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.”