The basic idea of the smart target is to improve consistency of shot making without giving up any ability to place a challenge on our opponents. My charting has proven to me that even in the pros, they rarely hit in the back 3 feet or so of the court, and when they do, it may quite well be unintended to an extent. Even though they rarely hit this deep they clearly find ways to put heavy demands on their opponents.
What we have found using these targets was a small surprise for us. I had expected that using more conservative depth and targets might well let us hit stronger, but the extent of it was still surprising - especially to some of the college players I shared this with. They found this target system allowed them to swing much more freely and that they gained extra pace and spin. They also were surprised how quickly this style of play tends to earn them a short ball to attack. When attacking short balls they find they can execute aggressively at a much higher consistency which results in far few unforced errors and more attacks converted to points won. Cone Placement For Smart Targets
I like to use a cone about 11 feet past the service line which is 2 feet past the half way point of service line to baseline. That puts the cones about 7 feet from the baseline and about 18 inches from the sideline. This is our deep cone.
For the short cone I also use 18 inches from sideline with this one being 2 feet inside the service line.
For the exact cone I use a line from the deep cone which goes across the net to the deepest doubles corner cross court. On that imaginary line the exact cone goes approximately 3 feet past the service line.
These 3 cones form a triangle shaped target zone that will work well for most all shots from down-the-line to well cross court. There will definitely be several exceptions we can discover using these targets but these 2 targets will work well for a vast majority of rally and mid to short-ball attacks. The idea is that shots will land in the triangle of course, but more to the point, the deep cone marks your target line from where your shot is contacted, as well as the maximum depth we will hit for. We will often hit slightly deeper than the deep cone due to catching the ball strong and aggressive, but that is the purpose of the margins of error built into the triangle. The 2 short cones mark an area that we generally seek to exceed form a gate if you will, to hit into the triangle and are on the shorter side of things to account for times when we are in position to go for sharper angles. As a general idea, we should hit more for the deep cone when looking to work the court more vertically and hit closer to the shorter cone section of the triangle when looking to work our shots for more width. Several important points come up on this.
learning this target system will help you hit stronger since the margin of error is better. This more than makes up for hitting closer to the lines to win points.
learning this will help you to be a better attacker in 2 major ways
learning this helps you to learn more about what balls are truly attackable vs what balls are just sort of short but still dangerous.
using smarter targets on truly attackable balls will give you more margin, but still keep things challenging for your opponents.
For doubles – it is pretty easy to just imagine targets near the center T and both side Ts. Use the center T for hitting between the opponents and the side T for heavy crosscourt and down the lines. For singles – the center T is the avoid area for about 6 feet in any direction, and both side Ts are ON the line, so we have to move in about 2 feet with the target. Remember these are mainly for creating shot paths or vectors and not so much to actually hit the targets. My mindset is to clear the net and go hard at the target. I usually end up flying or overshooting the target a bit (2-8 feet), but that matters little cause it still will stay in due to the shorter nature of the targets. The triangle aspect of the targets relates more to singles and using the bottom 2 cones as gates or a funnel to the target area and/or shot vectors. Also remember the big idea here is to focus on shot vectors that allow us to stay clear of the lines, where you may miss, get cheated, or get a bad call.