Developing Junior Tennis Players Ages 5-8: The Serve
This is Part 2 of a 3 part series on developing junior tennis players ages 5-8. With players in the 8u age group play USTA Sanctioned Tournaments on 36 ft courts, 23 inch racquets, and 75% low compression Red/Yellow balls, getting them into a match play situation is easier than ever. The serve is the first shot of any point, so before heading into match play, the player must be confident they can get the serve in at least 50% of the time. Since they only have to hit the ball 18 feet to do that, it's a very achievable goal for the average 8u player. It can be done with either the under hand or overhand serve.
The underhand serve is the first motion I teach players because it is simple, and there's very little threat of their 8u opponents consistently hitting offensive returns of serve against it. This motion gets the player into match play quickly where they can work on their game in a live ball environment. Here's a video clip that demonstrates how easy it is to get 8u players hitting the under hand serve.
While the underhand serve is a quick and easy way to get the 8u player started on playing matches, the overhand serve is what the long term priority. As soon as the player has demonstrated the ability to execute the underhand serve, work on the overhand serve should start.
For the overhand serve,, Let's go back to the USTA 's Competencies
Scroll down to the video clips entitled Serve Technique This clip quickly shows what players of this age should be learning on the overhand serve. When learning the overhand serve, start the player using a Continental Grip.. With the bigger balls, shorter court and smaller racquet, there's no need to start them with an Eastern Forehand Grip to make it easier. It's a very realistic goal for the average 8u player to have success with Continental.
While the grip and the “ palms down” motion mentioned in the USTA clip are absolute must-haves, the rest of the motion involves a great deal of personal style. I've found that 8u players make far faster progress when they get to use a serving motion that they are most comfortable with. One easy way to give the 8u player a choice in building their own serve is the wind-up. If you watch the Top 10 players on both ATP & WTA Tour, you'll see a wide variety of ways the racquet gets from the start of their motion to behind their head. Just like the Pros, 8u players can have a preference on how they wind up for the serve. Allowing that preference, as opposed to forcing a certain style on them, will speed up serve progress. Here are examples of the 3 major serve wind-up styles:
The Traditional wind-up used by ATP #3 Roger Federer has the most distance between racquet and ball after the toss. Andy Roddick's Abbreviated motion has the least distance and the Semi-Abbreviated is half way in between the two. There is only one right answer: what the player likes. If they like it, they will make faster progress and be better serves because of it.