#5 Don’t Change Directions
Bad things happen when you change directions and don’t hurt.
It’s all about the geometry of the court.
Without a doubt, this is the number one correction I make when coaching doubles points – simply because it happens so much! Getting everyone to start in the right position is also something that always requires attention, but players quickly get that figured out.
Changing directions of the ball does happen in the heat of the battle during the point, and players often don’t realize they are doing it until it is pointed out.
Changing direction of the ball specifically means from cross court to down the line. Changing from cross court to middle is not really changing direction – so that is ok. It’s basically changing from hitting from one side of the court to the other.
Why is it so bad?
Because it changes all the angles of the court that were previously in your favor. You and your partner are well positioned in a cross court rally, trying to “visually” cover both sides of the court and not allow any apparent openings. When a ball randomly changes directions, you and your partner are not naturally well positioned for when that ball comes back. The angles don’t favor you any more.
The right time.
- Escape the better player – If the flavor of the point is being directed at the better player on the opposing team, then it’s definitely okay to change directions to construct the point against the comparatively weaker opponent. Just make sure you are doing it on the right shot and not giving up the farm with a really weak change-of-direction ball.
- Natural elements – The wind especially plays a part here. If the wind is howling to a particular corner of the court, and you have an opportunity to use that in your favor, then change directions all you want to gain the extra help. Sometimes the sun and even the slope of the court play a factor here.
- Losing battle – When you have been on a losing run of points and need to break that momentum, changing direction and throwing a curve ball can often throw some shock into the mix – just what you need to try and regain momentum.
Serving Team = Pound the Returner.
As you can see from the picture below, the angles are pretty obvious for the serving team. The returner has three main options (also a lob) and the Server and the Server’s Partner are well positioned and correctly spaced to counter all of those moves.
Serving Team – Changing Direction to Returner’s Partner.
Changing directions to the Returner’s Partner position instantly creates problems if not done correctly. Quite simply. the serving team are not automatically positioned to correctly cover all the angles and the one huge hole that emerges is right down the middle (2). A lot of times in a quick exchange between the Server’s Partner and the Returner’s Partner, the Returner’s Partner hits a reflex volley that goes for a very effective lob right over the Server’s Partner’s head. If you change directions and get the Returner’s Partner involved, then you better hit the ball down at their feet where it’s a lot tougher to create from.
1. Playing Drill
Objective – This is the one drill that I do all the time to help players understand this critical concept. I stand on the side of the court and watch a set being played. As soon as I see a change of direction of a shot (from cross court to down the line) I immediately alert the players that a change of direction just happened and a new scoring rule takes place:
- Win Point – If the team that changed directions won the point, everything remains normal.
- Lose Point – If the team that changed directions lost the point, then they lose TWO points in the score. If it was 30-30, it is now game.
- Scoring – The reason for the modified scoring is that it teaches players that they CAN change directions, but only when they hold a significant advantage in the point.
Variations – You can allow each time 5 change of direction scenarios in a set where they lose the rally. On the 6th, they automatically lose the set.
2. Feeding Drill
Objective – A great drill to control correct starting positions and the flow of the rally, specifically focusing on the acceptable times to change directions:
- ePlayers line up in their normal doubles positions.
- Ball is fed to the returner to begin the point.
- The coach can give immediate feedback as the rally is being played, saying “yes” if the change of direction was at the right time or “no” if was done without any good reason. Play to 15 and then all players rotate positions
Variations – You can play it as a set and only allow one incorrect change of direction per game. If it happens a second time then that team automatically loses the game.