Competitive Point Situations

I got a little carried away with the depth of information for this topic. I kept to the theme of 10 by referencing 10 different title subjects to explain the benefits and fun of training with point-situational competition. The article includes an explanation of what competitive point-situational training is all about, the objectives of competitive point situational play and eight categories of examples of point-situational games. Point-situational training has applications for teaching professionals working with groups of students, high school, college and USTA league teams and for playing partners looking to add variety to their hitting time.


Competitive Point and Point Situation Games Explained

In point situational play, general rules of play and playing formats are manipulated to place specific demands and expectations on players. Examples include point-situational formats requiring players to close out games when ahead or recover when behind, to execute specific shot combinations and sequential patterns either prior to playing out points, throughout the entirety of a point or at predetermined or non-predetermined times during a match, to increase or slow down the tempo and flow of play and decrease or increase the use of certain shots or shot sequences.


The objectives of point-situational play are to improve:

  1. Problem-solving skills,
  2. Response under pressure,
  3. Ability to hit targets and target areas,
  4. Ability to execute specific patterns,
  5. Score management,
  6. Response to different playing styles and situations,
  7. Ability to utilize strengths and mask weaknesses,
  8. Weaknesses and strokes and stroke patterns most difficult to successfully execute,
  9. Ability to control the tempo and flow of a match,
  10. Ability to disrupt rhythm of your opponent,
  11. First strike capabilities with the serve return,
  12. Ability to dictate and control play with an aggressive, offensive style of play,
  13. Ability to extend the point with a consistent, defensive style of play,
  14. Ability to transition from defense to offense,
  15. Dynamic court coverage (complex coordination and movement, dynamic balance, linear/multi-directional speed, and agility),
  16. Level of fitness (strength, endurance, flexibility, core and shoulder stability and power),
  17. Variety and the ability to utilize the entire court with a range of different shot options,
  18. Ability to vary stroke variables (spin, trajectory, direction, pace, bounce, depth and net clearance),
  19. Intensity, focus and concentration, and
  20. Shot tolerance and ability to win points of different rally lengths (short points lasting 1 – 4 shots, medium length points lasting 5 – 9 shot and long points lasting 10 and more shots)


Category #1 – Score/Risk Management

Learn how to assess risk based on the score. Learn when to “lock down” and refuse to make a mistake and when to be more free swinging. Learn how to close out a game, set, and match when ahead and how to stay in a game, set and match when behind. Learn how to establish and sustain momentum to build a lead and how to reverse momentum when down in the score. Learn how to recognize which points in a match have more consequence to the outcome and which points have less consequence and although there should be a mentality to fight for every point, learn how to manage effort and to be peak performance at the most pivotal points of the match. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Start each game up or down x number of points. As a variation, start each game up or down x number of points based on results of the previous game(s).
  2. Continue play until one player is ahead by x number of point (or games). End game and declare winner when one player (or team) is ahead by x number of points (or games).
  3. Play points until one player or team wins x number of points in a row.
  4. Continue serving complete games until broken. Serve then transfers to opposing player to continue serving until broken.
  5. Assign weight or extra value to predetermined games (i.e., the fourth and fifth games of the set).


Category #2 – Shot Tolerance/Consistency

Learn how to stay in a point as long as necessary to win the point. Learn how to sustain intensity and focus through the entire duration of a point. Learn to how get into a point and establish consistency, tempo and rhythm. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Exact a penalty or subtract a point for hitting an unforced error, hitting the ball into the net and/or hitting the ball wide of the sidelines, etc.
  2. Reward a bonus point for each point won when the rally exceeds x or a greater number of shots (i.e., for a rally of 9 or more shots). As an alternative, offer points of escalating value for each point won for rallies of 1- 4 shots, 5 – 8 shots and 9 or more shots.
  3. Require completion of a specific basic one-lane rally or a more complex rally pattern of x number of shots to start each point. For example, hit a six-shot cross-court, down-the-line rally prior to the start of each point.
  4. Allow only one serve to start each point.
  5. Track and total the number of unforced errors. Establish a limit to the number of unforced errors. If a player or team exceeds the established limit, the player or team loses the match (regardless of the score). As an alternative, track both unforced errors and winners. Establish a limit to a negative differential. If the established differential is exceeded (x number more errors than winners), the player or team loses the match (regardless of the score).


