Did you know? In one hour of backboard practice you can hit up to 1,800 balls compared to 650 an hour on a ball machine or 150 during an average hour of match play. If you think this is a typographical error, consider that in an hour of match play, the ball is generally in play for only 8-12 minutes. For decades, this fact has made backboard practice an attractive alternative to exclusively practicing on a full-sized tennis court.
|Avg. # of balls/hr.
I fondly remember the days as a young player when I went to the schoolyard wall and hit tennis balls. As a 10-year-old, it gave me a sense of freedom and maturity to be on my own practicing on a cool sunny day. I liked hitting against walls so much that the option to the side of the school building was the single car garage door at home. Unfortunately (for my parents), our garage door had several panes of glass at the top and, while my aim was pretty good for a young player, it wasn’t perfect. Let’s just say that the glass shop profited from my enthusiasm.
PART ONE: Words of Caution – How NOT to Use a Backboard
Just like any practice regimen, hitting against a backboard can also “backfire;” therefore it’s important to know how to practice and how NOT to practice.
It is important to consider that almost all balls which come off your opponent’s racquet or are fed by a ball machine have arc while flat walls rebound balls downward. The only exception is if you hit upwards AND your ball hits the wall on an upward path. The problem with a downwards wall rebound is that the ball doesn’t travel very far and usually will not reach you, the hitter, on one bounce. To compensate, players will swing faster than usual for the ball to rebound further off the wall and reach them on one bounce.
Q. Is this really a significant problem?
A. Yes. Think of it this way. For most players, the harder they hit, the more control they are giving up (unless you are a player who hits with a lot of topspin). AND, when you hit against a backboard, you can see where the ball strikes the wall and would cross the net, but NOT where it lands. In other words, we can hit 10 in a row that hit a wall, but on a real court they may have all struck the opposite back fence before bouncing.
Q. What can I do about this “flat wall” problem?
A. Allow the ball to bounce twice. Yes, this changes the timing and rhythm of your practice, but it will not change your swing patterns for the worse by making you over-hit and swing faster than normal. In other words, consider how you would ideally swing with a partner or a ball machine and duplicate that swing when hitting against a backboard.
PART TWO: Is There an Option to Flat Wall Practice?
Yes, although it is not that accessible or easy to find. To create a rebound that would be ideal for backboard practice, the wall should angle or tilt backwards at about 15 degrees. With this tilt, shots come off the wall with a natural arc, very similar to playing with a consistent partner or a ball machine.
Q. How can I find a backboard that is tilted like this?
A. Check with your local clubs. You probably won’t find them at your local high school or public courts. And, of course, if you happen to have space in your backyard to construct one, you may want to consider it.
Q. If I build one, what materials should I use?
A. You can use either wood or concrete. The important component is the angle. Just make sure the wall is secured and protected from potentially blowing over in the wind! There are also some manufacturers that make angled backboards of various sizes. Just search under “Angled Tennis Backboards” on the internet to investigate some options.
PART THREE: Besides Groundstrokes, What Else Can I Practice Against an Angled Backboard?
Once you find or build an angled backboard, there are numerous options to just hitting forehand and backhand groundstrokes that just aren’t possible when hitting against a flat wall.
- Consistency Drills – It will be much easier to practice consistency and high shot tolerance against an angled wall. Why? In addition to providing a ball rebound with a realistic arc, an angled backboard gives players more time to set up for each shot. This allows for early preparation and balance as opposed to feeling rushed by the relatively fast rebound off a flat wall.
- Swingers – If you ever wanted to practice “swinging volleys,” you will love an angled wall. Hitting “swingers” against a flat wall is virtually impossible.
- Serve-and-Volley – For all the reasons just listed, practicing serving and volleying is just not possible against a flat wall. However, against an angled wall, hitting a serve and moving forwards to volley is not only possible, it will help your tennis skills.
Many players are happy hitting against flat walls. And they should be. Repetitive hitting CAN lead to steady improvement. Just make sure you are practicing properly, as there are plenty of players who have experienced “flat wall frustration” since hitting incorrectly against a flat wall can sometimes do more harm than good.
Joe Dinoffer is a Master Professional in both the USPTA and PTR, has been recognized with numerous national awards including the 2019 City of Dallas Humanitarian Award for contributions to inner city tennis, and has conducted clinics and exhibitions in over 50 countries. Joe is the author and editor of 9 books and more than 20 DVDs, has more than 300 published articles in various tennis and pickleball magazines, and has aired many instructional tips on the Tennis Channel. Plus, Joe’s YouTube channel has more than 2 million views and growing! His latest book “Words, Wisdom, and Whimsy” is the second volume of an illustrated series called “Poems from the Heart.” In 1994, Joe founded OnCourt OffCourt, Ltd., a company dedicated to serving the tennis, pickleball, fitness, yoga, and physical education industries with innovative training aids and educational tools. Today, he has designed and manufactured more than 150 creative products being distributed and used in 100 countries worldwide.