Serve Toss Tennis Drill For Accurate Ball Placement

Mar 04

An accurate tennis serve toss that consistently reaches the right location and height can only be achieved with effective toss drills.

A proper toss location is crucial for your serves to consistently land in the service box on the other side, but tossing the ball in the same spot repeatedly is not that easy.

My favorite serve toss drill is called “Keep Lifting”, and it corrects two major problems on the serve:

  • an inconsistent placement of the ball on the toss, and
  • an incorrect position of the tossing arm and body alignment in the loading phase.

Correcting Two Serve Problems With One Tossing Drill

There are quite a few reasons why the ball placement in the toss is not consistent:

  1. Not tossing from the shoulder joint only but using the elbow and the wrist as well,
  2. Incorrect tossing arm and body alignment at the end of the tossing motion,
  3. Not holding the ball correctly in the palm,
  4. Tossing the ball in a very jerky manner, which suggests that the player thinks a toss is the same as a throw, and
  5. Starting the service motion and the toss way too fast.

There are various drills that help solve these problems, but in this lesson we’ll focus on:

  • teaching the player how to toss with a lifting motion rather than a jerky throwing motion, and
  • correcting the arm and body position in the loading phase.

When the tossing arm doesn’t end up in a vertical position at the end of the loading phase, it means that the body is not at the right angle to accelerate the racquet upward.

serve tossing arm

The incorrect tossing arm and body alignment vs correct arm and body position in the loading phase of the serve.

The cause for that is usually a mental one and not simply a mechanical mistake that needs to be fixed.

That body and arm position suggest that you’re imagining hitting the ball downward.

You are simply aligning your body so that you can swing in a more downward fashion.

So, unless you understand that the serve swing path is upward, the toss drills will not really correct that body position as you will eventually revert to your old technique, which simply reflects your mental image of how you want to hit the ball.

The second reason for inconsistent ball toss is a very jerky tossing motion that keeps sending the ball in different directions and makes us “chase” it with the service motion.

The mental image that you may have is that you have to “throw” the ball upward, and that causes your body to produce a very jerky movement.

To get the correct mental image, simply imagine that you are lifting the ball in a straight line and that the ball simply leaves your hand by itself rather than you having to “eject” it out.

The Keep Lifting Toss Drill

This serve toss drill has two stages:

  • getting the feel for the lifting motion, and
  • gradually adding more height to the toss.

You can see how I work with Prabha, who is just 8 years old and has just started to learn the service motion with me.

A fairly consistent toss is important even at very early stages of developing the serve since even the basic serve drills require her to place the ball quite accurately in the toss.

Helping her to change from the “throwing” concept to the “lifting” concept follows these progressions:

  1. Lift up the tossing arm, but don’t release the ball. She needs to move the arm slowly in order to keep the ball in her hand. In practicing this, we really counter what she was doing before, which was a very quick, jerky tossing motion. She also learns to hold the ball properly in her hand since I ask her to keep the palm facing up at the highest point.
    lifting drill for the serve toss

    Practice such slow lifting motion with palm up that the ball doesn’t leave your hand

  2. Lift the tossing arm with a little bit more speed so that the ball leaves her hand for about one foot of height. This way, we’re slowly building up the speed needed to toss high enough, but we’re making sure she maintains gradual acceleration of her tossing arm.
    tossing drill for the serve

    Gradually adding a little bit of speed to your toss

  3. Add more speed to the tossing arm and toss the ball even higher while maintaining the lifting feel. She also needs to catch the ball back in her hand, forcing her to keep her palm facing up, which helps her develop proper hand position.

I’ve worked with Prabha only two times so far for about 10 minutes per session on the toss, and the difference in consistency of the toss is already noticeable.

The second stage of the “Keep Lifting” drill is to add more height to the toss without transitioning back to a jerky “throwing” concept.

The mental image you can have in mind is that your hand is a magnet that repels the ball as it leaves the hand.

Imagine “pushing” the ball up with your hand, even though the ball has already left your hand.

tennis serve drill for accurate toss

“Keep lifting” the ball even when it has left your hand…

That helps you maintain that calm movement of your arm which in turn helps you consistently place the ball in the right spot.

