The Little Green Book of Tennis


Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book of Golf” is one of the best recent examples of coaching a sport. I have patterned my new book on tennis instruction using methods similar to Coach Penick. Drawing from fifty years of teaching and coaching, I share insights from my mentors who helped me craft repeatable techniques for winning. I also share our personal experiences and observations that have proven to be solid advice. Hopefully, you’ll find this book to be succinct and filled with gems for all levels of players and coaches.

The tennis book is NOW arranged from beginner to intermediate to advanced players. Then specific attempts to help coaches, teams, fans, parents, and tennis organizations.   Tennis people can more  logically access the proper tennis lessons

The other categories the book appears in thirds:  A. TENNIS, B.  TOWNS AND PEOPLE,  C. SUBJECTS DARK AND LIGHT.


College basketball teammate, Terry Harris and I were  college smoking teammates too.

Called “Hoss”  (he was a small point guard) Terry may have been the best of all of us keeping up.  Phone calls,  people saying he’d asked about everyone.  Then it stopped.  Why hadn’t I made my own attempt at staying up with him  in Autryville, N.C.  Friendship is work, but worth it all.

Friend, “Country” Boykin  ran down Morgan’s (Terry’s brother) phone number.  “Terry has moved to the mountains.”   Low and behold, there’s is Hoss on the other end.  Sounded different.

Finally I asked Terry if he still smoked.   “Gave em up five years ago!”  Knowing he’d struggled with quitting,  I commented,  “hell to quit aren’t they”

“The harder I tried to quit, the better they tasted!”

Friend, Russell Rawlings, said he was worried about our BIG FRIEND, Ralph El Ramey (r.i.p.)  doing the required “REHAB”!  I asked why?  “He ain’t never  done the HAB.”

My quote of this week:  The harder I try to stay healthy, the more parts wear out!



No bridge to our coastal home of Emerald Isle, NC, before the ’70’s. Our end of the island has residue of the wild days.   Sharks, stingrays, copperheads, raccoons, coyotes.  A local gardening shop featured an unannounced 7 and a half foot alligator on the display  floor.  Even the spectre of racism, Trump or the virus pale compared to #1.  Anything but a hurricane is local mantra.  Actually, it is water damage. “Don’t ask for deluge!” (Starbuck a.k.a. THE RAINMAKER).   The pearl of our community is “The Yacht Club”. It has an abandoned flat bottomed Core Sound skiff on top of the building. Thus “Yacht Club”. Three years ago Florence totally flooded many businesses and homes including the “TYC”. Friday night was our developments trip to the YC. Had to be out by nine o’clock pm though. That’s when the bikers came. A roadhouse bar,  the food was getting better before the flood. Head waiter wore a t-shirt that said “NOPE NOT TODAY”. The drink menu included ” The Hurricaine, Yella-God-Amighty, Stranded in Honduras, and the last item was “Sex On The Deck”–$2.50

One fundamental of a healthy retirement is local friends. Randy and Pat Campbell and David and Lynn Odom visited recently. Pat brought a lovely bouquet of 12 yellow roses. A player once told me after all day in the sun playing “Coach, you’re getting up a little bit”. Post op and  everything tastes and smells bad about yourself   So it didn’t surprise me after Randy had posed a single rose behind my ear the lovely yellow petals fell off the bud…all of them. Got a video. Coach Odom has a hometown friend here named Rex Teaney . Rex recalls that every conversation with Mr. Odom Sr. concluded with the questions “is David a good boy Rex, is he a good friend, do people like him?” Rex’s signature story is about his first high school varsity team wrestling match: Rex is not a large man and certainly there wasn’t much to him in the 9th grade (about 90 lbs) It was sort of an odd debut. The high school versus the Goldsboro Boys Home. Nervous but not noticing much but that his opponent looked to be about 25 years old. And he was apparently blind. Back on the mat  and Rex was pinned in 20 seconds. The next realization was he was skinned burned from the guys lack of a shave. David bailed him out: “I don’t think Rex ever lost a high school wrestling match .”

Right down from the Yacht Club is “Phillips Seafood”. Jimmy Clyde Phillips has his market written up often as a tourist attraction. Jimmy has a sign in the front window: “Local As It Gets”!

