Looking at any kind of tennis drill you have to ask yourself what the goal of that particular drill is.
I think there are basically three types of drills and they need to be used for different kinds of purposes:
1. Repetitive Tennis Drill
This is practicing the same shot in the same situation over and over. This type of drill is best used for learning and changing technique. These drills are actually essential to learning and changing technique.
I believe that it is not possible to really learn
or change a stroke any other way!
Repetitive drilling is usually not very popular with students because it can be boring. If you really want to achieve something (change your technique) there is no way around it though. It is very popular among coaches to tell students that these types of drills are not used anymore these days and that the game needs to be learned with the so-called game-based approach. This in my opinion is only a way to cover up the fact that the coach does not know much about technique and is afraid to work on it.
If you come across a coach that tells you everything needs to be game-based and working on technique in an isolated fashion is outdated my advice is to run as fast as you can!
Nevertheless the goal is to get past this stage of repetitive practice as quickly as possible!
2. Semi-Repetitive Tennis Drill
Once you have mastered the same shot from the same situation and your technique works well in that situation, it is time to move on and start practicing the same shot from different kind of situations. (Low balls, high balls, fast balls etc.)
The amount of variation and difficulty should increase gradually. Start with only two different types of balls with your tennis drill and when you feel like you have mastered that you can go to random feeds, yet still only practicing that one shot. (random feeds to the forehand for example)
3. Match-Oriented/Random Tennis Drill
These types of drills try to imitate match situations as much as possible. The goal here is to make the tennis drill as realistic as possible and to work on areas that are problematic for you in matches. These kinds of drills are the best drills during tournament phases and when you are currently not working on technique.
In order to really play your best in a match/tournament you need to get in a zone-like state where you are not thinking about your strokes anymore at all!
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I would like to say a few more words about the game-based approach to teaching that has become so popular in tennis teaching. The idea is to avoid repetitive drills where you practice one stroke (forehand for example) over and over and work on technique.
In the game-based approach students are supposed to learn more through targets and games. In practice this means that you put up a target for example and tell the student to hit the ball there with their forehand and construct some kind of game around that. Once the student masters this, the technique must be good. The belief is that the student will find good technique on his own without thinking much about it.
I believe that this is very far from true and a very dangerous approach to teaching Tennis!
It also gives the coach a free pass to avoid the important and difficult part of teaching technique. The results are usually disastrous. If someone has a bad forehand it is not going to change if you put up a target and tell students to hit it there!
Bad stroke mechanics can only be changed by consciously learning and practicing better stroke mechanics and not by simply playing more!
Now of course the game-based approach is more fun for the students. Students want to play the game of Tennis after all! So in that regard I have no problem with the game-based approach. Every coach needs to assess their group of students and what their goals are. Is it important for them to improve or do they simply want to have fun ? If all they care about is having fun then go ahead and let them play.
But if students want to improve I believe you have to give them the chance to do so and in most cases the best way to do that is to improve their strokes!
Even a coach with great enthusiasm and plenty of fun games to play will loose his student’s interest when they realize that they are not getting any better!