It might be a vital part of any sport, but getting kids to do good warm-ups can be a near-impossible challenge sometimes. I’ve seen kids of all ages and standards doing some pretty horrendous warm-ups in my time, and it’s not difficult to see why this would be the case. Heck, I’m 28, and my warm-ups still suck.
At the end of the day, warming up in itself is just not fun. I’ve come to play tennis, not jog, or roll balls down the middle for 10 minutes before I can get into the meat of a session. Thankfully, there are all kinds of warm-up games that can get your players warmed-up and ready to train whilst they’re having fun. The easiest thing to do with a warm-up is make it no longer seem like a warm-up!
Over the years, we’ve played our fair share of warm-up games, so we thought we’d put a bunch together for any coaches who are looking to liven up the beginning of their practices.
Today we’ve got five warm-up games that will take your players from getting out the car all the way to being ready for an intensive practice session, all whilst keeping a smile on their faces.
Mind the Gap
First things first, you’ve got to get your players moving and their blood pumping. You don’t want to go too crazy straight off the bat, so after a couple of laps of the court, our “mind the gap” game is perfect.
What You’ll Need: 8 + players, cones
Set Up: Place the cones in a circle with a couple of feet between each cone. Ensure that you have the same number of cones as you do players. Have your players each stand on a cone, with one player in the middle. This should leave one cone vacant.
Aim of the Game: The lone player in the middle of the circle must try to steal the vacant cone by touching it with his foot. The players defending the cones will move around the circles covering the empty cone and trying to stop the attacker from stealing the empty cone, but as they move, this will open up another empty cone somewhere else in the circle. Once the attacker steals the empty cone, the attacker becomes a defender, and whoever he stole the cone from will take his place as the attacker.
Outcome: While this exercise is not tennis specific, it is a fun way of getting your students to concentrate whilst engaging in some dynamic movements. The defenders will have to work as a team to protect the cone, and all the players will work up quite a sweat whilst moving to defend the cones.
Progressions: You can make this game as hard or as easy as you like. If the defenders are finding it too easy to keep the attacker out, then you can make the circle bigger, making the defenders cover more ground. Conversely, if the attacker is finding it too easy then you can make the circle smaller. It’s also possible to add in an extra cone just to spice things up!
We were absolutely obsessed with this game when we were kids. If we could have gone pro at 4D touch, we would have. In fact, I would gladly give up everything to try and make it as a 4D Touch pro if they came out with a pro circuit.
What You’ll Need: 4 players, 1 tennis ball, service boxes.
Set Up: This is a slight modification of the basic game of touch tennis. Each player has their own box within the service boxes and they are responsible for any ball that comes into their box. You start the point out by dropping the ball on the net, and then you play the point out. Players are not allowed to hit the ball hard, or straight down into the court.
The catch is, that in 4D Touch you don’t have to hit the ball across the net. You are also able to hit the ball into the opposite box on your side of the net. This adds another dimension to touch and makes it much tougher. Of course, if you’re hitting the ball to your opponent on the same side of the net, you have to hit the ball up, otherwise it would be too easy.
Aim of the Game: The aim of the game is to avoid being the one who makes the point break down. If you miss, or someone hits a winner into your box, then you lose a life. Each player starts out with three lives, and the first player to lose all their lives is out. If you like, you can keep playing until you have one winner.
Outcome: This is a great game for developing a player’s racket skills whilst demanding that they concentrate heavily on the point. The game gets very intense, so it is certainly good for getting the blood pumping and making sure everyone is ready for a good practice.
Progressions: Of course, you can always make this game easier by playing regular touch. This would mean keeping the same rules, but you must return the ball over the net. If you want to make 4D Touch harder, you can add in bluffs. This is when one player pretends to hit the ball, but lets it go in the hope it will land in his opponent’s box.
Warming up is a necessary part of tennis, but the danger is, warming up without a purpose can be negative for a player’s development. With that in mind, it is important that every part of the the warm up has a goal. One simple game that we like whilst warming up in the service boxes is Bim Bam.
