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Most Common Shoulder Injury

The most common shoulder injury in tennis (and every other racquet sport) is the aggravated supraspinatus, sometimes know as impingement syndrome or often simply as “a bad shoulder”.

Impingement syndrome causes pain in the shoulder when lifting the arm between 60 and 120 degrees sideways or when rotating the lifted arm inwards. It is a nagging pain that occurs because the supraspinatus tendon (the muscle under the roof of the shoulder) is pinched and aggravated when lifting and rotating the arm.

In most cases, it is an easy problem to fix requiring only some stretching (as the lady to the right is doing now) and some healing time. However, many athletes choose not to do what is required to resolve it and end up suffering needlessly for years. Some also end up quitting tennis because of it. “I had to quit because of a bad shoulder,” they will typically say.

As a coach, I encourage all of my players to include stretching of the shoulder’s posterior capsule (as in the video below) for five minutes at the end of every match or practice. Players who are diligent about this rarely suffering shoulder pain. Those who are not diligent, eventually run into shoulder problems and end up missing or losing matches because of it.

Stretches like these are what separate players in the I-play-to-get-fit category from the I-get-fit-to-play category. In other words, they are what separate dabblers from serious athletes. No truly serious athlete will allow a nagging and completely avoidable supraspinatus injury to keep them off of the court while recreational athletes will not only allow such an injury to develop and get worse, many will simply quite playing tennis because of it.

If you are a serious tennis player — or are aspiring to become one — consider adding some post match posterior capsule stretching to your post match routine. Your serve will thank you, your forehand will thank you and your backhand will thank you, too.

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Tennis Lessons: Is My Kid Ready?

In some sense, children are ready for tennis lessons at any age. However, parents and instructors alike have to be very careful about the content of tennis lessons.

If the goal is to foster an enthusiasm for healthy, active living amongst children, early lessons should be kept general and should avoid over-specialization in competitive tennis.

In fact, Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development Model strongly recommends keeping children out of highly focused competitive streams until they are beyond the age of puberty.

Tennis Lessons: Children 0-6

nnCanadian Sport For Life recommends that children six and under spend most of their time on unstructured play that incorporates a variety of body movements in order to develop coordination, social skills and gross motor skills.

For the tennis instructor teaching group lessons (and the parent who watches them), this means a lot of laughing, playing and running around combined with only a small amount of actual “hitting”. Since children at this age are still learning the basics of physical literacy, tennis lessons may not appear to be very different from soccer practices. In fact, settings (tennis courts vs. soccer fields) will sometimes be the only way to distinguish one activity from another at this age.

Tennis Lessons: Children 6-9

At the next developmental stage, which is 6 to 9 in boys and 6 to 8 in girls, activities should be more structured. While the focus of the lessons should still be on fun, it is possible at this age to introduce minimal amounts of formal competition.

At this age, “hitting” becomes both possible and beneficial. Tennis instructors are able to introduce technical instruction and begin to develop essential shots and tennis movements. The emphasis should continue to be on having fun; however games and activities that result in winners and losers can begin to make their appearance.

Tennis Lessons: Children 8-12

By ages 8-11 in girls and 9-12 in boys, children are ready to begin training according to more formalized methods. However, the emphasis should still remain general and should not focus too much on any single sport. “While it is often tempting to over-develop “talent” at this age through excessive single sport training and competition (as well as early positioning in team sports),” says Canadian Sport for Life, “this can be very detrimental to later stages of development if the child is playing a late specialization sport: it promotes one-sided physical, technical, and tactical development and increases the likelihood of injury and burnout.”

By this stage in their development, girls 8-11 and boys 9-12 are ready for higher degrees of formal training and competition. While the emphasis should remain on skill training and physical development, players at this age are ready to consolidate their basic sport-specific skills and tactics. Therefore tennis lessons in general should look like a cross between an aerobics class and a formal tennis lesson. Indeed, for juniors who are getting sufficient amounts of aerobic training outside of tennis lessons, the tennis lessons themselves can become highly focused on technical development.


Parents have to remember that tennis instructors create lessons programs based on an understanding of averages. Most will assume that the children entering their class are participating in other sports programs as well. Therefore, they will often place less emphasis on physical education and more emphasis on tennis-specific activities.

Parents who choose to enroll their child in tennis lessons ONLY, should make this clear to the instructor from the outset. In these situations, it will be very important for the coach to take a more generalized approach that will strike a balance between technical instruction and physical education.nn

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Tennis Lessons: Returning Short Serves

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Many tennis players at the beginner to intermediate level do fine when returning shots from the baseline and beyond. However, the moment they are drawn in toward the net to play a short ball, they fall apart and hit it out.

