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Teaching Kids to Serve in Tennis

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A serve is extremely important in tennis. Good servers get many free points on their serve. When your service game is a breeze, you can better attack the opponent during his or her service game.

Double faults can kill the momentum in the match. You really want to make sure your serve is a weapon, not a liability.

But getting the serve right is not easy – even for well-coordinated, athletic adults. For little kids, it is even more of a challenge.

Our experience

I started teaching my daughter Elizabeth to serve when she was 5 years old (so about one year since she started learning).

The serve turned out by far the most difficult motion she encountered.

Elizabeth had picked up backhand and volleys in no time. After a couple of days, she was good to go on those. Forehand was somewhat more difficult. We spent a bit of time on it but eventually it clicked.

The serve turned out the hardest to figure out. It was not clicking like the other shots. Elizabeth, who was used to picking all the new motions quickly, was frustrated. I did not know how to help. There were quite a few recommendations on Google and some YouTube videos, but still nothing worked for us. I also watched some other kids in Elizabeth’s tennis class, and they were also finding a lot of trouble with their serve. Some kids were missing the ball all together. Elizabeth did not miss, but still she was not doing it right.

Finally…

Finally, it clicked! We worked on the serve for at least a month till we got the motion good enough so we could practice without getting frustrated, relax and build upon the progress we have achieved. Little by little, Elizabeth’s serves got longer and more beautiful.

Elizabeth is now 7 years old and she is able to serve all the way from the baseline, if she wants to. Nevertheless, we generally practice a bit closer to the net, as during junior tournaments she would have to play on a shorter court. Elizabeth just completed her first tennis tournament and she did not serve a single double fault in the two matches she played! I think it’s a big achievement. I saw some kids in the tournament struggle with their serves, but Elizabeth was fine. Hard work definitely paid off.

Tips to develop a good serve

Based on our experience, here are some tips which helped me to teach Elizabeth to serve:

  • Most importantly, be patient. A serve is a very complicated motion to master. If your child does it quickly, kudos to him or her- you might have a tennis champ in the making! Most kids will need some time to figure it out.
  • Practice tossing the ball up, without the actual serve. From the experience of Elizabeth and a few other children I watched, tossing the ball correctly is hard. They throw the ball in all different ways. The ball keeps going to the side, too high, too low, or too far back. In order to serve well, the kid needs to get their toss in front of them and high enough.
  • Make sure the child is not practicing the serve incorrectly. There is always a need for some tweaks – and this is fine- but check from the start that the motion is broadly correct. It’s better to miss the ball when the child is trying to serve it right, than to keep hitting the ball over the net incorrectly. You don’t want the child to pick up a bad habit. These develop surprisingly quickly and will be very, very hard to get rid of.
  • Place the child closer to the net, as close as they need to feel comfortable. Think of the serve as a slightly modified overhead. Most kids I have seen figured out the overhead quickly. So just make your child think the serve is similar to an overhead. For Elizabeth, it was a bit intimidating when I made her stand on the service line (not even speaking about the baseline). When I placed her closer to the net, she started hitting the ball much better. Then she added some force, and she was good to go. We gradually started moving further and further away from the net, as she was getting more confident in her ability to clear the net.
  • Practice the basic service motion first. No need for any advanced serves until the child gets the basics right. In the beginning, the child can just stand close to the net, throw the ball up and lightly push it over the net, similar to an overhead. Once they got the basics correct, the child can try hitting more advanced serves.
  • Practice, practice, practice. It will take hundreds and hundreds of serves till you see good progress. But it will come for sure.

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