Successful basket drills are possible

Tennis practice is constructed by drills most of the time. Coaches use drills to correct technical mistakes, improve tactical decisions or to shape physical form. Anybody who teaches tennis knows hundreds of activities which can make learning easier and faster. Players can learn by different methods of teaching and by various drills. The most famous methods are basket feeding, hand feeding, rally and shadowing. All of these approaches have own unique advantages and disadvantages so this is a role for a coach to decide which way is appropriate for a given player and at a given time. Many coaches think that live ball drills are more effective because of their similarity to the game specification. It is true that they are effective but it doesnt mean that basket drills shouldnt be used at all.


            Before I will start talking about possible solutions, we have to come back to the origins of the basket drills. Coaches from Australia started to use basket in the past times because they wanted to put more emphasis on repetitions. Many years ago, coaches had a few balls on the court so after one set of activity, they had to make a break to pick up balls. It made intensity really low and repetitions were restricted. Thats why coaches started to use basket to have many balls at the same time and to be able to play many shots with high intensity. As we all know, basket feeding can improve all areas of the tennis skills including endurance, strokes technique or tactical wisdom. However, to make any drill as effective as possible, we have to make this drill similar to the match conditions.


            Firstly, when we think about the drills, we have to consider sports specification. Tennis is an unique game with all the time changing environment. One rally can be finished after one shot (serves ace) and another one can last as long as 30 shots (clay court rally). Taking into consideration this important information we should start mixing the repetitions up. Many coaches have the same number of repetitions in each set (for example 6 sets of 10 forehands cross-court) so it takes this drill far away from the tennis reality. Different numbers of repetitions (6 shots, 12 shots, 23 shots, 2 shots) should be incorporated into the same drill to make it more tennis specific. We have to remember that tennis rallies put players into 2 primary endurance systems (aerobic, anaerobic) so mixing up the length of the drill trains players to play in these systems. Another advantage of this idea is that many players struggle after long rally (e.g 23 shots) and they cant perform on the same level in the next short rally (e.g 3 shots). Training in the changing environment is exactly what we are going to face in the tournament so practicing in the same conditions can make us better prepared.


            Second idea of making basket drills more successful is related to the spin of the ball. Spin, which we use regularly in a match, have a big influence on opponents response. Many players dont like to answer the slice shot because they have to use more topspin and bend their knees deeper to avoid mistake. Another example of spins importance can be clearly illustrated on somebody who struggles with heavy topspin while playing on the clay courts. The best players use different spins to win points and to make opponents life more difficult so we should take care of this fact while feeding from the basket. Most of the coaches use backspin while feeding but we all know that topspin is a dominant weapon of 99% tennis players. We can achieve better results by mixing spins of feeding (topspin, backspin, flat, sidespin). This small detail incorporated into drill can show us valuable information about strengths and weaknesses of our players.


            Another option to improve basket drills is to mix up the height of the balls. Professional tennis players play many strokes on 3 different levels  (below the waist, waist to shoulder, above the shoulder) during the match. It is not because they like it but it is related to the specification of the sport. Opponent tends to play own unique game so their angles, spins, power and decision making can force us to play on different levels. It is necessary to put more emphasis on height of the ball to prevent getting comfortable only with one height-level shots. We have to remember that playing forehand which is close to the surface demands different spin, power and angle than easy forehand from the high bouncing ball around the service line. Looking at the professional match and analyzing it, we can see many differences between coach’s feeding and real situations so we should include this information in our drills.


            Coaches try to figure out new drills and approaches because they want to make drills as similar to the tennis match as possible. It is important to firstly look at the drills you are currently doing and see if you apply rules that make them more specific. These 3 ideas mentioned above can make basket drills more successful and can put a new light on using the basket during the tennis practice.