Tennis For Beginners Series: The Volley

Let’s dig in to the second post in the Tennis for Beginners Series. Today’s post (as the title hints) is all about the volley. From the grip, to the footwork, and finally the motion. You will be feeling so great about volleys you won’t want to spend another second at the baseline. So get excited… it’s about to get real!

What you need to know first

Before we get into the good stuff I want to make sure that you approach the volley with the right mindset. There is a lot of poor advice out there and it can really hurt your progress. So first things first, here are a few things to note about the volley.

The volley is any shot hit before the ball bounces that has no backswing or follow-through.

I address this in a post on shedding your volley “training wheels” but I’ll reiterate it here. The volley is not a “punch” or a “high five” and it is certainly not just a “block” shot. A volley is what we call a “touch” shot. It is a shot you treat more like expensive glassware rather than your kids sippy cup you’d hurl into the back seat.

Okay, hopefully that all makes sense and we are on the same page. Let’s get to the fun parts…

One grip to rule them all

Normally I’m pretty flexible when it comes to the grips you use for all the different shots. On the volley however, I’m a bit of a stickler. For the volley, I highly recommend and encourage the “Continental” grip. While this grip doesn’t come with an English muffin or bacon and eggs like its breakfast counterpart, it does come with the ability to support both the forehand and backhand volleys.

On the street, this grip is know as the “hammer” grip as you hold the racquet like a hammer. Here is how you can find it (if the hammer imagery isn’t enough):

  1. Hold your racquet in your dominant hand as if you were going to pound a nail with the frame (not the strings).
  2. See step 1
  3. See step 2
  4. See footnote for more detail*

*place the inside of your base knuckle of your index finger on the first slanted bevel (bevels = sides) of the grip.

The beauty here is that the grip works perfect for both the forehand and backhand side without having to change your grip. That fact makes a huge difference when you are at the net and have less than half the reaction time.

Cool? Let’s keep going…

Keep your racquet up

You will often hear this referred to as the “racquet ready position” (or just “ready position” if you’re feeling it). As the name implies, the “ready position” involves keeping your racquet elevated and out in front of your body. Just imagine you are giving a bear hug to a big beach ball and you will have the ready position mastered.

The ready position is important because it enables you to react as quickly as possible. It literally gives you the very best chance of success at the net. Having the racquet right it front of you means you can react to either side with the same speed. Having the racquet elevated puts it on the same level as the majority of the balls traveling over the net (most shots you hit will be above the waist since the ball has to go over the net).

Unfortunately, the “ready position” gets forgotten… a lot. It is totally understandable. You hit a forehand volley, you watch to see where it goes, you cheer on the inside when it lands in, then you start to tense up as you see your opponent swinging.

All the while, your racquet is right where you left it–forehand side. Now, if you get another forehand–great! But when that balls starts heading to the backhand, good luck getting your racquet to the other side.

Moral of the story? Get your racquet to the ready position and keep bringing it back after every shot.

Get fired up because it is time to talk footwork.

The importance of footwork

I try not to get too hung up on footwork, but frankly it is important when volleying. Plus, as a tennis pro, there are few things I love more than teaching footwork. Why? Because I don’t have to do any of that footwork!

Just kidding. But seriously, I don’t have too.

Okay, the first thing we need to get right is the split-step. The split-step, or split-stop as some call it, is used to stop your body’s momentum and get you ready to move to the next shot. This is incredibly important because you don’t know where the next shot will be going (lot’s of times your opponent doesn’t know either!) and this helps prevent you from moving one way while the shot goes the other.

The split step is performed by taking a small jump right before your opponent makes contact. When executed properly, you will find that your feet touch the ground just as you are figuring out where your opponents shot is headed. In that moment you can explode to where you need to be in order to dominate the shot.

The second piece of footwork to remember involves the way you move to make contact with the volley. When the ball is hit away from you and you need to take a step, always step with your opposite foot. So, a ball comes to the left side of your body… right foot. Ball to the right side of your body?… anyone?… anyone?… Bueller?

Obviously you just earned a gold star!

Now, it bears mentioning that the whole reason for the opposite foot step is to keep you balanced while hitting. Makes sense right? Hit on the right side of your body and your right foot stays planted. Balance is what it’s all about.

So, there’s no need to go all OCD on your footwork. Rather, I recommend you focus on keeping yourself balanced and more often than not the right footwork will follow.

With your new gold stars in hand, let’s dig into the actual shot.

How big of a backswing?

Well? How big do you think the backswing should be? Here’s a multiple choice

  1. Huge!
  2. Medium
  3. Compact
  4. This is a trick question that could cost all my gold stars and 3 laps around the court.

I hope I’m not assuming too much when I predict you chose wisely. But yes, the backswing is entirely absent from the volley.

This can be bit easier said (and read) than done, but I’ve got a quick tip that should keep your backswing in check. Ready…

On your volley, do not turn your shoulders. Ever.

If you can follow that advice, your backswing will get as much air time as *NSync after JT left. Who’s *NSync? Exactly.

All about forward motion

Without a backswing, the volley becomes all about the forward motion. I’ve explained in depth the forward motion of the volley, but it still needs a brief overview here.

Along with not having a backswing, the volley is also absent a follow-through. Both motions take time you don’t have at the net and lead to the majority (if not all) of the mistakes made there. This leaves many tennis pro’s teaching the “punch” or “high-five” volley as well as propagating the ever confusing “don’t swing” advice.

The truth is this:

Your racquet can and should be moving forward on your volley

It is a forward motion towards your target. No backswing. No follow-through. Just a simple forward motion that guides the ball to your target. No more, no less.

Kewl beans? Definitely kewl beans!

Quick summary

I’ve thrown a lot at you in this one. Here’s a handy summary you can jot down in your tennis journal.

  • Use the hammer grip. It just might save your life one day.
  • Get your racquet to the ready position. Just do it okay!
  • Split-step first, then step with your opposite foot. Seriously, you have to.
  • No backswing, no follow-through. Just a forward motion. Totes for realzies.

Get out there!

Beautimus! I think enough words have been shed and hopefully in a semi-coherent enough way to get you comfy trying out the volley.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and try this stuff out. And if you forget everything but 1 piece of advice, I hope it can be this–have fun. Seriously, everything I talk about will definitely help you become a better tennis player, but at the core you gotta remember that it’s all about having fun.

If you are not relaxed and your not having fun, you are doing it wrong. I don’t care if you do everything I’ve listed out, you have to have fun with it for all of this to work.

Thanks for reading and have fun out there!

Sam Miller signature

"panetta serves a double bagel" is used courtesy of Charlie Cowins under the Creative Commons License. This image has been modified from it's original state.

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