The Ball Toss

Nothing starts until you toss the ball to serve; but does anyone really think about (or practice) this critical motion?

Chasing The Toss

We have all seen an opposing server toss the ball off to the side and “chase” it to hit a weak or fault serve.  We have also seen the player who tosses, catches the toss, and tosses again (and again!).

I think a good toss starts with HOW you toss the ball… some people hold the ball between their thumb and index finger; others hold the ball on the tips of their fingers.  I believe it is better to hold the ball closer to the palm of the hand – and thus reduce the variability that comes from the fingers.

Where To Toss

For those who have flexible backs and good kick serves, they can toss the ball over their heads and hit an effective serve.  For me, I try to toss out in front of me; so that if it landed, it would be 12-18 inches INSIDE the court.  That allows me to be as aggressive as possible on my modest serve.

If your toss is erratic, spend a few minutes each practice session just tossing the ball consistently. Also, try letting your toss land to see where it falls.

Catch = Fault?

If Brad Gilbert ruled the tennis world (which he would like to do), he would have the point start as soon as the server tossed the ball.  That way, catching the toss would be a fault.

Your thoughts on that rule change and tossing techniques?

Post writing note: please see Marty Judge’s request for help with his “tossing yips.”

Chargers Tournament – My strong, lefty partner Larry Barnes and i ran into a better playing team on Saturday (Ron LaFonde and Dave Unger) and got beaten.  As my Brooklyn Dodgers used to say, “Wait till next year!”

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10 thoughts on “The Ball Toss

  1. After 55 years of never thinking about my unerringly accurate toss, it started to wander all over creation for a couple of years. I watched the women pros in a small tournament at the Oaks in Osprey, FL, and realized that neck arthritis was keeping my head from looking up easily. By concentrating on getting my head up ASAP, my toss would go right where I am looking! It is important to try to toss with no rotation (from rolling off the fingers).
    Watching the women also made me realize that white tennis sneakers are so last century.

    Rick, you are right… if you cannot look up, tough to toss and serve well! thanks, george

  2. George,
    I teach to hold the ball on the middle bones of the fingers, making a flat “platform” for the ball, and releasing it by getting the thumb out of the way when the arm reaches eye-level on a full sweep upward.
    I used to follow the adage, “don’t swing at a bad toss,” but have discarded that. I believe it does more harm than good to be evaluating tosses in the middle of the full service motion. Some players get paralyzed by analysis!
    I now advise, “don’t swing at a ridiculous toss,” which hardly ever happens. I’d rather see the player fully committed to the completion of the serve from the start. Say, “toss…hit” with a loose arm, and the odds are in your favor on tosses that stray up to 12 inches.

    Spike, i think your concept is aiming for the same goal… minimal variability. thanks, george

  3. George, your posting on this happens to be very timely for me. Lately — over the course of the last six months or so — I have developed a nasty case of the “yips” with my service toss. It is kind of like golfers getting the yips when they putt.

    I do all of the right things to avoid/ prevent it — like holding the ball in my fingers, trying to keep my arm straight and not break my elbow or wrist when I toss, practicing the toss before I serve, etc. — but it is mainly mental with me. When the yips come, I wind up tossing the ball all over the place, including both not being able to control the toss’s direction as well as its height. However, it does not come all of the time; only in certain instances and against certain opponents, which is why I know it is more mental than technique in origin.

    A good example of the problem occurred yesterday when I played a friendly match of singles against a friend who is about my age and happens to be a top level player in Middle States. This is someone whose game I respect enormously and who I have always looked up to.

    Although both of our games have slipped a bit over the years, at his peak my opponent was ranked perennially #1 or #2 in Middle States throughout all of the age groups from his mid 20’s up through the early 50’s. He also has been a college tennis coach, has a few national gold balls (in doubles), and was even briefly on the tour I think back in his youth. Despite his much better tennis pedigree than my own, we are right now pretty evenly matched as he has had some physical ailments that slow down his running, although his strokes are still superb. The bottom line is I wound up losing 6-4, 6-4 but I had a legitimate chance to win both sets, and maybe even win the match, since 3 out of the 4 games that I won in each set came from my breaking his serve. However, what was enormously frustrating is that I just could not toss the ball properly on my own serve and I wound up giving games away with many errant and just plain crappy serves and even a few double faults. All of this came from my yippy toss.

    I know that the stock flippant answers will be to go see a shrink or give up tennis, but quite seriously, has anybody encountered or heard of this issue and does anybody have some good advice on what I can do to get over it?? It is driving me nuts (okay, nuttier than I already am) on the tennis court.

    Marty, maybe some more knowledgeable guys than me can comment, but my feeling would be to practice with friends and play friendly matches where “it doesnt count”; so you can regain your confidence. Other thoughts?? george

  4. Catch = Fault? I respectfully disagree with you Mr. Gilbert on this one. We’re not robots. Everyone, even the best players/servers on the planet, tosses off the mark now and then. Also Mother Nature has her fun with us from time to time when we toss. Can you imagine the US Open title (it can get plenty gusty out there on Centre Court) being won/lost on an errant toss?!

    When it comes to tossing & serving, I preach to those whom I coach “Keep it simple, minimize the variables”. Fewer moving parts is best. Toss with no wrist or elbow movement, raise the tossing arm up in a straight line (up the right netpost for a righty) and release at about eye level. Visualize a clock face and strive to toss the ball at 1:00 (righty, 11:00 lefty, anywhere between noon and there is good). Throw the racquet UP and don’t take your head/eyes off the ball until you hear the pop of the strings on the ball. As you said George, if the ball were to drop on the court it should land there inside the baseline, as should the server’s feet be inside the baseline after the ball is hit.

    Alan, great pointers! thanks, george

  5. I taught to hold with fingers so you don’t bump one after release. Also to improve consistency of toss, strand next to wall & throw ball straight up the wall. To improve accuracy, in a room find a speck on the ceiling them practice tossing the ball till you can make it just “kiss” the spot repeatedly.

    Jeff, interesting concepts! thanks, george

  6. George, that rule on the toss , along with playing let cords, would probably keep more fans involved . I would like to see how it works maybe some of us could practice that way and report back . Or maybe some already have ? Lol

    OhioJack, i would like to see the playing of let cords too. thanks, george

  7. George

    If I were in charge there would be two rule changes for tennis: once the toss leaves your hand it is in play; and no lets, you don’t play the point over after the serve if it hits the top of the net and goes in.

    Ted, i am with you! thanks, george

  8. I agree with Brett Abel’s first video )the Tom Stow method. Everyone has their preferences though. George, you seem to have a consistent toss, but I find people get the ball “stuck” in the palm – I encourage them to hold it in their fingers (or like the glass of water….) and “place” , rather than “toss” (more motion implied) the ball toss.
    Many more years of playing to you my friend!

    Mark, for me, the key is not to hold the ball in the palm, but where the fingers start. thanks, george

  9. Right handers should learn to juggle 2 balls in their left hand. Great for control!

    Chuck, interesting idea! Thanks,george

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