Don’t worry about it, though. Learning how to return short shots is part of the normal development of a tennis player. Here are three tips to help you improve your short shot returns in tennis, whether they are serve returns or just short balls played during rallies.

Tip 1: Get into Position Early

Whenever possible, arrive and set up early. While this isn’t always possible, it essential to try to arrive in position early and set up to hit the shot so that you can avoid having to hit your shot on the run.

Learning to read the ball well is the first step to success here. Watch closely for early warning signs that your opponent is about to hit a short shot. Most often, these signs will appear in your opponent’s racquet preparation. The moment you get an indication that the tennis ball will be coming short, begin moving toward the zone from which you will make your return.

Tip 2: Shorten Your Back Swing

When you are returning a ball from behind the baseline on a tennis court, you have about 80 feet of space to play with. So you can hit the ball with a full back swing. If the ball then stays in the air for 70 feet, it will still land in.

However, when your opponent hits a short shot that drags you 20 feet inside your baseline, you cannot hit your return so that it stays in the air for 70 feet unless you want it to go out. So instead of hitting the ball with a full back swing, think about hitting it with half of your normal back swing.

Tip 3: Keep the Ball In

Whatever you choose do in this situation, it is generally a mistake to over hit the ball and “go for the line”. Aim lower, reduce your power or you can adjust your grip to hit with more top spin — or combine any of the above. Just keep the ball in.

Pick a spot that is far enough away from your opponent to make them run but aim a good two to three feet inside the line so that you don’t miss the shot and donate the point to your opponent.

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Tennis: How to Serve

Contrary to popular belief, serving with power is the not the most important characteristic of a tennis serve. In fact there are four things that matter more than power.

1st Priority: Serve the Ball In

It doesn’t matter how hard you can hit your serve. If your serve doesn’t land in, it hurts you. The first step to winning in tennis is learning to get your serve in.

The good news is that the serve is a shot you can practice on your own. Grab a basket of tennis balls and pick a court. Serve one basket every day until you can get more than half of your serves in.

Once you can do that, start working on your second priority.

2nd Priority: Place the Ball

Once you are able to get your serve in consistently, start working on placement. In other words, begin directing the ball to your opponent’s forehand or backhand.

Divide the box you are serving to into two halves representing an opposing forehand and backhand. Practice serving to each half. When you can accurately hit more than half of your targets, divide the box into thirds — one is a serve to your opponent’s forehand, one is to his backhand and the other is into his body.

3rd Priority: Serve the Ball Deep

Once you are able to control the direction of your tennis serve, begin working on controlling the depth of your serve. Use cones or other markers to mark out targets for deep serves up the middle and out wide. Keep practicing until you can hit more than half of your targets.

4th Priority: Serve with Spin

Yes. Spin is more important than power. However spin is also irrelevant if you can’t serve the ball in or direct it to where you want to go.

Focus on the three priorities above first. Once you master those, begin adding more spin to your serves. Top spin is great, but don’t forget to develop other spin serves as well.

5th Priority: Serve with Power

Learning to serve with power is your final priority. Learn to serve the tennis ball in and place it where you want it to go. Once you can do that, start developing your spin serves. Then and only then should you become concerned with power.

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Correcting Common Mistakes: Hitting the Ball Long

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
In my capacity as a tennis instructor, I spend a lot of time working with students who are hitting balls with tennis ball machines. As a result, I often see dozens of intermediate tennis players making the same common mistakes over and over, hour after hour, hundreds upon hundreds of times every week.

Chief among these common mistakes are those that cause the ball to sail out the back of the tennis court. Here are the three most common mistakes that I see along with some advice on how to correct them.

Common Mistake #1: Receiving Ball Too High

Without question, this is the most common mistake I see: new players receive the ball too high and end up making contact with it at the wrong height.

Whenever possible, players should move into position before the ball arrives so that they can strike it as it descends to waist height. Striking the ball above waist height will cause most beginner and intermediate players to hit it long out the back of the court.

That can be very frustrating.

If long balls are a problem for you, try adjusting your position one or two steps further behind the baseline. Ideally, you want to have to move forward in order to get into position to receive the ball. You then want to strike the ball as it descends to waist height from a stationary position.

Common Mistake #2: Running Forward

Another very common mistake has to do with basic footwork. Many beginner and intermediate players make the mistake of running forward through their shots. As a result, their shots go long and land out just beyond the baseline.

This is an essential lesson in basic tennis physics. The faster you are moving forward, the further the ball will travel after you hit it.