Category #3 – Offense/Defense Patterns and Tactics

From an offensive perspective… Learn how to execute offensive play patterns. Learn how to gain and maintain a positional court advantage. Learn how to take time away from your opponent by taking the ball early. Learn how to attack short balls. Learn how to aggressively finish a point with a winner or forced error. Learn how to create situations to hit your strongest, most offensive shots for the majority of shots played during a match. Learn how to shorten the average length of points played to your advantage. From a defensive perspective… Learn how to stay in the point by extending the rally, absorbing pace, changing the tempo, and varying pace, spin, and net clearance. Learn how to disrupt rhythm and do whatever is necessary first to neutralize the point and then to transition to offense. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Designate one player with the role of being the first player allowed to dictate play with redirection. Require both players to hit cross-court until the designated player changes the direction (redirects the ball down-the-line) and then both players can play the point out with no restrictions on placement of the ball.
  2. Have both players start each point hitting past the service line. If a player hits a ball short of the service line, the player receiving the short ball must approach the net and finish the point at the net.
  3. Allow one player or team (or both players or teams) only x number of bounces (or no bounces) each point. All shots must be hit in the air prior to the bounce after the bounce limit has been reached.
  4. Play an offense/defense game where one player must conclude the point by hitting no more than x number of shots. If the player tasked on offense must hit one more shot past the designated number of shots, he/she losses the point. From the defensive perspective, the player on defense tries to win the point by requiring the player on offense to have to hit one more shot past the designated number of shots.
  5. Designate role-playing offensive and defensive assignments. Have one player or team play an aggressive, attacking, high-risk offensive game. Have the opposing player or team respond as necessary. Likewise, designate one player or team to play a defensive “get everything back in play” strategy. Have the opposing player or team respond as necessary.


Category #4 – Serve and Serve Return and First Strike Capabilities with the Serve and Serve Return

Learn how to dictate play with the serve by hitting specific targets and target zones and executing specific serve patterns. Learn how to take time away from your opponent and apply pressure with the serve and subsequent shots. Learn how to attack and dictate play with the return (by similarly taking time away and applying pressure). Learn also how to neutralize the advantage of the server and get into the point with the return and subsequent shots following the return. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Require the serve to be hit to a designated target area to start each point. To increase the complexity of the game, require the return to be hit cross-court, down-the-line or to a designated target area based on the target hit by the server. For example, require a cross-court (preferably angled) shot in response to receiving a serve hit out wide to the outside corner of the service box.
  2. Require the server (serve returner) to finish the point in less than three shots (or lose the point regardless of the ultimate outcome). On a more positive note, award bonus points in escalating value if the server (serve returner) can successfully conclude the point in three shots, two shots or one shot (which in the case of the server would be an ace or unreturnable serve).
  3. Choreograph the start of each point in a collaborative effort by both the server and serve returner. Require the server and serve returner to hit a two or more shot pattern hitting specific designated targets (including the serve) with specific designated shots after the serve. For example, require the server to hit a serve out wide, followed by a forehand approach hit deep to the opposite corner concluded with a forehand angled cross court volley.
  4. Require one player to return serve from a starting position x feet inside the baseline (or x feet behind the baseline).
  5. Require the server to state his/her plan for the first two (or more) shots hit prior to each point. Award bonus points whenever the shot pattern follows according to plan.


Category #5 – Mental Toughness/Concentration/Focus

Learn how to establish and maintain composure, focus, concentration, intensity, and confidence. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Start and maintain a two-ball rally until a mistake is made with one of the balls. Then play out the point with the remaining ball.
  2. Require one player or team to play all points from a disadvantage of playing on the court side looking into the sun or playing with other adverse playing condition (such as playing against a fierce headwind.
  3. Require players to be silent (no talking or negative or positive outbursts) during match play. Players are to use only hand signals to make calls and not say anything (except to call out the score) during all play (including during changeovers between games and sets).
  4. Using a time clock, reduce time between points to no more than x number of seconds between points. Or, using a time clock, extend time between points by requiring no less than x number of seconds between points.
  5. Rally Games. With the goal of executing repetitive hitting patterns and the discipline and focus required to execute repetitive hitting patterns, have pairs or teams of players compete against each other to hit the most number of consecutive shots according to the pattern requirements before the end of the allotted game time or have pairs or teams of players compete against each other to be the first to hit x number of shots in a row according to the pattern requirements. Patterns can be designed to be progressively more complicated and difficult to perform as players improve in ability and execution.


