Ball Feeding Tips for New Coaches & Players

Many high school coaches do not play tennis at a high level, while many others may have never even played the game. Many good high school players can’t help their coaches with drills because they have never practiced feeding. And many team members can’t take turns feeding and hitting because their coach has not taught them how to feed balls during drills.

Anyone can get on the court and run drills as long as they follow two, simple rules.

Rule #1 — Learn a few, Simple, Feeding Techniques

Rule #2 — Practice Your Drills Beforehand

A number of our drills start with a ball fed into play by a coach or a team members. Anyone, regardless of their level of tennis play, can feed balls into play — the trick for coaches is not looking like a rookie in front of your teenage players!

You can learn to feed effectively (while looking like you know what you’re doing!) as long as you learn and practice a few, simple feeding techniques.

Rule #1 — Learn a few, Simple, Feeding Techniques

The key to feeding balls during a tennis practice is to control where and how they land. This means accurately placing the ball where you want it, at the speed you want it, with the bounce height you want, over and over again.

One way to feed is to drop the ball from your hand and hit it underhand out of the air. This provides for a quick, consistent feed. Balls should have a high arc on them and bounce at hip level or higher for the players. Rapid fire feeding using an overhand or sidearm feeding technique, with balls which skid near the feet of players are not desirable.

Another way to feed is to drop the ball in front of you and hit it after it bounces on the ground. To avoid looking like a novice, do not bounce the ball with an exaggerated motion so that you are hitting the ball with your racquet at waist level, with a perpendicular swing.

Hit you balls at about knee level, with you racquet head facing slightly down.

This method was recommended by Dennis Van der Meer because it provides more control for the novice coach, as well as a game-like rhythm for the student. Some coaches argue that this method makes it more difficult for the student because the ball drops below the net and makes it more difficult to track.

The Peter Burwash organization used to recommend feeding from a kneeling position, to one side of the court, with the feeder’s head almost below net level. The feed is delivered out of the hand with a short punch, with the racquet head up. PBI pros had heard from their students that the player were afraid to hit a ball directly back into a court if there is a coach standing in the path of the ball (or at least are distracted by this obstacle), and so the kneeling-while-feeding technique kept coaches out of the way. However, this angle of feeding proved to be too different from what players would experience during a match.

There is no universally accepted method of feeding. The key is to be able to deliver a consistent, accurate feed.

Practice at least the first two methods until you are comfortable with each, then determine which you prefer.

A good way to see how it’s done is to drop by your local tennis club for a few minutes and watch the pros feed. They look “cool” because they do it effortlessly. Don’t be afraid to try and duplicate this “cool” look when you are practicing. They only look good because they’re doing it correctly!

Where to Feed From

Singles players receive almost of all of the balls from their opponents from the opposite baseline. Placing your basket at the net or service line and feeding from their does not allow your players to develop the ball-reception skills they’ll need during a match. If you struggle to feed accurately from the baseline, it’s OK to feed from nearer the net, but try to learn how to feed accurately from the baseline. Standing off to one side of the court and feeding an angled feed into the court is unrealistic. Do your players ever receive a ball from off the side of the court? Then why practice and learn those angles of incidence and reflection?

What about standing directly next to the player and tossing high, short balls out of your hand so the player can “groove a swing” or “get the contact point”? If it doesn’t happen in a match, ask yourself why you’re doing it in practice.


Practice feeding balls to develop accuracy. Learning to feed is a motor skill, as simple to learn as learning to use a knife and fork with the opposite hands you’re using now. It should just take a few minutes to learn, and then a few sessions of practice, and you’ll be feeding as well as any teaching pro.

You can practice with a partner, or by yourself, since you’re just practicing sending balls, and they don’t need to come back. As we stated earlier, the best type of feed, especially for learning a new stroke skill, is one that is slow, has a high arc and bounces at least waist high for the player.

Set up target areas across the net that require you to be accurate with direction, as well as depth. Make your target AREAS realistic (2’X2′ or 3’X3′) and not targets (cans, cones, balls, etc.).

Practice until you can make eight out of 10 feeds into any target area. This means deep and crosscourt, deep and down the line, short and crosscourt, etc.

Once you are successful consistently placing feeds in the same target area, begin practicing feeds to alternating target areas (e.g., deep and to the ad corner, deep and to the deuce corner, etc.).

Rule #2 — Practice Your Drills Beforehand

Just because you are now comfortable feeding doesn’t mean you’re ready to run any particular drill. A quick way to lose the confidence of your players is to begin drills, see that they aren’t working, then re-adjust them and start them over.

Get one or two friends to let you run drills with them so that you can see if players understand exactly where they’re supposed to hit the ball, where they are supposed to go after they hit, etc. Drills involving more than one player can often get confusing for novice players, especially the first time they see them.

If you have already run each drill you are using, you know what may or may not confuse a player, and you can have one team member demonstrate the entire progression of the drill before the entire team begins using it.

Following these simple steps will allow you to get on court and begin effectively running drills, not matter your skill level.

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