The forehand groundstroke should be the easiest skill to teach your child, right? Wrong. Although the forehand is the most commonly used stroke in tennis, it is far more complex to learn than say, a volley. In this guide, you will learn how to teach your child a proper grip, the traditional forehand, and the windshield wiper technique.
Western Grip vs. Continental Grip
We typically steer junior players towards using the “Western Grip” for hitting forehand groundstrokes. Your child’s coach will be able to determine if “Full-Western” or “Semi-Western” should be used after watching them hit and taking into account physical structure and abilities.
The Western grip is ideal for hitting with the Windshield Wiper Forehand, which we will explain shortly. Here’s how your child’s hands should be placed on the racket handle when utilizing the western grip.
Your child’s knuckle of their pointer finger should be aligned with the smaller edge of the right side of the handle (when the racket head is parallel with the ground). These images should help clarify things.
The primary downside of using a western grip is that it is more difficult to adjust to hit volleys. This is where a continental grip reigns supreme. A continental grip can occasionally be a better choice if your child has weak wrists and forearms. You should consult with an in-person tennis professional if you are unsure about this. To use a continental grip, your child should rotate the racket in their hand so the pointer finger knuckle is aligned with the smaller edge of the LEFT side of the handle. This is about a 45-degree rotation difference from the western grip. The thumb knuckle will be aligned with the smaller edge of the handle shown in the image below.
It’s imperative that your child doesn’t hold the racket handle too high with either of these grips. If they plant the butt (end) of the racket on a flat surface, then there should be very little space between their actual hand and the surface. Many kids starting tennis for the first time will develop the bad habit of holding racket handles up high because they think it gives them more power—it’s important to dismiss this tendency as soon as possible.
Proper Traditional Forehand Technique for Juniors
Now that you know how to teach your child grip technique, let’s get into the stroke mechanics. The traditional forehand should be used by children age 11 years and younger. We will go over why, later. Keep in mind that this guide is intended for right-handed players.
First, let’s start with how your child’s feet should be positioned. If your child is under the age of 14, then they should be solely using what is known as a “closed stance.” To execute a closed stance, your child’s left shoulder should be perpendicular to the net—their shoes will be parallel to the net. The racket should be in their right hand, held down by their right side. When your child becomes more experienced with tennis and reaps the benefits of muscle development, they will be able to start with their racket up high in order to swing in a loop and generate more power.
Remember to emphasize rule #1 for tennis strokes: Your child must keep their eyes on the tennis ball until it hits their racket. Tracking the ball all the way to their racket will help produce better overall contact, as it will help them hit the ball in the middle “sweet spot” of their racket on a more consistent basis.
As the ball approaches, coach your child to step forward with their left foot while keeping their right foot parallel with the net. As your child begins the swing, their racket head should be pointed at a downward-facing 45-degree angle, with the strings facing the other side of the court, tilted upwards ever so slightly so the ball will go over the net. As they swing through the ball, their right arm should be fully extended with very little elbow bend.
After swinging through the ball, the generated velocity should naturally move the racket to your junior’s left side. Ensure that your child finishes the forehand groundstroke with the racket over their left shoulder. If it helps simplify things for your child, instruct them to catch the handle in their left hand when following through a forehand groundstroke. It is important that your child is twisting their core and overall body throughout the groundstroke so that by the time they have hit the ball and completed the shot, their front is facing the net—a rotation of about 90 degrees from start to finish.
The Windshield Wiper Forehand
Now you know how to teach your child a traditional forehand groundstroke. There is another forehand stroke technique referred to by most coaches as the “Windshield Wiper” forehand. Good news—the motions required to hit this stroke are self-explanatory.
When showing your child how to hit a windshield wiper forehand, remind them what actual windshield wipers on the family car do. They clean the glass by pivoting the wiper blade from a single point, creating a 180-degree arc.
This is essentially the motion of the second half of the windshield wiper forehand. Keep everything the same as the traditional forehand we just went over until your child makes contact with the ball. Once contact has been made, your child should NOT continue to swing through the ball. Instead, they will make a windshield wiper motion with their racket head symbolizing the wiper blades, and the racket handle signifying the pivot point. Hence, the main joint your child will be moving is their wrist (a counterclockwise rotation).
Emphasize the fact that your child should not be swinging THROUGH the ball, but more so BRUSHING the ball. This inflicts “topspin” on the ball, which causes it to rotate forward at a fast pace, leading to both a fast rise and a fast drop. All professional tennis players use immense topspin, and it surely doesn’t hurt to learn it from a young age.
Children can still generate topspin from a traditional forehand, but it is far less natural, and it requires more muscle, which may not be developed yet for young kids. Like the traditional forehand, your junior should finish their swing with the racket over their left shoulder.
What Age Should Kids Learn the Windshield Wiper Forehand?
Junior players should learn the windshield wiper forehand when they are age 12 and older.
There are two main reasons kids shouldn’t learn the windshield wiper before they are 12 years old. First, their bodies need to be developed enough to execute the “wiper motion” quickly. Most children under 11 years old will have a tough time with full, topspin generating swings. In some cases, teaching a very young junior a windshield wiper forehand can increase the risk of injury due to underdeveloped muscle exertion.
The second reason junior players should wait until age 12 to learn the windshield wiper, is the risk of losing touch with their traditional forehand stroke. I have witnessed a few kids focus on their windshield wiper stroke too much, leading to their traditional forehand stroke being forgotten. Junior players should eventually be able to execute both stroke types, as each of them are valuable in different situations. It’s always best to consult with an in-person tennis professional before deciding on which forehand stroke to initially teach to your child.
Repetitions and Reinforcement
The key to teaching your child a forehand groundstroke in tennis is to practice over and over and over. Children’s minds and muscle memories are far more impressionable than adults, and for that reason, tennis technique can be learned much quicker. Consistency is key! Kid Tennis Hub recommends starting out with “drop-hit drills.” Give your child a bucket of balls and let them repeatedly drop a ball from their left hand and practice their traditional and windshield wiper forehands.
As we discuss in our guide to keeping your child interested in tennis, positive reinforcement can be a fantastic motivation tool. While coaching your child with drop-hit drills, set up targets on the other side of the net using empty tennis ball cans, or whatever you have laying around the house. You may be surprised by how excited kids get when they knock over a target. That’s it for this tutorial—if you have any questions about forehand groundstroke technique for children, feel free to drop a comment below.