Category #6 – Touch, Feel and Finesse

Learn how to absorb and vary pace, mix spins, hit acute angles, execute short and deep patterns, manipulate the bounce, etc. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Require one or both players to hit groundstrokes with only slice (topspin).
  2. Play a volley, no bounce game with a requirement to hit the ball up only. Limit the court to the service box only.
  3. Play a mini-court game using only the service box(es). Require balls to be hit with no pace.
  4. Play two bounce points (ball must bounce twice in the court prior to hitting each shot).
  5. Play two-touch points where both players must first trap the ball (as the first touch) and then hit the ball back in play (with the second touch).


Category # 7 – Dynamic Court Coverage/Footwork/Fitness

Develop multi-directional speed, quickness, and agility. Develop endurance, power and strength. Develop strength, muscular endurance, core and shoulder stability and power. Examples of point situations (with an emphasis on escalating density) include:

  1. Players play points with one player required to only cover half the court but free to hit to the full court while the other player must only hit to half the court but cover the full court. Roles are reassigned after the conclusion of each point. The winner of the previous point covers only half the court, and the loser covers the full court. The winner of each point can choose which side to cover (or which side the opponent must hit to) or sides can be designated by rotation or by the identified needs of the players.
  2. Require players or teams to run wide left or right, up (to cover a drop shot) or back (to run down a lob) to start each point.
  3. Require player(s) to run to, run around and/or touch a marker (such as a cone) or defined court area after each shot for x number of shots prior to start playing out the point.
  4. Require one player to hit every ball with a forehand.
  5. Play full court no volley points.


Category #8 – Point Construction/General Application

Through repetition and situation-based live competition, learn how to construct a point and develop better court and match presence. Learn by a “games theory” model of sequential repetition of basic patterns how to approximate and better determine probabilities and outcomes leading to better shot selections and choices. Examples of point situations include:

  1. Play team singles. Players stay in and play points until they lose a point or until they win x number points in a row. When a player comes out, he/she is replaced by a team partner who similarly stays in until he/she loses a point or wins x number of points in a row.
  2. Play a version of table tennis doubles. Players alternate hitting each shot with a team partner.
  3. Designate (mark off) an area on the court players cannot hit without losing the point. For example, mark a mid-court area where the center service line intersects with the service line.
  4. Rally Games – Play a rally game where a pair of players or team of players collaborate to execute a specific pattern or hit x number of designated shots in a row in less time than other opposing pairs or teams. Rally games can progress by increased demands for volume and complexity. Rally games can also include competition for pairs or teams of players to compete to see who can be the first to execute a specific stroke combination pattern or sequence x number of times.
  5. King or Queen of the Court (Attack and Defend) – One or two players defend or receive on one side of the court. The remaining players on the opposite side of the court take turns trying to win a designated number of points or consecutive points to replace the player(s) on the receiving end of the court. Players vie to win x number of points or x number of consecutive points while defending or receiving to win the overall game. Points can be initiated by a serve, drop hit courtesy feed or a feed requiring players to hit or move to hit a specific shot or shot sequence. There are two basic rotational options. Players can either rotate out after each point until they win the designated number of points or consecutive points or they can stay in until they lose or win the designated number of consecutive points. With six or more players, the game could include points running simultaneously on each half of the court. After losing a point, players rotate to the end of the adjacent line until winning the designated number of points or consecutive points. When a player proceeds to win the designated number of points or consecutive points, the player then replaces the player he/she last defeated. Options can extend to multiple courts. Players work up to a top court by winning x number of designated points or consecutive points from lower court positions. Players get bumped down should they fail to win points to provide space for players moving up. (e.g., Player X wins two consecutive service points on court 3, replaces Player Y to then return serve, proceeds to win three service return points, then moves up to court 2 and in the process bumps down Player Z who takes his old spot to return serve on court 3.)

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