In the sport of tennis, it is extremely beneficial for you to maintain and improve your footwork. You need to be able to get to the ball by chasing it down with your feet. You need to be able to set yourself up for the shot with good feet placement and form, and lastly, you need to diversify your movement whether it be a lateral step, a forward step, or a split step.
I have taken some ideas from other coaches around the internet and from my personal experience and have suggested some specific tennis footwork drills to utilize in order to increase mobility.
Most of the footwork drills that you will be practicing cannot be done without an agility ladder. There are some very inexpensive ladders on the market and a quick Amazon.com search reveals that you can find one from anywhere from $10 to $20. Cones will cost you the same if not cheaper. I would HIGHLY recommend anyone who is reading this to purchase a ladder and cones as an investment to help with these drills.
Side Shuffle/Lateral Movement
Lateral Movement is probably the #1 style of movement that will be used in tennis. You will constantly be at the baseline moving to the right and to the left over and over again. There’s a potential to run multiple miles in a tennis match. You must be well prepared, energized and ready to move. The following Footwork Drills will prepare your body for fast, explosive movements that will prepare you for tennis practice and matches.
– Two Shuffle Feet in Each Box
Work from one side to the other by placing two feet in each box all the way through the ladder
(Make sure that you’re doing 5 sets right and left both ways, make sure you keep the arms tight together)
– Crossover Step
Work from one side of the ladder to the other by crossing over each foot and placing one foot in each box.
(Do 5 sets with 10 seconds in between each set. Make sure your arms are close to your body tight together)
– Two In Two Out
Work from one side to the other making sure you step both feet in and both feet out in each box at a fast rate.
(Make sure your arms are close to your body tight together)
– In and Out Jumps
Work from left to right making sure both feet land in the box and jump out and take two quick jumps before jumping back in.
– Rotation Drill
Set up two cones in the middle of the lines from the center hash mark to the baseline, with either the ball-machine or a partner feeding, circle each cone and stroke a forehand and follow back and stroke a backhand, shuffling each way.
The Split step is a very important type of footwork ability for tennis players. Part of the reason it is so important is that it is an anticipatory movement that you ideally make as your opponent is hitting the ball. If practiced correctly it will help your agility all over the court and explosiveness to the ball.
A proper Split step is performed by jumping 1 to 2 inches above the ground, ideally, it is timed at your opponents moment of contact with the ball.
As you can see, once you are in the air you have to spread your legs apart, and the width of this spread varies by player to player. You would essentially want a gap of about shoulder-width apart to spread your legs during the split step. Upon landing, you need to be ready to explode towards the ball with complete force. As a rule of thumb it is essential that you bend your knees in order give yourself more stability.
A good exercise to practice the split step with a hitting partner is to rally normally but practice timing bending your knees, jumping 1 to 2 inches above the ground, and landing right as your opponent hits the shot.
You can even practice this skill alone if you position yourself on the baseline facing the net and imagine you have an opponent on the other side of the net. Every time you imagine your opponent hitting the ball, perform a split step all the while making sure you have balance and upon landing run to the right corner of the baseline and then side shuffle step back to the middle of the court. After this repeat the same process going to the left corner and side shuffling back to the center. Ideally, repeat this exercise three times and take breaks of 60 seconds.
The third type of footwork is forward movement or sometimes called transition game. What this type of footwork is good for is moving from the back of the court to the front of the court to hit aggressive shots, volleys, retrieve drop shots, and lastly to hit overheads. This part of tennis is vastly overlooked today because of the popularity of the back of the court baseline game. It is important however to train these skills using this exercise.
Set up your cones in a line from the baseline to the net. Practice without the racket quick feet at one cone and then after 5 seconds of quick feet at each cone, sprint to the next cone up. After 5 seconds at that cone sprint again, keep doing this until you reach the net and then backpedal back.
With a partner set up the cones in a line to the net. Have the partner or coach feed you a ball and hit a forehand or backhand at the baseline, then sprint to the next cone and have your coach or partner feed you another forehand, make sure you are staying balanced all the time. After this have your coach feed you a volley at the next cone, sprint to the next and then have your coach/partner feed you an overhead to hit. After practicing this drill you should feel more comfortable moving forward and hitting different shots although those will be discussed in a later post.
Integrating The Skills In Practice
Always make sure when you practice by yourself, with your private coach, or with your team to work on footwork first. Footwork is easily the most important type of skill in tennis and is as essential as a serve. Work hard on your footwork and make sure that you bring a ladder, if your legs aren’t somewhat tired after practicing these few skills then you did not work hard enough. Perfect practice makes perfect and from my experience as a coach, I always see a lack of footwork in my athletes. If you can integrate these tips and use them effectively I estimate you’ll be in a better position than at least 50% of your competition.
Integrating The Skills In Matches
As mentioned above more than 50% of the athletes I see aren’t moving their feet enough to really help their game. If you can diversify the types of movement that your feet have, there is no reason that you cannot improve, win, dominate, or give yourself a competitive edge in whatever level of tennis you are participating in. I think integrating these skills into matches is somewhat of a natural thing and it will happen the more your practice. Think of your body of having a mind of its own and when it learns something new it will absolutely take time before it becomes second nature, but eventually, it will.