What You’ll Need: 2 players, service box
Set Up: Have the players play constructively in the boxes, looking to maximize the length of the rally. As the ball bounces on the opposite side from the player, he needs to shout “bim” and as his opponent hits the ball, he needs to shout “bam”. This is a very simple game, but it keeps players focused, even when they are not engaged in hitting the ball.
Aim of the Game: Set a specific number of shots the players need to reach to win the game. If they work together, and focus hard, then they will reach this goal much quicker. You can make the goal as easy or hard as you would like.
Outcome: Bim Bam should encourage players to stay focused throughout the entirety of the service box warm up. I can remember countless times where I was chatting with people at the side of the court whilst warming up as a kid, with the Bim Bam game, you make sure everyone is focused and engaged.
Progression: You can make this game more difficult by adding “boom”. “Bim would then stay as when the ball bounces on your opponent’s side, “boom” as your opponent hits the ball, and “bam” when the ball bounces on your side. If any Italian’s are out there, yes, I did steal the Italian name for “rock, paper, scissors”.
Another of my favorite tennis games! Dingles is the perfect combination of singles, doubles, and fun! This is the perfect way to get players practicing a variety of shots whilst keeping the intensity up with a little competition.
What You’ll Need: 4 players, full court.
Set up: Start out with two individual cross-court rallies. These should be competitive rallies, with each player trying to win the point, but also remember we are still warming up, so the aim is to hit plenty of balls. Once one of the cross-court rallies finishes, those players shout “dingles” to signify their point is over, and the remaining rally turns into a doubles point.
Aim of the Game: The aim of the game is to win both points. If the points are split, nobody wins a point. These games can last quite a long time, so you will want to set the number of points you play to accordingly.
Outcome: This is a great way to get players to hit a lot of different shots whilst keeping the intensity high. It is all too easy to just hit balls back and forth down the middle without having to put much footwork or mental effort into it. In Dingles, players have to be alert at all times and the competitive nature of the game ensure everyone is playing at 100%.
Progression: To add some extra emphasis on consistency, you can introduce a rule that if someone loses their singles point before 5 shots have been complete, and they go on to lose the doubles point, they start again with 0 points. This will encourage players to make more balls in the court and increase the level of play.
As a kid, my coach incorporated dice and cards into practice to demonstrate some points that aren’t easy to show on the tennis court. I always remember us playing Blackjack, to emphasize how on a tennis court I would always get to 18 and then twist. On the tennis court, I would go for the crazy difficult shot when a simple put away would do. When it came to Blackjack though, I could see that twisting on 18 made no sense! Here’s another great warm-up game, this time using dice.
What You’ll Need: 2 players, full court, 1 dice.
Set Up: Have your players play out 6 points starting with a drop-feed. Whenever I play drop-feed points I like to say you can’t win or lose the point until 4 balls have been hit. Rather than scoring traditionally, have the players remember which points they won i.e the 1st, 3rd and 4th.
Aim of the Game: At the end of the 6 points, you return to the net and roll the dice. Say you roll a 3, whoever won the 3rd point wins the game. The aim of the game is obviously to win as many points as you can to give you the best chance of winning when you roll the dice, but you must also remember which points you won!
Outcome: I love this game because it instils the idea that every point is worth fighting for, and any point can change the outcome of a match. Players must treat every point equally, whether they’re 4-1 down or 4-1 up. It also encourages players to develop their memories when it comes to point scoring, something that can be invaluable during match play.
Progressions: If you want to make this game particularly hard, you can have your players play two sets to 6 points before they roll the dice. They will then have to remember which points they won in each set and roll the dice to find out if they won.
The most important thing about a warm-up is that it has a purpose beyond just getting the player warm. If you’re just aimlessly hitting balls down the middle, you’re not going to achieve anything and that time is wasted.
By incorporating some easy games, you can make warming up much more enjoyable for your players whilst giving them something to focus on. I know I can be very lazy when I’m warming up, but when I’m playing these games, and get those competitive juices going, my warm-up goes from 1 to 10.
Review by: Will