Primary vs. Secondary Targets
If you stand at the baseline of a tennis court and look at the opposite baseline (or any other area across the net), you’ll notice that you are looking at the other court through the net, below the net chord.
When tennis players make a decision where to hit their next shot, they often look directly at that area of the court through the net, and hit to that area, not thinking in three dimensions, or depth, direction and height.
A tennis player’s primary target is often limited to a spot on the court, rather than a height over the net, and this is why many experts believe the majority of errors are hit into the net, rather than long or wide.
As a coach, you can help your players develop the concept of primary and secondary targets with two, simple drilling techniques.
One way you can help your players to think about hitting over the net, rather than simply beyond it, is to drape a blanket, tarp or other obstructing material over the net, and have your players hit balls without the benefit of being able to see the other side of the court through the net.
Another option is to use one of the various PVC target trainers (or make one yourself), or use some other tall object, and require your players to hit over the target, while keeping the ball in play.
Your players will soon be surprised to see just how high they can hit the ball over the net, while still maintaining their pace, and getting the ball in.
Another benefit they will see to using height in their hitting is that their balls will automatically go deeper.
We have stressed the importance of depth throughout our articles High School Tennis Coach, but many players have used the other baseline as their only reference point for hitting the ball. Adding height to their shots will allow them to take some of the pressure they may feel to hit the ball hard to get it to the opposite baseline.
While some coaches practice with the nets raised one or more inches during the week, then lowering the net to the correct height for matches, this does not allow players to develop the natural strokes (especially on the serve) they will be using in matches. It might be an excellent, temporary learning tool, but it’s probably not a good idea to develop and practice a game based on a different net height than what they will be experiencing in match play.
Try it yourself before you work with your players, and you’ll quickly see the benefits of using height over the net as a primary target when hitting, and an area of the opposite court as a secondary target.