| By Cinto Casanova
Photo courtesy of Getty Images


Tactical thinking is an area that gets often overlooked in junior tennis programs all over the world. There is a tendency among coaches to over train “how to hit the ball” and under train “how to play the game”. Technical and Tactical sides of tennis are both equally important and we have to allow time for both of them in our programs with juniors.

In this article we’ll discuss what are the key tactical ideas young competitive juniors need to work on and how to implement that work practically.

Coaching tactics is about asking questions to our players and letting them think and answer. How to win points in tennis? What are your most effective ways to win points? And your least effective? How does this opponent like to win points?

Questions have to play a big role in our lessons if we want to develop smart players.

When I teach tactics to starting competitive juniors, I like to break down the different ways to win a point and associate them to the key tactics:


1. Out Rally

To win by opponent’s errors is the most basic and primary of the tactics and still is a very successful tactic in young juniors. As coaches, we have to keep in mind that longer points equal to more development time for our player (physical and technical). It is a fundamental tactic all young players need to understand and practice with purpose.

It’s important to master hitting with depth; limiting the changes of direction and extending the length of the points. Knowing if the opponent has a weakness in consistency in one of their sides is key to exploit this tactic too.

Exercises to work on it:

►On unforced errors, give two points to the opponent.

►Set number of balls before the point can start (for example: 10 balls cross court before playing the point).

►Play points with “safety lines” marked on the court (safety lines are places three feet from the side line, reducing the court and forcing players to play more centered balls).


2. Move the Opponent

To win points by forcing opponents’ errors attacking his movement is a fundamental tactic too. They have to understand the court’s geometry and how to create spaces to attack. Players have to develop control of the court targets (angles and depth). Controlling the rally patterns for changing directions is also key.

Exercises to work on it:

►Pattern points: points start from a fixed pattern (cross court (CC) to down the line (DL))

►Only one player is allowed to hit down the line (once he/she hits the DL, the point opens for both players)

►Forced error on the open court counts two points.

►Cross Court Animal: one player can hit both CC or DL, but the other player can hit only CC.


3. Winners

Even if being consistent is a very successful tactic in U12; players also need to practice and understand aggressive tennis. They have to develop confidence attacking when they have the chance.


►Clean winners, give two points

►Shots that are hit from the attack zone are not penalized if they miss (allowing players to loosen up from attack position)

►Start 5-5 and play to 10 points; unforced error -1, forced error or winner +1.


4. Approach and volley

Young juniors have to be able to identify at least to situations where it is suitable to finish the point at the net during play:

►Attack the short ball and finish at the net

►Charge the net when opponent is in defense (especially off balance with slice)


►Feeding an attack ball and finish at the net (fixed attack target)

►Feeding a defense ball and opponent charges the net Open point, but finishing the point with both feet inside the service box gives you two points.


5. Drop Shot + Passing Shot / Lob

To win the point by luring opponent to the net and passing by him/her or over him/her. It is a great tactic to mix in when the opponent’s strength is at the baseline. It is important to develop the awareness and intention of moving opponent first before going for the drop shot.


►Start the point with a drop shot; opponent starts touching a marker outside of the baseline.

►Start from rally CC; one player is allowed to mix in the drop shot.


6. Other Mixed Plays

Juniors also need to understand the concept of changing opponent’s rhythm. Some plays are good at catching opponent by surprise if mixed properly: Sneak in volley (after a heavy spin on opponent’s weak side)

►Serve and volley

Even U12 can be successful at these plays in competition if practiced with the right purpose.


►Heavy spin to weak side + sneak in volley (coach feeds and the return has to be controlled defensive lob to the center of the court)

►Serve to target + volley (return has to be limited to a target area to facilitate the success of the volley)


7. Variations

Using variations of speed / spin / use more slice / change height can help to force errors or to create opportunities. Players should not only understand the tactical component of changing gears, but also be able to do it technically.


►Rally four Basic balls (B balls) at the center of the court; the fifth is a faster ball (A ball) to a corner to start the point.

►Rally four B balls CC, fifth is a high heavy top spin to start the point.

►Rally four B balls CC, fifth is a slice to start the point.

►Four slice CC then start open point.


To conclude this article, make sure your young juniors have enough tactical work in their programs. Understanding the game of tennis and learning to manipulate the game and its situations has to be as important as learning how to hit the ball.


Cinto Casanova is the Director of Coaching, Talent Identification and Elite Coach at Centercourt Tennis Academy. He has held leading positions in Junior Player Development for over two decades in Japan, China and Spain. He has helped to develop top junior programs that produced successful national and international junior players. He may be reached at cinto@centercourtclub.com