Poaching Signals

There are several schools of tennis thought on communicating poaching plans to your partner. Some servers say, “I don’t do signals. You just go whenever you want to.” And others are more formal in communicating their plans.

I am much more comfortable with my partner knowing if/when I will be poaching. Not only does it give him a clue as to where he should serve and be ready to go the opposite way himself; but it also has a much more positive effect on my play at the net. If I do not let my partner know I plan on poaching, I just do not do it as much.

So what kind of communications can/should you use? To my knowledge, there are three basic methods:

1) Talking – In between each point, the server and net man come together and agree there will be a poach on the first serve, second serve, or on both serves. The server may also indicate where he plans on serving.

2) Go/ No Go – The most common hand signals seem to be the open hand behind the back is “I am going.” And a closed fist is “I am staying.” And the server should acknowledge the signal with an “OK” or “Got it” … or saying “Change,” and the net man should then resignal.

3) Directionals – I have used a slightly more complicated (but in my opinion, effective) signaling system. The net man shows one, two, or three fingers to “suggest” to the server he should serve to the left, center, or right side of the service box. And that finger is simultaneously “wiggled” to let the server know if he is also poaching. Much like the pitcher/catcher relationship, the server can “shake off” the signal and ask for another plan.

Faking does not need to be signaled… it should be a given. If you are NOT poaching, you should be showing the returner some movement to make him think you are poaching. Everytime.

An effective pattern of poaching will not only win points outright, it will also put a lot of doubt in the returner’s mind and win points on weaker returns and/or sitters to the net man who is just faking the poach.

In the end … “offense wins.”

3 thoughts on “Poaching Signals

  1. Good stuff, George. Yes, love the fake poaching idea. This is something I need to work on more so that I time the fake properly.

    As far as planning goes, at one level I get the idea of agreeing to do it prior to the moment.
    – But what I hate is when my partner the net person decides to poach and makes a big leap to play the volley, doesn’t put the ball away and leaves our team quite exposed. Sometimes I feel poachers get out of control and inadvertently reveal a lack of faith in the incoming server’s volley skills.
    – Then again, I could be wrong about this, as win or lose the point there’s a long-term yield from the net man’s movement.

    Joel – in my opinion, at our level, you should EXPECT the poacher’s ball to come back half the time. Therefore the server has to cross and be ready to play the next shot. george.

  2. Some confusion n your signaling – do you put out 1 finger or more than 1?
    I find myself bothered by faking – it interferes with my focus on return. Is ostentatious faking ever grounds for interference?

    Nick:
    1) i put out either one, two, or three fingers to indicate location
    2) bothering the returner is one of the reasons to fake. and i have never heard of a BIG fake being grounds for interference.
    george

  3. Good stuff here, George. But I would only point out that it is imperative for any doubles team to actually PRACTICE hand signals to get them down smoothly before this will work. Football teams and basketball teams often run complicated plays that are, in those sports, the equivalent in the need for coordination that tennis doubles teams need to use hand signals effectively. However, no self respecting football or basketball coach would even think to allow his team to play a game using a play that was not thoroughly practiced, and rehearsed, many times before it is actually used in a game. the same holds true with hand signals in doubles, I think. Nothing is more frustrating and disappointing than walking onto the court with somebody with whom you do not have a lot of experience playing doubles (like occurs every year at Newk’s) and your partner suggests using hand signals, BUT because you don’t have each other’s rhythyms and idiosyncracies down pat, the whole hand signal thing turns into a disaster because you just cannot coordinate it. To me, using hand signals when you and your partner have not practiced them can often be a way to capture defeat from the jaws of victory, and I will often refuse to use them if I have any sense that my partner and I cannot get it together in a hurry. But if you practice this — and I do mean practice it, by actually playing practice points against some cooperative practice mates — then you will get it together as a team and the use of hand signals can indeed be very useful. Just look at the Bryan brothers.

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