Progressions for the Volley
Although the volley is one of the simplest strokes in tennis, it is often difficult for players to master, because they try to do too much with the stroke.
The volley actually comes down to two simple movements: 1) lining up the racquet face directly in front of the oncoming ball; 2) angling he racquet face to direct placement of the ball.
Contrary to the instruction of most American tennis pros, there should be little if any arm movement during the volley. In fact, if your player had his or her arm tied to their body (in the volley position), they would still be able to hit effective volleys, since it is the movement of the shoulders and upper body that give volleys their power, not an arm swing or wrist chop.
They key to volleying is getting in position to punch the ball with a simple, upper body movement.
When top players volley, they immediately get their racquets in front of the incoming ball (setting their racquets with their elbow in, with the head just in front of the shoulders), which now cannot get past them. Then, if they have time, they use a small shoulder turn and punch to add pace. If you do not move your arm and use your shoulders in this manner, you will feel it in your pectoral muscle.
Top player may use some forearm motion, but the wrist stays locked, and they do not use a pronouned downward “chopping” or “hacking” motion.
Recreational players, however, try to add power with their arms and wrists, bringing their racquets back and trying to swing forward and down. When they are in trouble, reaching for a volley, they often break their wrist to try and get more power or depth. This results in the frequent frame shots, whiffs, balls in the bottom of the net, etc. so common among recreational players.
A rule of thumb is that if your racquet is traveling east, west, north or south when you hit a volley, your volley will usually travel south. Your racquet should be stopped at contact or moving forward.
A simple set of progressions can help demonstrate just how simple the volley really is and help your players gain more confidence at the net.
Forehand Volley Progressions
This series of progressions will be explained for right handers. Simply reverse the directions for left-handers. Players may use either a Continental or Eastern forehand grip.
Step #1 — Explain to your players that “less is more” when hitting volleys, and that placement, not power is key to winning points at the net. Do this by holding your racquet still in one hand, and with the other, tossing balls into the string bed. The harder you toss balls into your racquet, the harder you hit them back, even if your racquet is not moving. Use the example of balls hitting a wall; the harder they hit the wall, the farther they will bounce back.
Step #2 — Have the coach or a demonstrator line up across the net from a feeder, who feeds a ball to the net player. The coach or demonstrator should set their racquet directly in front of the incoming ball and freeze. When the ball hits the player’s stationary racquet, the ball should rebound back over the net, in a perfect drop volley. Squeezing the grip at impact adds stability.
The key to this demonstration is to show players that if the first thing they do on the volley is to get their racquet in front of the incoming ball, there is no way they can miss. Show how swinging the racquet can lead to mis-hits, whiffs, etc.
Step #3 — Have your players line up at the net, across from a partner who is either tossing or feeding balls (depending on your players’ ability to control feeds) from the service line. Have your players line their racquets up directly in the path of the oncoming ball, keeping the racquet still to see what happens when the ball hits their racquet. They should immediately see that they are hitting successful drop volleys (if the feeds have enough pace).
Step #3 — Have your players begin to experiment with the shoulder turn to add depth and pace to their volleys. See if their racquet heads remain above the net after the volley, or below (incorrect swing).
Step #4 — In order to break the habit of taking the racquet back during the volley, have your players put their racquets into the net, and practice catching balls (with their racquet hands) from the feeders. Make sure they catch balls with their fingers facing up (like a traffic cop stopping traffic). They will immediately see that their arms moves forward to make the catch, not backwards. The volley uses the catching motion, like the serve uses the throwing motion.
Step #5 — Have your players catch three more balls, with the hand facing up, and tilted slightly toward the right, as in a volley.
Step #6 — Have your players pick up their racquets, and try to catch fed balls while the racquet is in their hands. This will be extremely difficult, but will let your players feel the motion of going forward on the volley with no initial backswing. Have your players keep their racquet heads up, slightly tilted to proximate the look of a volley.
Step #7 — Have your players attempt to volley fed balls with this new catching motion. Make sure to correct those players who hold the racquet straight up (with the butt of their racquet facing directly to the ground, in between their feet). The butt of the racquet should be pointed toward the left foot.
Although we have talked about not using the arm during the volley, this part of the exercise is designed to eliminate the backswing so many of your players will have.
Backhand Volley Progressions
This series of progressions will be explained for right handers. Simply reverse the directions for left-handers. Players may use a Continental or Eastern backhand grip.
The backhand volley requires the use of both hands, including the left hand to balance the racquet. Too many players attempt to volley using one hand only, and wind up with extremely awkward volleys.
Demonstrate to your players a backhand volley, where the left hand stays on the racquet (at the throat) until just before contact, with the head of the racquet staying up after the volley.
Step #1 — Have your players put their racquets in their lefts hands, holding the racquet at the throat. Have players attempt to make left-handed, forehand volleys. Make sure players are keeping their racquet heads up and moving forward. This will demonstrate the correct, forward motion.
Step #2 — Have players put their right hand on their grips, keeping the left-hand on the throat. Have players volley several balls using two hands, with the left hand dominant, pushing the racquet forward.
Step #3 — Have players hits several more volleys, now using the right hand as the dominant hand, releasing the racquet from the left hand just before contact. This should give the player much more stability, help keep the racquet head moving forward and keep the racquet head up.
Players should also notice that using the left hand to balance the racquet forces them to turn sideways, eliminating the awkward volley movement caused when players try to hit a backhand volley straight on.
Step #4 — Have players attempt to hit (slowly) fed balls with the backs of their hands (rather than the racquet). This is another technique to help them lean the correct racquet path and keep the racquet head up.