Practice sessions have different goals. Some sessions are focused on improving technical aspects while others pay more attention to developing tactical skills in specific situations on the court. Individual approach is needed to let players improve at the fastest possible pace so it should also include the first part of the session. The warm up.
When we look at the typical tennis practice we can see that warm up time is used to hit some balls without specific goals. Players get on the court and start hitting to each other from the service line. After few minutes players move back to the baseline and start hitting again to each other with no focus at pace, depth, footwork or spin. Generally players hit some balls without improving anything.
Success in tennis is based on repeating simple things for days, months and years. There is no magic in getting better and taking own level to the more advanced state. Players who are aware of necessary steps can work on them and get advantage over the opponents who use warm up time just to hit to each other. It is important to understand that every 10-15 minutes at the beginning of tennis practice is a great opportunity to work on different aspects so if this time is not used properly overall quality of the practice session drops. For players who train 4 or 5 times a week it can mean that additional 1 hour is possible for players to improve if they approach warm up time with specific mindset.
There is no doubt that every part of the training session should have a goal to accomplish. It doesn’t matter if it is the warm up time during the first minutes of the practice or playing points at the end of it, playing without a goal doesn’t allow players to have big improvements. That is why it is crucial to develop a habit to set specific goals right from the beginning to always work on some area even when the exercise is not performed at the highest intensity.
3 variations to make on-court warm up more effective:
During the match ability to play the ball deep is a basic strategy that allows to put pressure on the opponent. That is why it is important to practice technical and tactical skills that are responsible for controlling the depth. During the warm up players can set the deep zone using cones and try to hit balls as often as possible into this zone.
There should be 2 major goals every time players step on the court and start warming up. These goals are related to preparing for the next more intensive training drills and improving various personal skills. Good way to achieve both of these goals is to alternate hitting forehands and backhands. Many players make mistake by using mostly forehands while hitting from the center so these players improve only one area of their game forgetting that opponents will look for weaknesses in their performance and play many balls to the side that is less stable.
Hit inside and outside
Good technical and tactical adaptation is needed to compete effectively. Players who don’t practice shots that happen during the match can’t expect to avoid specific mistakes while being under pressure. Good variation of the warm up focused on developing adaptation is hitting based on alternating own position on the court. Hitting one ball inside the baseline and one ball outside the baseline forces player to move consciously and make changes related to technical and tactical skills.
Play with one ball
A lot of players don’t put enough physical and mental energy into warm up time. Slow movement and lack of focus don’t allow players to improve so setting specific goal is the solution to make players work hard and improve during the first 10 minutes of the practice. Using only one ball to warm up for 10 minutes forces players to maintain good focus and play consistently without using too much power.
Practice makes perfect. This quote is famous among the athletes but to make perfect practice it has to start with the first ball on the court. Players have to approach warm up time as any other part of the session - with good focus, fast footwork and motivation to get better. If these factors are present player will definitely improve significantly and will prepare own body and mind for the next more specific drills.