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Coaches Corner - tip of the month

March 2010:


Tossing the ball up into the right place – for both you personally and the type of serve that you’re hitting – is analogous to being in the right place at just the right time for all the other shots. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult than it sounds since it’s accomplished with your non-dominant hand/arm, and a bit tricky as well. If not placed properly, and consistently, there is little hope of possessing a reliable serve.

Let’s first address the arm’s position both prior to launching the ball, and during the release itself. Palm down? – of course not. Palm up? – that’s, surprisingly perhaps, an of course not as well. An anatomically neutral position – identical to the natural position that your arm assumes while hanging by your side – is what you should be striving for. This position is first realized typically with the ball resting against the racket strings in your finger tips – preferably below the sweet spot - as one begins their service “ritual.”

Next, it is important to know that the ball, once released, should be devoid of any spin or rotation. This is best accomplished by releasing the ball at your arm’s point of full extension while moving upward. Simply open your hand up, do not roll it off of your fingers! (See player example).

Muscle tension, or a complete lack thereof, is the key in establishing a consistently repeatable finite tossing range of motion. This relaxation is established simultaneously in the tossing arm and the hitting arm by initiating a slight rocking motion in the Ritual Stage – which you see utilized by so many tour players - prior to initiating the toss, creating a necessary synergy between the two.

The main beneficiary of this action is actually the tossing arm, a modified tossing rehearsal if you will, although the hitting arm is influenced as well into not rushing into its “loaded” position with counter productive muscle tension. Ideally, the weight of a completely relaxed, “dead arm” moving upward establishes all the natural momentum necessary to propel a mere 2 oz. ball out of one’s hand and into a sufficiently high, hit-able zone. Always remember: relaxed muscles are athletically intelligent, tight ones are dumb as a door knob and do not lend themselves to replication.

Young children are able to learn this fairly quickly using the “hot potato-egg toss” analogy. When urged to toss the ball up very carefully and lightly without breaking the egg, versus the sudden quick release hot potato version, a consistent result is accomplished in minutes. They get it! When smash-the-egg(ball) at a point that is as high as they can reach with the racket is added to the equation, a reasonably smooth transition from Stage 1 (preparing to strike the ball) to Stage 2 (striking the ball) is achieved. A full fledged serve is born almost immediately exhibiting a viable throwing motion instead of the completely inefficient scratch-your-back half-serve that’s taught (malpractice!) to beginners and novices, and that has caused long term problems for so many players, young and old alike.

So go slow, easy, extend, release,
and then let it rip!

Questions and comments are welcome at anytime for all tips present and past via email.

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