Now they've cancelled Wimbledon, make sure you get some racket action this summer! With some sunny weather on the way and plenty of spare time, this is the ideal time to learn a new skill or improve on an existing one. Learning the basics of tennis is not hard, and it's a game that you can start to learn to play whatever your age. If you are lucky enough to have some outside space to use - you don't need a tennis court - we've put together some simple exercises to teach you how to learn tennis for beginners or to keep your skills up to match condition while you're at home if you already know the basics. Great for both kids and adults to join in.
What you'll need
If you have tennis rackets and balls, brilliant. If not, maybe you have a badminton set or a beach tennis set you could utilise. A foam ball will be perfect, especially if your outside space is limited. You don't need a tennis court to make your first steps into the world of Andy Murray!
Starting out without a racket
This is for two people. We are not going to even use the racket! This is the ideal way to start off beginners, so that they can learn how hitting the ball can affect the way it moves.
Easy: Use a garden bench to roll the ball between you, using the flat of the hand. You can try different techniques to see how the ball moves. Try using a a short push, try with a firm wrist, try with a floppy hand. This helps the children learn how the ball acts when it is hit differently.
Medium: Next try to push down on the ball as you push it, getting some spin on it.
Harder: Try the same drill using rackets - but don't hit too hard!
Good for: Understanding how different tennis strokes will affect how the ball moves.
Watch this video from Feeltennis.net to see this in action.
Balance the ball
This is a great game of balance - and a chance to have some fun being competitive before you learn to play tennis! It's a bit like the egg and spoon race, but using balls and racket in place of eggs and spoons.
Easy: Hold the racket out in front of you and balance a ball on top. Then try walking up and down the garden or 'court'.
Medium: Pick up the pace and see if you can run without dropping the ball!
Harder: See what other exercises you can do without dropping the ball. Try some squats, try touching your toes - see what else the children can come up with. We've even tried this on the trampoline - give it a go!
Good for: Balance, co-ordination, wrist strength, hand-eye coordination.
Learn to send and receive
Make two circles using cones if you have them, if not use bean bags, toy cars, whatever you have to hand. Each circle should have the same number of markers, as you will use these to keep score.
Easy: This is a game for two people. The aim of the game is to throw the ball and get it in the circle. You get a point each time the ball lands in the circle. Then your opponent throws the ball back. Turn over a marker each time you score a point - first one to turn over all markers wins the game.
Medium: When you have got the hand of that, use your racket to hit the ball into the circle. Again, you get a point each time it goes in the circle.
Hard: Now, you will try to to hit the ball back when your opponent has hit it into your circle.
Practise ball control
Easy: Use the racket to bounce the ball on the floor. Try to do five, then 10, then 20 or more bounces in a row.
Medium: Keep bouncing the ball and move, using side steps, from side to side. You could place two cones, plant pots or jumpers, and get the kids to move between them.
Harder: Instead of stopping at each cone, now go round the cone and back the other way, so you are moving in a figure of eight.
Good for: Hand-eye co-ordination, ball control.
Do tennis keepie uppies
Easy: These are the keepie uppies of the tennis world! Hold the racket with the hitting side facing up and bounce the ball up and down. Maybe try 10 at a time. Too easy? Try hitting the ball up a little higher! Too hard? Allow a bounce on the floor between each racket hit.
Medium skill: Now you've mastered that, let's make it a bit trickier. Twist your wrist so you are using the other side of the racket. Carry out the same drill.
Hard skill: And now for the clever bit, hit the ball on the hitting side, then twist the rack to the other side. Keep alternating and hitting the ball! Not so easy now is it?
Great for: Improving hand-eye co-ordination and building up forearm muscles.
Learn to pass the ball
This is a nice easy game, that will get you and the kids just learning how to pass the ball to each other from your racket. It helps the player get a feel for holding the racket.
Easy: Start off with a bean bag or similar and place it on your racket, then throw it to the other player. The other player catches it, and then throws it back. See how many times you can do this without dropping it.
Medium: Replace the bean bag with a ball. Throw the ball to the other player, but let the ball bounce on the floor in between.
Harrder: Throw the ball between players, throwing and catching without letting the ball bounce or drop.
Good for: Balance and co-ordination.
Play shirt ball
This is a fun game to play. Everyone wears an oversized T-shirt - put the kids in one of mum's or dad's for a laugh.
Easy: Throw the ball and the player must catch it with the shirt, using it like a bowl.
