An old doubles axiom goes, “The team that gets the net first, wins.”
In order to take the net, teams must pin at least one opponent back, and to do this, a deep approach shot, return of serve, mid-court volley or lob will be necessary.
In recreational doubles, however, you will often see four players at or near the net, shooting it out. This happens because a player comes in behind an approach shot that was hit hard, rather than deep, and which ended up being a short ball the opponent could attack.
You’ll also see the server’s partner start to move backwards from the net position, moving to his or her “safe” spot near the service line. At the recreational level, the receiver’s partner often stays at the service line instead of moving toward the net after the returner puts the ball in play past the opposing net player.
During many points, you might find all four players hanging around the service line because the returner has moved forward to play a weak second serve, while the server has run forward to play a short return.
The following drill will help your players learn how to play points where four players are in front of the service line, taking away the angled volley or lob from the baseline.
Step #1 — Four players line up against each other at opposite baselines in teams of two. The coach or feeder stands between and behind one team, at the baseline, feeding balls.
Step #2 — Coach feeds a short ball (around the service line) to the team on the far side of the net, and ALL FOUR players rush the net.
Let your players know that they would normally not attack when their opponents are attacking on a short ball, but that this drill simulates what happens when teams make a commitment to attack, then hit a short ball, allowing their opponents to attack simultaneously. Another situation which would be similar would be when one team hits a short ball, and the other team is only able to respond with a short ball.
Step #3 — Teams play out the point.
Step #4 — Coach stops play and discusses what is happening during the point. Two patterns will emerge: #1 The attacking team will lose many points with poor approach shots (in the net, long, too high over the net); #2 The team that keeps the ball down the middle will win the majority of the points.
Step #5 — Teams go back to playing, trying to win points with the team hitting the first ball (the coach’s feed) using approach shots they hit down the middle of the court, and subsequent volleys down the middle. Players will soon see that the only consistent way to win the point is with controlled shots down the middle.
If you are running the drill with more than four players waiting to rotate in, there are a number of scoring formats available for this drill:
#1 Only two players play on the side of the feeder, with all other teams trying to take their place. To take their place, teams must win a total of three points against that team (the three points can come from alternate turns instead of three points won in a row; first team to win three points takes the other side).
#2 Only two players play on the side of the feeder, with all other teams trying to take their place. To take their place, teams must win three points in a row (teams stay in if they win a point; teams go to the end of the line as soon as they lose a point and start over).
#3 Teams are equally split on both sides of the net; keep track of points won on either side until end of drill.
As your players participate in this drill a number of times throughout the season, they will begin to recognize this situation as soon as it occurs during their doubles matches and will be able to respond appropriately.