#25 Communicate

You are a team. Act like it.

You should be constantly communicating with your partner. 

There is nothing worse than a team that does not talk. They are essentially two singles players sharing a doubles court, failing to maximize their doubles potential.

The General

The player at the front of the court has a far better view of what is really happening on the other side of the court, and is therefore the “General” in point-to-point play. The front player is typically the one that calls the signals to design the play. They then get to closely examine the tenancies of the opposing team, especially figuring out what makes them less comfortable over there. Because there is a lot of mix between the two players as to who is serving, returning, and starting closer to the net, the “General” changes as well.

The primary role of the player at the back of the court is to hit the ball first – as the server and the returner. It’s hard for them to also closely examine what’s going on over the net as well. The player at the front of the court will typically hit the ball less, and have more time for evaluation.

Talk at the Back

Once a point ends, it’s important to come together with your partner to discuss what just happened and what the plan is for the next point. The “General” at the front of the court should go back to the baseline, or wherever their partner is at the back of the court for this meeting of the minds. You want to get a little space between you and your opponents, and you quite often see teams covering their mouthes or facing away from their opponents so their strategy can’t be heard. These critical discussions lend themselves much better to have at the back of the court.

Focus On The Opponents

When you come together to discuss tactics, listen to the tone of the discussion – it needs to focus on the other side of the net. Figuring out the right place to serve to each opponent, when to surprise with secondary patterns, where to hit first volleys, when to mix with a lob or a pass down the line, are all topics that should be talked about. Doubles is very much a game of moves and counter moves, and the momentum will naturally ebb and flow between the two teams. Staying on top of that is critical to staying ahead in the match.

Constantly Come Together

Watch the best teams in the world. They are always coming together between every single point. They may just give each other an encouraging high five but it shows unity and teamwork. Good things happen when you communicate with your partner. After each point the front player should go back to the back player and relay any information that was important from the last point and then discuss the tactics for the next point including serve direction, what return you are expecting and where the net player is going to move to after the serve. Don’t take points or games off from this ritual.

Hand Signals

These are a fantastic idea to help partners communicate. There are three basic signals that are pretty universal for teams.

1. Closed fist – this means that the Server’s Partner is going to stay.

2. Open hand – this signals that the Server’s Partner is going to cross after the serve.

3. Finger pointing – this will indicate the location of the serve which will typically be wide, body, or down the middle.

Normally the serve location will be signaled first and then whether the Server’s Partner will cross or not. Once again, it is the “General” at the front of the court that is calling the plays. If the server does not like it, they can shake their head or say no and another formation will be offered. The better you get as a team, the more you communicate in this manner. Returning teams can also use hand signals as well, especially between first and second serves.

Strategy Drills

1. Playing

Name: Communicate

Objective – To get both partners working better together as a team.

  • Play a set.
  • This is really simple, but extremely powerful. The one rule is that the front player MUST always go back to the baseline and discuss what happened on the last point and the plan for the next point. Every single point. No exceptions.

Variations – The serving team works on their hand signals for the entire set. They can talk at the back, but they also must use had signals as well. This can also apply for the returning team.

2. Feeding

Name: Communicate Feeding

Objective – To encourage better teamwork through more point planning.

  • Both teams stand where they would normally stand to begin a point.
  • The feed is hit as a substitute for the return of serve. Feed can not be poached by the Server’s Partner.
  • Alternate feeding deuce and ad court -scoring like a game. Complete a full set. The feeder will change ends feeding so it replicates a normal set.
  • The feeding element takes the serve out of play, getting more balls in play. The feeder does not feed a point until both teams have come together to briefly talk about the last point and the plan the next one.

Variations – Once the teams do well talking, introduce hand signals. Also give them less time to communicate, seeing how effective they can be with their discussion with less time.

Go Do This

Talking is a must between partners. Evaluate and plan constantly.

The discussions happen at the back of the court. The front player needs to go back there to strategize.

Hand signals work great. The more you use them, the more comfortable you will get with them.

The front player is the General who dictates what patterns are going to be implemented.

Focus the discussion on the opponents. What do they not want? How do you make them uncomfortable?