The serve is the most important shot in tennis. It is often the least practiced shot and the hardest to learn. This sometimes makes a tennis professional or coach hesitant to teach the shot to a young player. However, I believe it should be one of the first things these young players learn.
Try using some of the lighter, softer balls to start. Have the players stand just behind the service line, or in between the baseline and the service line, and serve with no backswing. Start with the racquet near the shoulder, toss relatively low, and swing like you are throwing a ball. Once the player gets better at executing the serve in this manner, it is easy to add an abbreviated backswing and move them back towards the normal serving position, just behind the baseline.
The earlier the player starts with some of these ideas, the better their serve will become. Because of the nature of the shot, the serve will generally undergo numerous adjustments and changes as the player develops. This is all the more reason to teach kids how to serve before they get proficient with their groundstrokes.
Keep in mind that you are not teaching them a final product-use some of the ideas above to move the player in the direction of their serve becoming their favorite shot and a major weapon in their arsenal.
Steve Annacone, USPTA Elite Pro, is the Director of Annacone Tennis (http://www.annaconetennis.com) and MyHamptonsPro based in Sag Harbor, NY (http://www. myhamptonspro.com) and Tennis Professional at Ventana Canyon Golf and Racquet Club in Tucson, AZ. For details on lessons, clinics, or coaching, contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 865-300-7323