Medium: Set up a net or rope and throw the ball over the net. The player must let the ball bounce and then catch it.
Hard: This time, throw the ball overthe net and the player must catch the ball without letting it bounce.
Good for: Hand-eye co-ordination, agility.
Do some fancy footwork
Get someone to throw the ball for you for this exercise, and then you can swop places.
The ball thrower throws the ball to either side of the 'receiver'. The receiver must use side steps to catch the ball and get back to their original spot.
Easy: The thrower throws the ball to one side. After five throws, they throw to the other side.
Medium: The thrower alternates between sides, one to the right, one to the left.
Harder: The throwers changes sides randomly, sometimes throwing the ball closer or further away. The receiver must always return to their original spot.
Hardest: Repeat the drills, but instead of catching the ball, hit it back using a racket.
Good for: Improving footwork, speed and fitness.
Use an agility ladder
If you have an agility ladder that your kids use for footie training, it can also be used to encourage some fast footwork when you learn to play tennis. You could also draw one on a hard surface using the kids chalk, or perhaps mark one out with rope or tape or ribbon. Get them to bunny hop the ladder, run up and down in between the rungs, or do 'hopscotch' inside and outside the rungs.
Repeat this throwing skill
Throwing the ball up for the serve looks easy when the professionals do it, but it is not as easy as it looks. You can practise this with or without a racket, as all you are going to do is throw the ball up.
Use your non-racket hand and practise throwing the tennis ball up straight up and catching it with your palm up and your arm extended. Keep your eye on the ball at all times.
Practise 20 times in a row.
Good for: Improving your serve.
Make use of a wall
If you're lucky enough to have a wall of a garage or the side of the house, this is the perfect way to play tennis on your own.
Easy: You can practise your forehand on the wall, just aiming to get the ball back each time.
Medium: Hit the ball forehand and then return it with your backhand,
Hard: Draw some targets on the wall and challenge yourself to hit them in turn. Or mark each target with 1, 2, 3, points and challenge yourself to get up to 10 or 20!
Good for: Learning how to position the ball and run for it too!
Brush up your backhand
This is a drill you can do on your own or with another player. Get out the Swingball and use it to work on hitting backhand. If someone is helping you, get them to hit the ball to you forehand, so you have to hit it using your backhand.
If you don't have a swingball, hang a sheet across the washing line, or across the front of a football goal, and hit your tennis balls into this. A great way to practise without losing them over next-door's garden! Useful for practising the serve as well.
Improve your forehand
The easiest way to start to learn how to play forehand is to drop the ball in front of you - or get someone to do it for you and hit it towards a wall if you have one, or just down the garden if not! The idea is to swing the racket from your shoulder in a C shape, strike the ball and follow through, with the racket ending over the opposite shoulder.
If you don't have room for hitting, simply shadow the stroke - this means practising the movement of the stroke without hitting a ball.
Play across a net
You need some kind of a net to play tennis. Set up a net in your garden - if you have a tennis or badminton set that includes one, that's brilliant, if not, find some rope to tie between two fences/trees if you can. If not, you'll have to mark out a 'net' using whatever you can find - just so there is a mark that divides the two halves of your 'court'.
Set up some rallies - where you keep hitting the ball to each other, without it hitting the ground. This will be easiest with a soft ball if you have one, especially for beginners. It also works better on grass, as the ball won't be very bouncy. If you have a large patio or drive area with a hard surface, you can allow the ball to hit the floor before bouncing.
Challenge yourselves to keep a rally going - three, five, 10, even 20 times. See how far you can go!
Learn tennis scoring
You don't need to get too complicated to start with. This is the simple way to learn how the scoring works.
First point won is 15, next one is 30, next is 40 and then you win the game.
If one player has no point, it's called love. So one-nil in football terms is 15-love in tennis.
If it's a draw at one point it's 15-all, at two points it's 30-all and 40-all is called deuce.
When the players are at deuce, they must win two further points to win.
So if the score is deuce and player one wins a point, it is called 'advantage'. If they lose the next point it goes back to deuce, but if they win the next point they win the game. You can go back to deuce as many times as necessary.
Follow some online coaching
There are lots of videos on Youtube where you can get some more ideas on how to learn tennis from professional coaches. Riverside Tennis Club in Bedford is home to the county tennis team, so if you want some top tips on how to play tennis, tune in to their live videos. There is a timetable with 17 activities each week. Watch out for the plank-throw-catch challenge!
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