May 19, 2014 - Why You Should Systematically Practice Receive

Many players spend lots of time systematically practicing their strokes and footwork. Each week they'll put in many hours practicing their forehand and backhand loops, drives, blocks, and all the other strokes in their repertoire. They'll practice their footwork. The smart and ambitious ones will even practice their serves, which often gives the most return on investment.

And yet most rely on matches to practice their serves. This doesn't make sense. If you can use matches as your primary way to develop a technique, then that would be the primary way players would develop all their shots. But any coach or experienced player will tell you that you need to develop these shots with systematic training. You do need match play or drills that simulate match play, but that's in addition to the systematic training needed to develop the shot itself.

So why do players rely on matches to develop their receive? My theory has always been that most players don't want to let rivals practice against their serves. Two players will gladly practice together, letting the opponent get used to all their shots, except for their serves. It's seems almost rude to ask a player to let you practice against their serves, since it seems as if you are practicing just to beat that player. And, unfortunately, there's some truth to this. 

But it's also a huge handicap to players who cannot get past this idea of practicing receive only in matches. It's a two-way thing, but you have to find someone with varied serves who can serve to you over and over to develop your receive. Ideally, get a coach or top player, even if you have to pay them. Or find a peer, and both agree to let the other practice against their serves. Try to find someone who has a variety of serves.

And then practice against them. Practice attacking deep serves, usually with loops. Practice pushing short serves back long or short, and flipping them. Practice reading the varied spins. Practice against sidespins going in both directions, and against both topspin and backspin serves. Practice against every type of serve you might see in a match. 

By doing this systematic training, your receive will improve dramatically. Since most of your peers won't be doing this type of training, you will soon leave them behind. And you'll rarely have to utter those infamous words heard so often, "I could have beaten him if I could return his serve."