Volleys:  The Simple Strokes That Are Hard

No tennis stroke is more economical that the volley, a blocked shot with no backswing or follow through.  What could be easier than that?  And why do even advanced students have such trouble with the shot? 

The first problem is that the volley is like no other shot.  Every other tennis stroke has motion prior to and subsequent to contact.  Hit through the ball is the usual good advice.  But the serve, ground strokes and even the overhead are all designed to penetrate the depth of the court.  Volleys are not.  The offensive advantage gained by going to net has to do with controlling the court in front of your opponent, hitting those nasty little angles that can't be reached.  Toward that end, you can't swing at the ball.  You're half as close to your opponent as you are during a baseline exchange, and the ball isn't bouncing.  That means you're taking a rifle shot of a ground stroke, absorbing the pace of it, and blocking it back just the other side of the net.  To do that, you can't even take a short swing; you can't swing at all.

The second problem is educational.  Net play is an advanced tactic taught after a player gains competence with the ground strokes and serve.  Once the baseliner is ready, his coach says, "Okay, now it's time to learn something new," and the player thinks, "Heck, no!  I've just got comfortable with my groundies.  No way I'm playing at net where I'm not any good."  An ever-widening gap develops between the ground strokes and the volleys, so that, even with some pros, it seems like the player would need a guide to be shown how to get to net.  Because of this, I teach volleys to beginners on the very first lesson and each lesson thereafter, even though it will be some time before they're ready to actually charge the net.

The solution?  First, take the Volley Vow:  I Will Not Step On A Tennis Court Without Practicing Volleys and Overheads--Even If I Look Like a Klutz.  Keep practicing your net game.  Eventually, not only will it feel more comfortable, but you'll discover that it's incredibly fun.  Second, keep these simple strokes simple.  On a volley, all your hand does is prepare the racquet face so that it's parallel to the net.  Once that's done, your foot hits the ball, not your hand.  To move the racquet toward contact, take a step across your body.  At contact, the racquet stops, still parallel to the net.  To practice, get close enough to the net so you can almost touch it with a ball in your hand.  Toss it barely above the net, and step in and hit it.  If you touch the net, you've swung.

c Keith Shein