#3 Forget The Lines
Doubles is not a left and right game.
Once the serve is hit, most lines vanish. Doubles is absolutely not about “your side – my side.”
The lines on a tennis court help create obvious areas to control. The line down the middle of the court is especially helpful as it signals this is my side of the court and the other is yours.
Don’t be fooled – it’s an illusion.
The more you play that way, the tougher it is to actually work together as a team and succeed as one. The main reason players think in a rigid “left/right” manner is because of what they see with their own eyes – the lines on the court.
The additional lines for serving, specifically the center line, automatically cuts the court in half. It all looks so linear, so neat – so left side, right side. Just so wrong.
To help you see the court differently I have helped your mind see better by removing the unnecessary lines on the court once the serve is in play. Thank you Photoshop! Just think that those lines vanish once the serve is in play, because they really play no part in the rest of the point whatsoever.
Once you see only the necessary lines things become a little different, and it’s easier to teach what really matters, and which players should go where on the court. Here’s the major themes:
- Net Player – As you can see from the first picture below, the net player gets to cover a whole lot more at the front of the court. When you are already that close to the net, in such a dominant position, you want the net player to hit as many balls as possible at the front of the court.
- Back Player – This is the server and the returner. Their job is to cover a whole lot more of the back of the court, and to primarily act as support and to “set up” their partner at the front of the court to make them look great!
- Get Your Own Lob – The old way of thinking was that if a ball went over your head, then it was yours to go and run down. Not anymore. If the player closer to the net gets lobbed, then he or she will take all the shorter lobs they can comfortably get back and cover. If it is a really deep lob that bounces back near the baseline, then the player that is already back there takes charge. It’s simple and makes perfect sense – kinda like how the right side of South America and the left side of Africa seem to fit together. Hopefully you get my (continental) drift.
Net Player – Covers the front
I have wanted to draw this picture for years! I have done it often on a court with ropes and balls, explaining to players at all levels of the game that the net player has a weird shaped territory to cover. Remember, the number one thing that matters the most is the Center Window, and these other areas should be covered by the player starting forward.
Back Player – covers deep lobs.
The major concept here is that the net player does not have to cover every lob that goes over their head. The deep lobs, in fact, are for the back player to cover because they are covering everything that comes deep. They can still move forward, but with a watchful eye that any deep ball is their domain.
Staggered is best
When the back player comes forward, the best formation that a doubles team can be in is slightly staggered. This is still signalling the intentions of the front player to cover the front and the back player to cover the back most effectively.
Understanding who has what.
When a team is in a staggered formation at the front of the court, the net player still has domain over the front of the court and the back player is still very watchful to cover deep lobs over their partner’s head.
It is absolutely fine for the back player to come forward IF they feel that a lob is not coming from the opposing team. Reading the body language of the opponent helps greatly with this. The back player will definitely want to come forward for a ball to stop contact getting too low, to hit a better angle and to get the ball back quickly to the opposing team.
Front player rules.
Quite often a back player will get upset when the front player cuts in front of them to hit a ball. It shouldn’t be so. Remember, the front player has 1st rights to the entire front of the court and naturally has better angles to attack, being closer to the net. There does come a time when the ball is too far away and should be left for the back player with a loud call of “YOURS”, but the back player in general should welcome the front player to go and hit the ball in front of them with closer positioning to the net.
1. Playing Drill
Objective – To get the net player more active on the other half of the court (left and right), and for the back player to welcome the net player to do so.
- Play a set.
- If the player that starts at the net moves to the other half of the court (e.g. left to right) and wins the point directly from one of their shots (either a winner or forcing an error), then that team gets two points.
Variations – If players are not that good at it, immediately award the entire game to the successful team. You can also only award the double point only if a winner is hit (or a specific winner like an overhead or a touch angled volley).
2. Feeding Drill
Objective – To encourage the net player to be aggressive to the middle of the court to start a point.
- Both teams stand where they would normally stand to begin a point.
- The feed is hit as a substitute for the return of serve.
- The net player must look to immediately get involved in the point and cut the feed off, even if it is fed to the other half of the court.
Variations – The net player has to make an attempt at every feed and make good decisions if they take it or leave it for the “server”. Can make it that the serving team loses the point if the net player does not get the feed (return of serve).
Understand the net player has full control over the entire front of the court.
The back player is responsible for covering the deep lobs over their partner’s head.
Staggered is the best position to be in at the net.
The back player should welcome the front player to go and get the ball in front of them.
Think much more front and back than left and right.