CUTTING COLLEGE SPORTS from Sports Illustrated (June 11,2020)



It’s not getting any better. So far this spring, tennis has been the most popular choice to cut. Of the 30 teams eliminated, eight are either men’s or women’s tennis. Coincidentally or not, tennis is also responsible for having the largest foreign participation of any sport. About 60% of tennis rosters are not native to the U.S. “There’s somewhere around 7,000 scholarships available (inclusive of D-I, D-II, NAIA, and JUCO), and there are just not enough American juniors to fill the scholarships,” says Tim Russell, the CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. “There have been some schools where the coach only recruits internationally, and there have been some ADs saying, ‘Can’t have a program of all international students.’” There are other reasons tennis is targeted, Russell says. The most common are costs associated with an indoor and outdoor facility.


The first book I  wrote was done much like a blog.  Different articles, all strung together. And, there were some blue or risque subjects and language.  One dealt with elimination on an eight day Colorado river rafting trip.  Potty humor for sure, but pretty much true.  Caught some flak .

Same kind of humor kicked in last week during second hip replacement.   Nothing funny at 4am thought of impending third catheterization.  No details.  Just cannot pee.  There I said it.

My member is saying,  “Coach, don’t you understand that Nurse Ratchet is down the hall, sharpening her switch blade?

Self One  to Self Two: “What part of PEE don’t you understand?”  All you are doing is  faking a pee.  Take a pee.  Take, not fake.

One other unpleasant human phenomenon  was  this pain.  The way hot spots blink–then intensify.   Thinking  I was pain  free,  a single sensation would pop in.  Just like oven burners.  The bb size pain point grows to a hot dime to a hot damn.  Hello drugs.  No lack of vile thoughts drugs can contribute .

Then, the sensation of a positive.  Tingle grows.  Hark is that a valid precursor?  Another fake. Now the dance.  Yes?  No?  The plot thickens.

The number of tubes needed  runs double for me.  First,  the dreaded IV and  tubing.   For me there are about 5 of these crisscrossing my chest, other parts.

Hey  Dumbass,  this is real, gotta go.  Nearly tops on the burner.  Get up and run.  Oops, I knocked the nurses button beyond reach.  Now the scene,  Five days post op it is now a riot.

I can’t figure which tube goes where, can’t holler loud enough to get her.  Prayer changes from go,  to whoa, whoa, whoa.   I was saran wrapped.  duct taped,  mummified.

Covid-19 proved nurses are heroes.  Final scene?  Did we make it?

Wait for the YouTube!




David Odom coached 40 plus years.  And still has a major hand in basketball, as the Director of the Maui Holiday Tournament.   All levels, from junior high, high school. small colleges  to the top of division one.  Head coach or assistant.

We share a love for all sports.  I have a much lesser basketball coaching experience.  His love for tennis and my first love there provides fodder for conversations.

Coach Odom and I share the similarities of background and geography.  Played in the same league, know the same schools and people.

We both love Emerald Isle and our beach.  David is a “dit dotter” (  comes down and goes back) according to local high toiders.  They cast my wife and I  as “dingbatters” (comes and stays).

We both have Wake Forest University ties.  Coach Odom was one of the premier coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Wake during the “golden years”.  Quite differently my knowledge of the Demon Deacons of Wake forest came earlier.  My Father, a Wake ministerial  graduate,  had me indoctrinated by age 7.  From then through high school I bled black and old gold.

Coach Odom understands this and tolerates my questions.

The stats on Coach are available.  Recently he was honored in a special way.   His likeness was hung in the ceiling of Joel Coliseum.  Several comments from him got  my attention:

  1. Question by tp—how did you feel about this event?

Answer by Coach—Most of my former players came.  That was big but I think my best moment was seeing Joel Coliseum happy again.

2,  Question—So most of your players came?

Answer—Yes almost all.

3 Tim Duncan came?

  Yes.  Several players called him.  Has busy schedule but he showed. 

Tom:  How was Tm?  Did you get to talk to him?

  When it was over I  told him what impressed me about him this time was I watched sign autographs, hug old ladies, talk with every one who approached  him.  Tim  does a lot of impressive things.

Tom:  How about Randolph Childress?  You have expressed a lot of admiration for him.

David:  Sure.  Randolph was there.  Pause.  Randolph was the best clutch shooter I knew.  Early on, and down 1 point with few seconds left , Randolph told me “Coach, tell them to give me the ball and get the heck out of my way”.  Worked then and almost every other similar situation.  Clutch.  Confident.

