When Leon Smith, Davis Cup captain and coach, was growing up in Glasgow he regularly hit balls against the garage wall at home. Growing up with two brothers, who are also coaches, Smith had people at home to play with but he loved hitting against the wall at Clarkston Tennis Club. If two of the brothers wanted to play a set, the other could hit against the wall. It is a memory that has stuck with him. “We used that wall a lot and practised against it endless amounts,” he recalls.
Smith, who is also an ambassador for REBO wall, a UK based company manufacturing hitting walls, is not alone in the use of a wall. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka all practised against a wall when they were growing up. There’s no guarantee that using a wall will mean you become the next world No.1, but it will certainly increase your chances of success simply by hitting so many balls.
“Playing against a wall can develop your stroke production,” explains Smith, “so in that respect it’s better than a partner because the ball keeps coming back to you again and again. You develop not just the stroke itself but the accuracy, because if you want to be precise and accurate with your shots, then you can use things that you hang or draw on the wall, circles, squares you can hit into over and over again.”
As any good player knows, you can develop a stroke, but you also need to practise placement. By drawing a circle, or hanging something on the wall, you have a target to aim at.
“Your focus becomes greater, and you can have a bit of fun with it,” says Smith. “You can score points against a partner.”
Among the many benefits of a hitting wall is the ability to develop hand-eye co-ordination, whether you are a beginner or a more advanced player. With this comes the ability to develop great reflexes. There is a video on You Tube of doubles specialist Cara Black hitting backhand and forehand volleys against a wall with incredible speed. Novak Djokovic recently posted a video of him revisiting Kapaonik where he used to hit against a wall. “The best sparring partner you can have is a wall; it never misses,” he said.
For professional coaches, perhaps the biggest benefit of a hitting wall is the ability to accommodate a larger group. Four players can be on court while four could be hitting at the wall. By offering a range of activities and rotating the players though the exercises, gone are those boring moments for kids waiting their turn on court.
There is also a great opportunity to introduce football into coaching sessions. Former England players David Beckham and Glenn Hoddle are among many who used to hone their technique against a wall. Some of the movement skills of football cross over with tennis. Like tennis, football requires short bursts of speed, as well as making small adjustment steps as the ball comes towards you.
“I think it is healthy for children to have that combination of sports when they do their practice sessions,” says Smith. “When I was coaching a very young Andy Murray, we didn’t have a wall at Stirling University, I wish we had, but I took a football down and at the start of the session, some of the warm up was with a football, some with a tennis ball.”
For coaches too, the opportunity to stand next to a player, rather than across the net, in a one-to-one coaching session enables greater observation and communication.
“Suppose you are working on the backhand volley,” says Smith, “you can have your player hitting against the wall and you can study what the arm, the body, the hands are doing on contact. Your eye can pick up things that bit easier.”
A hitting wall can help players of all standards improve. As a coach you can get more people through the door, which can help grow your business, not to mention the sport.
This article originally appeared in tennishead Volume 7 Issue 5. For more great features, in-depth gear reviews and stunning images subscribe to tennishead today. ￼￼￼