The tennis serve ball toss is easily the most underrated motion of the tennis serve that can either be an asset or wreak havoc on your game.
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In this article, we’re going to do an in-depth look at the tennis serve toss and provide you with everything you need to develop or improve your ball toss.
The Importance of a Great Toss
Similar to your serve stance, your toss is vital to developing an effective serve.
Let’s take a look at four key reasons why the serve toss is so important.Consistency: Your ability to hit a consistent serve is partially dependent on your ability to perform the same service motion time and time again. If your serve toss is inconsistent, poorly placed, or not at the appropriate height, then it makes it challenging to perform the same service motion over and over, which subsequently may lead to an inconsistent serve.Accuracy: Similar to consistency, an accurate serve starts with a well-placed toss that enables you to perform the same service motion over and over so that you can direct the ball exactly where you want it to go. Without a quality toss, you may find it considerably more challenging to place your serve accurately.Comfort: A well-placed toss will also help ensure you feel comfortable throughout your service motion, which will, in turn, help you stay relaxed, generate power and avoid injury after years of repetition.Power: Last but not least, your toss can assist in ensuring you benefit from the energy stored in your trophy pose and service motion. If you do not place your toss well, you may find yourself overreaching or crowding yourself, which will make it more challenging to accelerate through the serve to generate power.
Hopefully, these reasons help convince you that developing an excellent tennis serve toss is a worthy investment of your time.
Let’s move on to talk about the technique required to learn or perfect your serve toss.
Proper Toss Technique
To simplify the motion for your serve toss, let’s break the technique down and discuss three key components:The joints of your armLeading with your elbowHow to hold the tennis ball
The Joints of Your Arm & The Toss
When you’re not tossing a tennis ball for your serve, the joints of your arm are incredibly useful. Joints enable a range of motion and allow your arm to move freely. However, when it comes to your serve toss, it’s crucial to limit movement within specific joints so that you can achieve consistency.
If we stop to think about it for a moment, there are four primary parts to your arm where joints are present:ShoulderElbowWristFingers
If we allow all of our joints to move freely throughout the tossing motion, there are more moving parts, which increases our margin of error.
However, we can easily solve for this by eliminating the movement in our elbow, wrist, and fingers so that our shoulder can do the work.
To practice, set your feet in the correct serve stance and then hold your tossing arm out in front of you roughly in-line with your front foot and your palm facing up.
Keep your elbow and wrist straight and practice moving your arm up and down with your shoulder. Be careful not to lock your elbow and your wrist by flexing your forearm or bicep because tension in your arm will make it challenging to achieve fluidity within your shoulder and for the rest of your body throughout the service motion.
Instead, you’ll want to hold your tossing arm straight and limit motion within our elbow, wrist, and fingers so that our shoulder is the only joint responsible for the toss and acting as a lever.
Leading with Your Elbow
A common challenge for players with their tossing motion is that they think of it more like a swinging motion than a lifting motion. Here’s an example of an incorrect toss motion:
It’s a subtle distinction, but it can make a big difference in the result of your toss. The good news is that there is an easy fix for this.
When performing your toss, visualize leading the tossing arm with our elbow. It can be helpful to imagine there is a string tied around your elbow that is lifting your arm from that spot.
Leading with your elbow helps naturally transition your tossing arm from a swinging motion to a smooth lifting motion. It also has another significant side effect of helping keep your elbow roughly straight and eliminating that joint from the movement.
How to Hold The Tennis Ball
Last but not least, as we work our way down the arm, let’s talk about how to hold the tennis ball in your hand. As with the rest of your tossing motion, the key is to limit movement, so that you can perform your toss consistently every time.
To accomplish this, you’ll want to hold the tennis ball in your fingertips, which has the benefit of removing your finger joints from the equation, while also ensuring nothing gets in the way of the ball the moment you release it from your hand.
I recommend using three or four fingers when holding the ball. Doing so should provide you with a secure enough grip but limits the number of touchpoints against the ball, helping eliminate unnecessary movement or contact during the release. You’ll likely have to play around with each to see what feels comfortable.
The following image shows examples that should help you hold a tennis ball just right.
The image furthest to the left shows an example of holding a tennis ball too deep within your palm, which brings all your fingers into the mix and significantly increases the likelihood of an inaccurate toss.
In the next photo to the right, the ball position is away from the palm, which is better, but your fingers are still heavily involved, which again increases the likelihood that your toss will go awry.
In the third photo from the right, the ball’s position isn’t terrible, but what you’ll find is that you still may get some rolling action off of the tips of your fingers. If the ball is rolling off your fingers, it’s going to be significantly more challenging to achieve consistency with your toss. The final image on the right is ideal. The ball is held at your fingertips while still providing sufficient grip.
Helpful Tip: Don’t grip the ball at your fingertips too hard. I recommend that you hold the ball more like an egg so that you remove tension from your tossing arm, which allows you to release the ball quickly and toss more smoothly.
To practice, set your feet in the correct serve stance and then hold your tossing arm out in front of you roughly in-line with your front foot and the ball in your fingertips.
Lift your arm with your shoulder, leading with the elbow and then roughly when your hand reaches the top of your head, release the ball and open your hand completely.
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That last part “open your hand completely,” can be helpful to consciously think about during your toss because it forces you to quickly release all of your fingers simultaneously, which limits misdirection off your fingertips.