Tom:  What player showed up that surprised you?

Coach:  Rodney Rodgers.

Tp: Wow.  Rodney was there?  (Most tragically Rodney was rendered quadriplegic  in an earlier accident.) 

Coach—Yes and several people were most helpful.  Great player and person.   

I got a little worried when they called me to the floor for the National Anthem.  I looked  everywhere and didn’t see the wheelchair.  Then I looked down the well at the gym’s opening.  There they were. Several friends and his personal aide.  He wore a cap.  As National Anthem was about to begin you could see Rodney speak to his aide.  The aide took his hat off.


Watching the recent protests was hard to avoid.  And confusing.  Lots of different factions that were diverse.  Mind numb and trying figure out what to make of it all,  a voice struck  about as  clearly as my hope for the final realization.  A  young black woman, fully masked, finished a fiery explanation :  “YO GRANDPAPPY  WAS WRONG!”

Opposing the sitting president of your own party means putting policy priorities at risk, in this case appointing conservative judges, sustaining business-friendly regulations and cutting taxes — as well as incurring the volcanic wrath of Mr. Trump.

But, far sooner than they expected, growing numbers of prominent Republicans are debating how far to go in revealing that they won’t back his re-election — or might even vote for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee. They’re feeling a fresh urgency because of Mr. Trump’s incendiary response to the protests of police brutality, atop his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private discussions.

Former President George W. Bush won’t support the re-election of Mr. Trump, and Jeb Bush isn’t sure how he’ll vote, say people familiar with their thinking. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah won’t back Mr. Trump and is deliberating whether to again write in his wife, Ann, or cast another ballot this November. Cindy McCain, the widow of Senator John McCain, is almost certain to support Mr. Biden but is unsure how public to be about it because one of her sons is eying a run for office.

And former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced on Sunday that he will vote for Mr. Biden, telling CNN that Mr. Trump “lies about things”


Maybe it is time  to ” SCREW UP YOUR COURAGE”

My sister,   Gerry Ritter, just joined  “the protest”.  In her mid-eighties, just over hip surgery,  there she was.  I was proud of her.  Always have been.  Is it time for me to be willing to brag that my whole family agrees with Aunt Gerry.  Why does the fog of fear  even now cause hesitation?

Another passing comment (I can’t remember the source, sorry) struck home, no pun intended:  “white America will never get serious about our racism problem until affluent America becomes afraid.’

Lots of sincere white people want change.   I have revered certain coaches and their street sense.  One, my friend Coach Henry Trevathan is in his 90’s.   His take:  “…it will never work until there are two parents in the home, working hard at it.”  I mentioned this to another wise old coach/friend, David Odom.   “You have got a chance if there are two strong ones in the home, a parent and a strong grandmother.”

Again, someone said, “…it will never work unless there is one loving family member who will willingly read to pre-school children”


Getting closer to reorganization.  The third edition of THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK  of TENNIS is done.  It is the first third of the new blog site.  Hopefully the new ordering of blogs will make it easy as it goes from beginners, to high school and tournament players, to talented juniors, to college tennis aspirants, and up.  Help for coaches and teams.

We are still working on the mechanics.  The next third comes from PLAY IS WHERE LIFE IS.  Town lore and people  from five small North Carolina towns at the core of this third.

The final source is largely from  A LEVEL OF THINKING.  From dark to light,  serious to entertaining.  This material concludes the twenty some “columns or categories”  each of which reads as an independent “chapter”.   Now one is able to skip from chapter to chapter by choosing and clicking on the preferred column located  to the right on the website home page.


