Train your movement to become better player

Modern tennis is all about the movement. Many coaches say it every day. Without proper footwork and positioning, players are not able to reach their potential and compete on the highest level. Movement area is not so complicated for modern coaches because they have great opportunity to study what the best players do. With tons of drills, slow-motion videos and scientific analysis, they can’t say that they are unable to find proper information about footwork topic. However, is movement totally dependent on legs? It can sound crazy but it is not! There are couple more factors that coaches should address to players according to movement improvement. Specific areas which have to be trained are ball perception and decision-making so here is why it is so connected with the whole area of moving on the tennis court.

 

            The best guys on tour like Nadal, Djokovic or Federer, are truly 100% athletes; their bodies are strong, their feet are light and their movement is effortless. This is what we see at the first glance. However, whole process of responding to the opponent’s shot starts much earlier and have a great emphasis on the final result. Great athletes are also great observers and their ball perception is almost infallible. Club, regional and many national players decide what to do with the ball when it comes to the bounce on their side. Simply, their ball perception is not a strength so they assess spin, trajectory and depth for much longer time than top players in tennis. Modern game is terribly fast so it is impossible to compete with high-skilled athletes without early awareness of the tennis ball. When we see slow-motion videos of seeded players, it is clearly visible that most of the time they start moving when the ball is still on the opponent’s side. It means that milliseconds after the rival’s point of contact, they see, decide where the ball is going and move to take the proper court position. This skill is not inborn and it can be learned from the beginning stage of tennis.

 

There are many different drills which coaches can use to help players to develop decent ball perception. One of them is dividing court into 4 boxes and number them. Coach feeds balls and player has to say as fast as he/she can where the ball will land. Goal of this exercise is to get feedback from the player before fed ball will cross the net. If player can do that, we can progress to live ball rally with the same objective. This is an effective drill to start teaching observation skills and make players conscious that some invisible details can decide about our success. Ball perception is the first factor which has to be established to build a complete tennis athlete. Step number 2 is player’s awareness of movement. Knowing where the ball will land is not everything and it doesn’t guarantee fluid footwork. Player has to decide if ball demands to move back, stay close to the baseline or move forward. These are just 3 fundamental options which have to be learned to react quickly. One of the drills that can be used to teach players proper decision-making is this: coach feeds balls and player has to say immediately “back”, “stay” or “forward”. If the ball is deep, proper response is “back”. If the ball is short, good feedback is “forward”. With average ball, we don’t have to rush with court positioning so “stay” is enough to say. With this drill, we can still observe player’s ball perception but main emphasis is put on quick decision about direction to move. Catching clues from the early stage of ball flight and quick reaction with decision are skills which can give players an edge in almost every shot. These 2 factors are crucial to develop proper movement and we can observe confirmation of these words while looking at top players in the world.

 

When player is familiar with these skills, the last step in the process is footwork. We can work on first step explosion, technique of the movement and other important skills related to lower body. Footwork comes at the end and it is as good as the previous parts of the chain. Many players mistakenly think that footwork is solely responsible for being fast on the tennis court. This is just one part of the complex process and if not trained properly, player will never achieve personal peak level. Observation, decision and footwork are 3 skills that should be integrated into one pattern to help player recognize and respond to the ball faster. Training only one of these areas will bring some progress but it won’t achieve full possible potential. Coaches can go through different drills which should be focused on particular areas. Approach movement problem with this perspective can give us clear and quick feedback about necessary details to correct. It is pointless to spend many hours on running practice because player can have great results in this field. We have to look for weaker parts of the process and put all focus on this specific area.

 

            Movement in tennis is one of the most important areas. Seeing great athletes on TV is an example that top players in the world have to move effortlessly. Learning how to move is just one step to come closer to the image of our idols. Ball perception and decision-making skills can’t be forgotten in this complex process so coaches should teach these values from the beginning of player’s career. Definitely most of the juniors can move better but because they are not aware of real possibilities, they are focused on right but not the best methods. “React to the ball faster” is phrase used by many professional coaches but it is meaningless if player doesn’t know what components are included in “React faster” process.