How to Develop Good Hands On The Volley

Dec 09

In tennis, developing good hands on the volley is the key to being able to handle all situations at the net.

There are many situations at the net where the traditional punch volley technique is not appropriate and will in fact cause you to make errors instead of giving you the advantage in the point.

For these situations, you’ll need feel and touch. You’ll need to be able to take speed away from the ball, be able to redirect the ball with control, or be able to play a drop volley.

I’ve shared some examples in the previous article on tennis volley technique and here I want to show you more drills on how to develop that feel.

The following volley drills are helpful for developing these often-overlooked skills in tennis.

Note: Some of the drills you’ll see have been around for a while, so I don’t claim to be the person who came up with them. However, they have proven to be very useful, so I am happy to recommend them to you.

Why Feel And Touch?

The usual punch volley is useful only in situations where you are receiving a relatively slow and high ball while you are close to the net.

That’s when you would execute a punch volley with good success.

But most situations either in singles or in doubles are different – you may be:

– approaching the net and hitting the volley around the service line

– receiving a very fast ball

– receiving a low ball

– receiving a high ball that you want to angle away

– etc.

In all these situations, you’ll need to absorb the energy from the incoming ball and slow the ball down.

Forward to around 2:20 to see how Federer handles the first volley and absorbs the speed of the incoming ball.

The classic punch volley is a way of accelerating the ball – your volley will go faster than the speed of the incoming ball.

But many times you are faced with a fast incoming ball, and you need to angle the ball away from your opponent; therefore, you need to take the speed away from the ball.

The tennis volley drills on this page will help you develop drop volley technique and in general improve your feel and control of the volleys.

Volley Drills For Better Hands

1. Stop and Volley

The first volley drill of stopping the ball first and then volleying it back has been around for a while, and I think it deserves to be shown more times as it is very useful for developing touch, and for teaching the player to keep the head at the contact and not rush turning his head toward the target – which is a common cause for missed volleys.

tennis stop volley drill

Stop and Volley looks deceivingly easy but it may take you a while to master it

It also forces the player to quickly adjust with his feet after the first volley – although young players often need to be encouraged to do that rather than just twist their arm and trunk and try to hit the second volley. 😉

The variation where you stop the ball on one side and hit with the other side is also a great drill to develop quick hands at the net.

2. Absorb the Speed

Taking away the speed is another great drill for quick reflexes and good hands at the net.

One player is volleying the ball while the other is hitting a groundstroke from the service line.

The groundstroke player’s goal is to challenge the volleyer by playing faster and giving the net player less time to react but also more difficulty in controlling the ball and taking the speed away so that it still lands in the service box.

volley drill for feel

The net player tries to volley in the service box while receiving a fast ball

I first did this drill with coach Bayo from Croatia, and he challenged me pretty hard with his groundstrokes while asking me to keep the ball in the service box. It was very intense and difficult to do, but the benefits were quickly obvious as I gained much better control of fast incoming shots.

The key volley technique in this situation is to keep the elbows in front of the body, keeping a low position and moving forward toward the ball while absorbing the energy from the ball mostly with the forearm and hand.

A good way to learn to keep the elbows in front is to keep the non-dominant hand across the body and under the upper arm so that it cannot move back.

Tennis volley technique drill

Put your non-dominant arm under your elbow to feel the right volley technique and where to keep your elbows

Try it on both the forehand and the backhand side.

3. Short and Long with Feel

Short and long with feel is a drill I came up with at some point while working with players who would thought that there must be a lot more effort or “work” involved if you want to play a deep volley.

The problem with a lot of effort is that it creates tension, which makes it almost impossible to control a fast incoming ball.

So the goal of this last drill is to volley one ball short and one ball long and try to make both volleys or both movements very similar.

volley with feel

What is the minimum amount of force / effort that makes the ball go longer from the first target?

The key is to find that extra energy that will send the ball deeper inside of you and not focus so much on extra external movement.

The energy comes more from the center of gravity, from the core, and also from the hand that adds just that little extra force to the ball.

Tennis volley backswing

This is a key skill in my opinion if you want to handle fast incoming balls when playing at the net.

Scroll back up and check Federer’s first volley and how he absorbs the speed and yet plays such an effective volley that his next shot is an easy putaway.

Leave a Comment:

(19) comments

Mike G. December 10, 2013

Magnificent volley lessons!

Mike December 10, 2013

Good work, Tomaz. These are excellent volley drills.

    Bill Lange December 10, 2013


    I particularly like the the drill where one person is hitting groundstrokes and the other person is executing the volley in the short court. I find this very useful in helping the players learn control and cooperation in practicing both groundstrokes and volleys.

    Your approach to this volley skill is right on.

    Thank you for sharing.


Javier December 10, 2013

Tomaz, these are all great volley drills. I have been teaching the sport of tennis to my (2) boys for the past (6) years, they are now (15) and (12) years old. I will be using all the drills, with special attention to the one in which the racket take-back is limited by the use of the non-racket hand behind the elbow of the racket hand. Both my boys take the racket way too far back, and continuous practice of this drill will eliminate this bad habit (on both the punch and energy absorbing volleys). Thank you for doing such a good job of breaking down the basics into easy to understand visuals!