Try this instead: run as fast as you can to the spot where you want to receive the ball. STOP!! Set up with your racquet back. Strike the ball as it descends to waist height.

Doing this will help you in two ways. First, it will significantly increase your ability to control the direction of the ball. Second, it will greatly reduce the chances of hitting it too hard and causing it to land out.

Common Mistake #3: Flat Stroke

Players who are in the habit of receiving the ball too high or who tend to strike the ball while running forward, often develop very flat strokes. Since flat strokes cannot generate top spin, they will often dump balls into the net or send them long out the back of the court.

Both problems can easily be corrected with a little bit of top spin.

Top spin causes the ball to arc over the net like a rainbow. At the end of its arc, the ball is pulled strongly down into the court — which prevents it from going long and landing out.

Maximize the top spin you create by developing the habits described in points 1 and 2 above: learn to receive the ball at waist height from a stationary position consistently.

This will give you the time and space you need to create the low-to-high racquet path and create sufficient top spin to keep the ball in the court when it lands near the baseline.

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Keep Your Elbow up to Serve Better

Tennis Tips

If you want to serve better, make sure your elbow is up above your shoulder. Don’t let it drop before you strike the ball, otherwise it is harder to hit up and through the ball.

It’s like when you throw a baseball, the throwing arm’s elbow and shoulder are up high to get more leverage. When you throw a ball with your elbow up high rather than low, you can throw farther and have more power.

Just try to throw a ball with your elbow down near your side rather than up high and you’ll see how difficult it is to throw it far.

Same thing for serving, keep the elbow up and you can get more spin and more power. Try it and become more consistent.

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Serving for Recreational Doubles

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
I am often asked “what is the best serving strategy for doubles tennis”? Since the people asking it are invariably recreational doubles player, my answer is geared toward recreational doubles players.

Priority One — Get it In

The highest priority for recreational doubles players is to get the serve in. Since most players at this level are prone to making errors, the team that double faults the least is most likely to win the game. Therefore your highest priority when serving is to get the serve in.

Priority Two — Control the Direction

Once you can control your serve well enough to get it in, the next thing you should work on is directional control. This will allow you to choose to serve to your opponent’s forehand or backhand. Since most recreational players have weaker backhands, your goal is to direct your serve to their backhand sides as often as possible.

Priority Three — Make Opponents Move

Once you have general directional control that allows you to choose whether you will serve to your opponent’s forehand or backhand, you will want to hone this skill even further. By gaining more precise control, you will be able to serve to spots on the forehand or backhand that will force your opponent to move before hitting the ball. Since movement tends to cause errors at the recreational level, you will end up earning more cheap points.

Priority Four — Serve with Spin

Whenever you can force your opponents to hit balls that bounce up around shoulder level, you dramatically increase the chances of mishits. Therefore learning to serve with spin is an essential skill for anybody who wants to excel at recreational doubles.

Priority Five — Serve with Power

Your lowest priority for recreational doubles is learning to serve with power. Blasting players off the court is generally frowned upon in recreational doubles. Most importantly, though, it is not necessary. Save your power serves for days when you are playing singles tennis with the guys. Or switch from recreational doubles to competitive doubles where power serves are more likely to be appreciated.

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Receive Well — Give Better

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
One of the biggest differences between intermediate tennis players and advanced players is found in their ability to move around the court and hit ground strokes.

Advanced players move around the court and hit the ball back fairly consistently while intermediate players (3.0-3.5) struggle with many shots that requirement movement.

So what can intermediate players do to improve and become consistent with this part of their game? It all comes down to preparation and effort.

Before a player can project the ball, he needs to receive the ball. He needs to get into position and set up before beginning his swing. The worse possible situation for any player to be in is to be forced to hit a ball while he is on the run.

Every intermediate player who wishes to become an advanced player must make the effort to get into position before the ball arrives so that he can avoid being forced to hit on the run. If he can do this consistently, he will be on his way to becoming an advanced tennis player.

Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to hit some balls with a good friend who is also a tennis instructor. He is an advanced tennis player who can hit the ball hard with a ton of top spin. However, it’s the beginning of the season and it is more than six months since he last played tennis. So his footwork was a little rusty.

The impact of this rusty footwork on his game was immediately obvious. In spite of the fact that he is normally an advanced tennis player, he was playing like an intermediate tennis player. Balls that would normally be in for this player were long or wide whenever he was forced to move before hitting his shots.

If I was coaching this player, the first thing we would work on would be his footwork. I would ask him to move faster and to get set to receive the ball sooner. In fact, I would ask that he make this his highest priority.