The most significant lesson a tennis teacher can impart is to have his
pupils “watch the ball” properly. Reams have been written on how to
do this and what benefits will accrue. What then, are the other most
important fundamental ideas in tennis ground stroke instruction and
when do these ideas incorporate themselves?Tennis teachers adopt “nutshell” approaches to express their major
concerns and ideas. Some ideas suit some teachers and pupils more
effectively than others. Gallway’s Inner Tennis is essentially a method book
on “watching the ball” and watching yourself. Welby Van Horn’s major ideas
for beginners are balance, grips, strokes, and strategy. Dennis Van Der
Meer has used understanding the bounce of the ball as a core thought. Jim
Leighton, author of Inside Tennis, emphasized the “gun barrel approach”
and understanding the hitting zone as central ideas. All are bona fide
timesavers in tennis instruction, as are many other valid thoughts.
The following is a brief list, with comments, on the major ideas a tennis
instructor should convey to pupils. Certainly there are other important
ideas, and the level of the player must be considered, but let’s focus on
these major objectives.
• Watch the ball. Many great players have developed themselves with
little or no instruction simply by following this suggestion. Trust your
own mechanism.
• Establish a target. Someone defined tennis as the ability to “hit a
moving target while under stress.” You must “watch the ball” but you
must also have a mental target of where your shot is to go. This is
concentration in tennis. “Look at the ball; where does it go” is an
appropriate oversimplification for advising players. Also, which of
these ideas (ball or target) comes first is a chicken or the egg
argument of some relevance.
• Tracking the ball to the “hit spot.” This is basically movement in
the game. Proper strokes are dictated by proper position. Once the
ball is out of the hit zone even great players have trouble. (Lousy
hit spots dictate lousy strokes!) Once the player establishes where his
shot will be (forehand or backhand) his task becomes tracking that
ball to the appropriate “hit spot.” The human mechanisms: use your
eyes to track the ball and your brain to relay the message to your feet
and legs. This makes movement, i.e., speed, quickness,
and conditioning, essential.
• Adjusting to the descending ball. Certainly the ability to hit in the
rise is important, as is learning to handle shoulder-high balls, but
fundamental hit spots for beginners should be thigh-to-waist high,
and the ball should be descending. Not only is this area the power
zone, but also it encourages low-to-high strokes. The player must
use movement to place himself so the opponent’s shot descends
into his appropriate “hit spot.” Keeping the descending ball in the
perfect “hit spot” makes his strokes much more simple and is underestimated in its ability to eliminate frustration from the
beginner’s game.
• Utilize proper grips. Proper grip is essential from the outset. There
are a variety of proper grips but certainly traditional information
(eastern forehand, proper backhand, etc.) should be part of the
teacher’s basic craft.
• Get your racquet back properly. This must be one of the tennis
teacher’s most often repeated phrases. Early preparation of the
racquet is one of the real clues in tennis. Jack Barnaby in Racquet
Work said these “nutshells”: prepare your racquet, prepare yourself,
and watch the ball. Certainly there is an interrelationship between
early racquet preparation and the speed and effectiveness of
the player.
• Firm wrists in the hit zones. The ability to keep the wrists firm
through the ground stroke hit zones can be likened to the need for a
golfer keeping his lead arm straight. Without firm wrists all kinds of
wrinkles can mess up fundamental shots. Often, poor position on the
ball is the reason for faulty wrist movements. Perhaps Mr. Leighton’s
Inside Tennis has the best statement on “pressed wrists” and the “gun
barrel approach” to the hitting zone.
• Proper finish, or follow through. After the wrists have gone
through the hit zone, the hips and shoulders should turn farther, and
the racquet should be lifted to a firm, high ending. The teacher can
emphasize this fundamental by requiring pupils to “freeze” at the end
of their shots to self-diagnose their shots.
• Return to ready. Beginning players should understand that every
ground stroke varies and to cope with the upcoming variation they
must finish the current shot and regroup their concentration and
head for the best defensive position they can ascertain, generally
near the middle of the baseline. Here again, the player is dependent
on his legs for movement, and he must understand that this is the
point at which he must work hardest in tennis.
• Recycle the process. The player now must be ready to repeat the
above outlined fundamental on either side, for as many times as
needed to win the point. Each shot is similar to, but independent of,
the other. The player must be aware that consistency in shot
production is the major strategy in tennis. The player must also be
committed to repeating the process without error for as many times
as necessary to win the point.