    Tomaz December 10, 2013

    You’re welcome, Javier. The last drill also helps players realize that there is no extra effort needed to play a deep ball, it’s more about timing and accuracy.

Georgia December 11, 2013

Hello Tomaz: smart drills, can you also address what “soft” hands or playing with “feel” means exactly. Such as how much tension should one have on the grip and or the arm and how does one direct the ball. I see Leander Paes do amazing things with his “volleying hands” in which the incoming ball drops dead on the other side of the net.



    Tomaz December 11, 2013

    Hi Georgia,

    Playing with feel means that you mostly absorb the ball’s energy. You can only do that if your hands and other joints are able to bend.

    A punch volley technique for example makes ones wrist very firm and there’s not much feel in it. You can punch the ball hard but you can’t really take speed away.

    How much tension or firmness you need cannot be explained in words – you simply hit many balls and adjust according to where they go.

Balaji December 12, 2013

Excellent tips.
I am now inclined to think that perhaps we should teach beginners volleying before other strokes. One does not have to worry about power, backswing spin etc before learning the absolute basics – touch and feel.

Thank you Tomaz. Your videos are always very useful.

    Tomaz December 12, 2013

    Thanks, Balaji. I don’t think there’s a special sequence needed for beginners as long as we teach them groundstrokes and the volleys at the same time.

Luis Rolando December 13, 2013

Excellent lessons!

waves December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas Tomaz – and happy holiday to you; very kind to put up a new module on 12/25; you are very generous with your instruction to the community…

It’s cold where I am this time of year and so I’ve adapted your 2 play stop volley drill to work in a squash court; alone, I simply hit a flat hard ground stoke standing mid range to wall and then softly stop volley – and hit again (forehand, backhand).

And, in same court adapted from one of your other lessons on site (Ideal tennis forehand contact point: 6 drills), I hit the ball very hard sending it bounce off back wall of squash court (so that it is bouncing *away* from me) – and strike again.

Frankly, it’s gotten so I look pretty much like a madman at play in that court with the stop volleys and playing the ball off the wall; anything goes and is all about process without regard to result.

Having fun is always best way of teaching.

Thank you…!

    Tomaz December 27, 2013

    Happy New Year to you too, waves!

    Thanks for sharing you training ideas, it’s great to see how one can adapt a certain idea and use it in a different situation while still benefiting from it.

Robert February 19, 2014

Most don’t pay much attention to it, but I appreciate the intellectual honesty in attributing what is not your origin and what is.
Couple comments. Long ago I watched a guy in a doubles group of 5.0 + players catching fast warm up serves such that they bounced softly in front of him with backspin so he could just pick them out of the air. I had to learn to volley the way you teach it to figure out how he did that.
The way you put it in the other lesson on how to volley, to catch while pushing the hand forward, is golden!
Thanks so much!

Lance Lee April 22, 2014

Yesterday was my first time out this year, and also my first time playing since I’ve found your site. This volley video particularly was very helpful.
I’ve been practicing against a wall doing the catch-the-ball thing. That combined with just the idea that volleying is not about pace but placement and touch and feel.
Yesterday, I’ve never volleyed so well! I kept thinking “This isn’t going to work. I’m going to take pace off and try to place the ball well, and my opponent will run it down and pass me.” But no, I hit numerous outright winners. They weren’t soft like a drop volley, or hard like a drive volley, they were medium paced and well placed and gloriously effective.
I love your site, but I think this particular concept is the most useful for me. I’ve never volleyed well, and this was amazing.

Thanks for all the effort of making this stuff, you are really helping some people out there.

    Tomaz April 23, 2014

    Thanks so much for the feedback, Lance. Yes, we need to let go of that fear that you’ll be passed on every volley that doesn’t hit the line with maximum pace and actually try and play with feel and placement.

    Then nice things start to happen. 😉

Meena September 9, 2014

I really like your simplified instruction.
I don’t think they teach you enough to carry the ball on your racquet as long as possible.
Can you clarify about not dropping the racquet head? Also your racquet came down along a 30 degree angle with the lower edge leading. Is that what creates the spin? And do you open the face more for a deeper volley?
I hope my question makes sense?

    Tomaz September 10, 2014

    Hi Meena,

    I think not dropping the racquet head is a myth. It may be true in one situation, but not in the other.

    Here’s is Baghdatis hitting a perfect volley in my book:

    So yes, hitting the ball with an angled racquet and moving it through the contact creates the backspin.

    To play a deeper volley, you simply try and hit deeper without any conscious idea on how to achieve it. It’s natural like throwing a ball further. No need to tell your body how to do it.

David February 1, 2017

My reflexes are terrible. I’m constantly getting drilled at the net, or handcuffed, or am only able to barely get a racquet on the ball. Any tips for improving reflexes ?

    Tomaz February 12, 2017

    Hi David,

    I suggest you do a lot of volley-to-volley drills with your partner. Also work on closing in on the net while you do that so that it gets more and more difficult.

    It doesn’t matter whether you hit every volley well or not, it only matters that you train your reflexes. In time your mind will adjust and you’ll be quicker.

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