It also helps you achieve proper body alignment in the loading phase. That body alignment creates proper torque and stretches your muscles in the right way, which then allows you to release all that stored energy in your body in order to accelerate your arm and the racquet through the contact zone.

You may feel at the beginning that the lifting concept will not create enough speed for you to toss the ball high enough.

But I encourage you to stick to this process for a while and allow your body to find a very economical way of gradually building the speed of the tossing arm, which will eventually result in a high enough toss placement.

Leave a Comment:

(16) comments

Steven Yeong March 4, 2016

Nice tossing drill! Looks like a condo in Tanjong Rhu! 🙂

Reply
maurizio March 4, 2016

Great drill Tomasz , complimenti ! Federer’s serve is a fantastic example of what you suggest …

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Gopalakrishna T S March 4, 2016

Thanks, it appears easy to learn the correct tossing drills!!

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    Tomaz March 4, 2016

    With the right method repeated often it goes quite well especially if the child has good feel in their hands…

    Reply
Jake March 4, 2016

I like the drill but did notice that your daughter has all her weight on her front foot as she starts her toss. With the weight on the back foot the front shoulder and hand are more free to rise to the vertical position.

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    Tomaz March 4, 2016

    Prabha is a student I teach…

    I always correct one thing at a time because that’s the only way our mind works best. Even if I see some mistakes, I don’t tell that to student until they are becoming better with the current task they are working on.

    The exact weight transfer process comes later… One thing at a time…

    Reply
Charlie March 4, 2016

Hi, nice lesson! Some coach once said ” after tossing the ball, wave goodbye to it with your fingers”. It’s basically what you’re saying; your tossing hand continues to follow the ball.
Practice practice practice!!! , cheers, Charlie…

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cornelia March 5, 2016

Absolutely fantastic demonstration, Tomaz. A must for trainers! Thanks for that insight into the flawed mental image. C.

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RICHARD ELLIS March 9, 2016

I coach at a high and I have for the last 35 years called it a ball releasea and use the same format as you. Great lesson and will use some of the information in my instructions.

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linda April 7, 2016

it is great to hear these basics…i need to hear this, thanks

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Deo L April 8, 2016

Hi Tomaz! Thank you very much for this drill. My 2 kids (7 & 8 yrs old) are now very consistent on their toss. I have seen several videos about the right way to toss but your instruction is the most effective one. My 7 yr old daughter get it in just a few minutes of practice. Again, thank you very much! I wish you are located here in Northern California.

Reply
    Tomaz April 10, 2016

    And thank you, Deo, for coming back to the site and sharing your feedback. Really appreciate it!

    Reply
Riccardo Ragazzo August 1, 2016

Hi Tomaz, fantastic video again. I have one question for you, my Daughter is 6 years old and she has been learning tennis since she was 4. Her actual Coach is teaching to her the Waiter serve. It is correct to coach the kids at this age the Waiter serve and later when they are older move to the correct Serve technique ? Or is just wrong?
Thank you for your time.
Regards, Riccardo

Reply
    Tomaz August 4, 2016

    Hi Riccardo,

    I depends how much your daughter trains. If she goes to tennis for example twice a week only, then waiter’s serve is fine because she can serve soon.

    She wouldn’t be able to acquire advanced serving technique with just a couple of lessons per week.

    But if she plays more than 3 times per week, then she could start learning a more advanced technique although it would still take some time before she would be comfortable using it.

    Reply
Ellis Gibson November 17, 2016

I needed to read this. Ive been having so many problem with my toss… Thanks!

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Phil December 20, 2016

The suggestion that ..

When the tossing arm doesn’t end up in a vertical position at the end of the loading phase……..

That body and arm position suggest that you’re imagining hitting the ball downward.

I know that is my basic flaw, and the mental image of hitting downward/straight rather than upward/circular is EXACTLY what I do.

I will quickly try to correct this mental image , with relaxed arm/shoulder……firstly starting practicing serving from well back behind the service line to accentuate the hitting up image and build the feeling etc….Many thanks

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