I was watching two juniors warm up for a tournament while I was playing a match on the court next to them. During the warm-up, the two youngsters were obviously going through the motions, waiting for the referee to call time. During a baseline rally, one player hit the ball after two bounces. The other player took a short ball by stretching forward and slapping it back without moving his feet.
I was amazed that two competitive players, in a tournament, did not realize that the warm-up they were involved in would set the tone for the match they were about to start in less than 10 minutes! As a coach, you prepare your players to play, but do you have a set routine for them to use while they warm up? Following are some tips to help your players effectively use warm-up time to get a quick start out of the blocks during their matches.
#1 Take Control
Let your players know that they should not wait for the other player to decide when they will switch from groundstrokes to volleys, from volleys to overheads, etc.
Your players should direct the warm-up they want. Of course, your player must respect that his or her opponent will need to hit groundstrokes for several minutes, then progress to other shots, but often, because neither player takes control, a 10-minute warm-up can often degrade into eight minutes of lazy hitting from the baseline, with a few, rushed volleys, two or three overheads, and six or seven serves.
Make sure your players keep a reasonably pace going by ending groundstrokes after three or four minutes by going to the net for volleys. Remember, your player will need a minute or two of volleys, then overheads and then his or her opponent will need the same. Both players will then need serves to finish out.
#2 Play the Ball
Just as in a match, your players should not use the baseline as an anchor, waiting for every ball to come to them. Each ball should be hit as if it were a key shot during a rally, with your players moving to the side of and into every stroke. While your players should not tire themselves by running after balls that are hit badly by an opponent, every ball should be hit on one bounce, with correct body balance, or caught and started over.
#3 Hit With a Purpose
Make sure your players hit left and right, with topspin and slice and to the mid-court and deep. Remember, the warm-up is not a time to practice and you must respect your opponent’s right to get a good warm-up. Make sure your players do not, however, simply hit balls away from themselves. Make sure they hit TO an opponent’s forehand and backhand, with slice and spin, to warm up your player’s ability to control the ball.
#4 Scout Your Opponent
Have your players hit several, deep balls in a their opponent’s backhand and forehand to gauge the player’s strength and weaknesses. Make sure they make their opponents hit several balls on the run to check their mobility. Hit several balls a bit short, to determine whether or not this player can play short balls.
#5 Serve Points
Rather than just blast in nine or 10 serves, have your players finish out their serving warm-up by bouncing the ball the same number of times as they will in the upcoming match, and serve first and second serves, calling out target areas to themselves just as they will when they serve in a few minutes. If they like to serve a big first serve down the middle in the deuce court, have them warm that up. But if they kick the second serve to the backhand, or slice it into the body, then have them warm up those serves, as well. The second serve is almost never warmed up, and the serve in general is the most neglected stroke in the warm-up at almost all levels of play.
As a coach, your job is to prepare your players for all aspects of a match, including strokes, strategy, mental toughness, conditioning — and the warm-up! If you haven’t covered this with your team up ’til now, it’s never too late to add this important routine to your coaching back of tricks.