The most irrefutable physical law in tennis is that “the ball will be
directed where you point the racquet at the moment the strings meet the
ball.” This sounds simple enough, but it is a fundamental that is often
overlooked by a beginner who is trying to think of ten things at once.
As a tennis instructor, one can heighten the class’s attention with the
mere suggestion of the proper backhand grip discussion. Almost
immediately, pupils will pick up their racquets and search for this mystic
grip that will cure their frustrating backhand problem. While no grip will
atone for poor position or improper hit spot, an understanding that grip
change reinforces wrist strength is essential.
No matter how one explains this necessity, students have a period in
when the decisions concerning which way and how much the hands turn
are confusing. The same is true of all grips when one progresses to the
point that all strokes have been explained. To cope with this indecision, a
teacher can facilitate grip change understanding by having students check
their grips in the various hit spots.
Thus constant concentration. It is like a golfer putting; he must watch the
ball but intensely concentrate on the cup. Only tennis players move too!
While this seems obvious to parents, juniors may neither understand it,
nor understand how it breaks down under pressure or adversity. Perhaps
beginners would do well to concentrate on only one target. If nine of ten
players are right-handers and the majority of these are weaker on the
backhand side, then concentrating on this target alone makes a junior
strategically sound up to a surprisingly high level.
If tennis is the “ability to hit a changing target while moving and under
stress,” then moving and concentrating are the core of the game.
Parents—you are right, but you need to explain yourselves!Most beginners tend to check their grips in the ready, or waiting, position. By checking grips in the hit spot a beginner can immediately relate grips and their relationship to “the most irrefutable physical law in tennis.” One also can more easily ascertain the value of proper grip to
wrist reinforcement.


A teacher of sports skills soon realizes tasks include:
• Having a concept of what the skill looks like when correctly executed
• Seeing where others are going wrong
• Correcting execution
• Leading through a proper program to eventual proper execution on
a reflex, or match, basis
Tennis is no exception. A good teacher will set up enough practice balls
so errors are corrected. This is a main task, and good teachers, pros, and
coaches work doggedly at it. There are some common misconceptions on
the part of pupils however. Perhaps it is worthwhile to examine a few of
these. First, no teacher can tell a player how to play. He can only teach the
player how to practice. It’s like a person taking piano lessons and never
touching the keys–the student simply cannot learn without actual practice
on the piano.
Some people conceive of tennis as lessons. Tennis is play. As a city tennis
director I observed people repeatedly taking beginners’ lessons from one
year to the next. When I ask them how they have done since last year they
often reply “oh, I haven’t played since the lessons,” or “I could never find
anyone to play with.”
These people haven’t understood a basic fact regarding improving one’s
tennis game: you are dependent on other people. There are some ways
to overcome this fact, namely lessons, ball machines, backboard practice,
racks of shag or practice balls – yet no one avoids the inevitable. You must
have someone you can count on to play or practice with. Often you hear “I
like to play with better people,” and perhaps to play with an equal is best.
But to play with anyone is better than not playing at all.
Often the most natural practice possibilities, i.e., family member, friends,
neighbors, or rivals, are somehow eliminated because of various reasons.
“Oh, I can’t play with my father, he shouts at me all the time,” is one excuse.
“I can’t stand to lose to her” is another. “I can’t count on them to be there
on time,” or “to play hard when they come” is frequent. At this point I think
the player should have a “heart-to-heart” with their potential practice partner. The gist of which would conclude: “Look, I need you to get better,
and I know you want the same. Let’s set a regular time, keep our mouths
shut, and promise each other we’ll work as hard as we can while we’re on
the court. Also we’ll swap practice hits on an equal basis.”
“Swap practice hits?” What does this mean? It means that if you are,
and have, a dependable friend, you can set up the practice balls rather
than pay a pro a fee for such service (or fail to practice because of an
absent coach). This agreement has enormous potential for specific shot
improvement, yet will go awry quickly unless each person is conscientious
about hitting his share of the set ups. It also helps players to make note
of their weak shots and their friend’s weak shots during play. A sincere
effort must be made by the players to set up the practice balls realistically.
(Communication helps here!) Again, it helps to “blend” shots that go
together naturally. For example, player one practices serving at the
backhand while player two practices his backhand return. Next the
players reverse roles. Drills can be fit together in a limitless number of
patterns and shots, yet some are time honored and should be emphasized.
Even coaching college men who were quite talented, one had to sell
the players on the value of drilling and their dependency on each other
to practice properly. Of course, more than two can practice together. A
coach would never allow absenteeism, tardiness, or the “I just don’t feel
like practicing hard today” excuse. For player A to improve, player B must
extend himself. The entire team’s improvement is dependent on each
member’s maximum effort to extend their teammate into improvement.
A sack or rack or bag of practice balls is a common sight around
tennis courts today. Surely you should hit “tons” of practice services. You
can bounce hit, backboard practice, and work on the ball machine. You can
take lessons from the best, but to really improve, friend, you need a friend!