Doing this will ensure that this player will be able to take advantage of his power and top spin. Doing this will ensure that more of his shots land in. In other words, doing or not doing this will determine whether he plays like an advanced player or an intermediate player.

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Play Your Age and Avoid Injuries

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Remember when you were 19? You were young and athletic, in the best shape of your life. You hit the ball as hard as you could; you ran as hard as you could. Injuries? Nonsense. It didn’t matter what you did to your body, it would heal in a few days anyway.

Playing in the heat? No problem. Forgot your water? No worries. Six hours on the court? No sweat. A half-dozen cold ones after the game could fix all of that. You were 19! You were indestructible!!

Too bad it only lasted a year. First you were 19, then you were 20 and now, suddenly, you are on your way to 40+. Yikes! That 19-year-old who used to sprint out wide and make those impossible returns now has a 30 pound fanny pack attached to his waistline — courtesy of too many years of too many post-match cold ones.

Injuries that used to heal in a few days now take a few weeks, sometimes a few months. And they long ago stopped healing fully. Now you’re lucky if injured body parts heal to 90 per cent of their former selves.

The magic number, 19, has come and gone. You are wealthier now and your life overall is better that it has ever been. But you are older, slower and heavier than you have ever been too. Your body’s healing cycle has changed as well. Things that you could once walk off now require REST, ICE, COMPRESSION and ELEVATION.

So have you changed the way you play? Have you changed the way you prepare to play? Or are you still acting like a 19-year-old — walking onto the court with no advanced preparation and ready to run and hit as hard as you can?

Take a moment and imagine that you are 19 and playing tennis again. Now imagine playing tennis at 19 with a 30 pound pouch tied around your waste. Would you play any differently?

Most people would. Running around the court with an extra 30 pounds tied to your body puts a lot more strain on your joints and connective tissues. The extra weight also changes your balance considerably. The heavier you are, the harder it is to stop and change direction.

Off court preparation, therefore, becomes critically important for older players who have been away from the court for awhile and have put on some extra pounds in recent years. Strengthening the small muscles around the knees and the rotator cuff in the racquet arm is absolutely essential. Core training, too, will help with balance and general injury prevention.

Is it necessary to hire a personal trainer? Probably not. For those who can afford it, it might be a good idea. But for the rest of us, fitness training at the community gym or the local YMCA will do just as well.

The important thing is to recognize that your age and weight have changed. So has your body’s ability to heal itself. So now, more than ever, it is important to do something off court in order to help you perform better — and avoid injuries — on court.

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Tennis Pushers — 5 Ways to Beat Them

Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Brent Johner is a certified tennis, squash, badminton and pickleball coach
Pushers, in tennis, are players who do not have the training or technical skills to hit normal forehand or backhand strokes.

Often, they hold their tennis racquet like a frying pan and simply push balls back to the other side of the court. To make things worse, their unorthodox grips usually create backspin or sidespin that causes the ball to bounce in strange ways when it hits the ground.

Properly trained tennis players hate losing to pushers. It’s embarrassing. Yet it happens with surprising regularity.

The keys to beating pushers are sound fundamentals and smart court positioning. Below are five essential tactics that will help you beat the neighbourhood pusher.

Tip 1: Watch the Ball — Not the Pusher

Pushers have unorthodox strokes. Do not get hypnotized by the ugliness of their game. Watch the ball and play the ball. Be prepared on every stroke to go and get the ball. Do not sit back and expect it to come to you; do that against pushers and you will surely loose.

Tip 2: Run Hard — Set Up Early

Read the ball on every shot and run to the spot from which you intend to return it as fast as you can. This will buy you extra time to read strange bounces, set up to hit your shot and decide where you want to hit it. Do NOT fall into the trap of hitting balls on the run; doing this against pushers is death.

Tip 3: Play the Pattern

Most pushers have patterns that are pretty easy to figure out. Most of those patterns will revolve around balls that you hit short. Watch for those patterns and then move in on them. Force the pusher to do something else that he is not comfortable with. Force him to do things that are outside of his normal pattern and you will often force more errors from him.

Tip 4: Abandon the Baseline

Pushers are like squash players, they like to pick corners. So you have to think like a squash player and dominate the Tee. Move to the Tee at the centre of the court as soon as you can. Since pushers do not hit with top spin, they will have problems keeping deep balls in. Take away the short court, take away the centre of the court and force them to hit wide and/or deep.

Tip 5: Backhand! Backhand! Backhand!

Rare is the pusher who has a reliable backhand. Most, in fact, will run around their backhands at every opportunity. Use this to your advantage. Keep the ball to their backhand and they will eventually play themselves off of the court and give you an easy forehand to put away.