Three Step Process For Learning and Improving Serves

It’s always possible to improve serves. I’ve come to look at serves a little differently. My judgement on whether a serve is good is mostly dependent on if it works. Does it compliment the server’s game? Does it result in third ball attacks? Is it a serve that makes opponents uncomfortable? Generally, I feel like a serve has potential if it has energy. Energy could mean some combination of speed, spin, and a confident delivery. A serve with energy that’s well placed and not too predictable is usually effective. But, the bottom line is, does the serve really work for the particular player that’s serving? 

Even though I can execute numerous serves, I usually narrow down that number in a match. I usually have a few that work well most of the time, and sometimes find one that works well against a particular opponent. Given that so many players attack serves, a minimum requirement is that a serve is not easily attacked. Serves are more important than ever. Unfortunately, practicing serves is often an afterthought. Coaches assume that players can practice serving by themselves, but many players neglect service practice, sometimes for years.  

My own method for practicing serves was born out of teaching players who literally could not serve at all. If you haven’t been playing for years, a basic serve is not actually that easy. To get beginners to serve correctly, it’s helpful to break down serves into parts. This three part method works for beginners, but there’s no reason that it can’t be helpful for more advanced players as well.                                                      

The T3 Method For Learning New Serves
Toss – Touch – Table

  • Toss – Frequently overlooked, the toss is the beginning of effective serving. This is neglected by experienced players just as often as with beginners. This can be practiced by getting into position for serving and practicing tossing the ball up at various heights and catching it. You should have your racket in your other hand, but you won’t be using it yet. I describe this as learning how to juggle one ball. If the toss is wrong, the rest of the serve won’t work either. Just make sure you are tossing the ball at least six inches.
  • Touch – Now that you are an accomplished juggler, it’s time to make contact with the racket. You don’t even need a table. The point of this step is to coordinate the toss with whatever contact you hope to make for your serve. For beginners, just about any contact will work. You can spin the ball back into your free hand or experiment with different contact points on your racket. Practicing serving over a bed works well. You are now trying to combine the motion of the racket with the toss in a way that feels natural. Not having a table can actually help with this step since you’re focusing on the basic motions, and not the success of the serve.
  • Table – Finally, it’s time to practice serves the way you hope to do them in a match. There will probably be plenty of fine tuning and tweaking to get the new serve to work. Make sure you know exactly where you want the ball to touch the table on your side of the net, as well as on your opponent’s. 

All of these steps are important. The first two are especially important for new players who are just learning to serve. Don’t underestimate the importance of serving well. There are many things that can make for a good serve, but you’ll need excellent coordination and lots of practice to make them work. Once you’ve perfected your new serve, try it out and see if it works for your game.   

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