning time? You can get hundreds of repetitions in very quickly. And this has an amazing effect on improving to the intermediate stage in a hurry.
Next, hitting against a wall strengthens the muscles of your wrist and forearm and shoulder. It’s like doing “tennis calisthenics” with a racquet in your hand. That extra strength will help you hit better shots, too.
When you get used to hitting against the wall, you’ll discover you can practice virtually every shot in tennis. Forehands, backhands, half-volleys (pick-up shots on short bounces), volleys, even serves and overheads. You can practice overhead smashes by hitting the ball down towards the ground just in front of the wall. The ball will ricochet up off the wall and high into the air, like a lob.
Hitting against the wall helped me improve much faster than my peers when I was a junior player. Practically every good player I’ve ever spoken to has used the wall at one time or another. I’ve also seen professional players warming up against a wall.
It will help you no matter what level of player you are. It’s also a great way to work on a new shot or new technique you’re trying to learn. You can practice it over and over without the pressure of hitting against another person and having to worry about keeping the rally going.
But I’m afraid it’s also a bit of a lost art these days. It’s very difficult to find a suitable wall or backboard. Most clubs don’t have them anymore. Sometimes you can find one at a school or public tennis court park.
Here are 3 tips that will help you when hitting against the wall.
1. Use DEAD balls! The dead balls will bounce back slower from the wall, giving you more time to set up and get the right technique.
2. Find a smooth surface. Brick walls and uneven surfaces will cause the ball to fly off in weird directions and interrupt your practice. Smooth surfaces such as wood and asphalt are best.
3. Keep count and set goals. Set a goal of hitting, say, 100 forehands and 100 backhands in a practice session. When you get good, you might increase that amount. Or aim for hitting 50 or 100 backhands in a row without missing. Which, by the way, is great practice. If you can hit 20 shots in a row without missing, you’ll beat most of the players you come across.
After 50 years of playing tennis, I still love getting out and hitting against a wall every now and then. Especially when I’m trying something new. Or when I just want to get a quick tennis fix without having to arrange a game and book a court.
I hope you find it helpful, too. Let me know how it goes!