The only way to learn how to play tennis is by playing. Organizing competitive games for a team or class is an essential part of the curriculum. When the student realizes that a loss can show him what must be improved, he gains greater insight into the internal mysteries of the game.
One of the most popular games we play at our camps and clinics is called Bump. It is a winners-up, losers-down game that works best with three players per court. Rules:
€ Courts are numbered lowest to highest. The player's objective is to work his way up to the top court, by winning three points in a row, or two out of three, twice in a row.
€ On each court, two players (B & C) alternate playing three points against one player (A).
€ The individual player (A) serves one point, then his opponent (B or C) feeds two points. (Alternative: serve all points.)
€ If any player wins three in a row, or two out of three, twice in a row, he advances courts.
€ The individual player (A) advances to the next highest court, to the lowest half (the B & C side), replacing the on-deck player, who goes down a court. If B or C win, they change positions with player A.
€ The teacher can limit the number of serves to one (second serves only).
To encourage net play, play Time-Limit Bump. Rules:
€ Players B & C alternate serving games (player A returns two consecutive games).
€ 3- or 4-point no-ad scoring.
€ On first point, server must serve-and-volley; on second point, receiver must return-and-volley; on third point, both server and receiver must come in. No rules on subsequent points.
€ Teacher calls Time! every ten minutes or so. Within each court, highest game winner advances a court; fewest drops down a court; in the middle stays.
When the class/team size exceeds three players per court, this game works especially well. A team of two players (three, if necessary) alternate playing points against another team. Rules:
€ Rotating: Winner of point stays to play a bonus point. Or player plays two points, win or lose, and if he wins both, he gets to play the bonus point.
€ Advancing courts: Teams advance courts after teacher calls Time! Winning team moves up, losing team down.
€ Scoring: Ping pong or no-ad games. (I like the scoring system where each game begins with the score at deuce. This helps the players confront the pressure of ad points. Another idea is to begin each serving game with the score at 15-30; this helps both players concentrate.)
€ Teams: Keep the same partner or change partners with each rotation.
€ Half-court: When there's a shortage of courts, play the same game, but on half-court, which includes the alley. (Center rule: advise participants that balls are live that can easily be played in the middle of the court&endash;&endash;if the player is not hindered, the slightly wide ball is good.)
Winners In, Losers Out
When the class size exceeds five per court, this game can inspire the group at various levels of play.
€ Four share the entire court, playing singles on the half-court; down-the-line or crosscourt; alleys are good.
€ Winners in, losers out. On-deck players wait at fence.
€ Scoring: Play best-of-three-point games; or start each game with score at deuce; or one-point games. Win three consecutive games and rotate out.
€ With serve, the challenging player serves the game. With under-hand feeds, either player may put the ball in play.
A few ideas on how to manage this always-popular game:
€ With three players on a court, one reigns until he loses or wins three consecutive games. The King can serve or return each game (or alternate). Games consist of four or five-point no-ad scoring, regular scoring, or tie-breakers.
€ With four players on a court, singles play gets bogged down. A suggestion is to make one player the ball boy (supplies balls to the server). Meanwhile, two players alternate serving to the King of the court.
€ With four or more players, play a version called Around-the-Post. It works this way:
The teacher feeds balls into play from the backhand corner of the court (and becomes part of the court&endash;&endash;the challenger is rewarded for deep angled backhands). On-deck players wait at the net. The King plays from the teacher's side. Play best-of-three or best-of-five-point games. This game provides the teacher an opportunity to orchestrate playing situations at the beginning of the point (feed a wide ball to the backhand, a short ball, lob, etc.).
Let's say you have 16 students of varying levels; you want to divide them into two levels for competitive play, but you don't want to do it arbitrarily. A few suggestions:
€ Play a preliminary tournament of Winners up-Losers Down, then make two draws of eight.
€ Administer a Playoff tournament, pairing what you think are the top eight versus the bottom eight in the first round. (Make the first round matches short.)
€ If you've got the time, throw all the players' racquets in a pile. The first eight picked play a round-robin, as do the second eight. Then take the top four finishers in each group and set up a playoff tournament, the second four in another. You'll determine all 16 positions.
€ Play a time limit round-robin tournament. One player plays all matches on the same court, the others rotate in a circle. Each match lasts a specified length of time. One-point tie-breakers.