Having a dynamic, confident first step is important if you want to develop a fast movement around the court. This doesn’t come easy to many players. In fact, it is the area that most players struggle with, even if they don’t realize it.
The way you start your movement dictates how effective you carry out the rest of the movement and the speed you do it at. If I had to choose 3 on-court areas to focus on for any player,
I would choose -
Considering the majority of distances, we cover on-court fall under 7metres per change of direction, we need rapid acceleration, controlled deceleration, and quick response. This is a given.
The simple fact is if we cannot improve these 3 areas we won’t improve our court movement. Due to the short distances traveled before a change of direction, the speed we actually travel at is almost irrelevant compared to how effectively we accelerate, decelerate and react to the stimulus.
These three areas are where we can make up precious seconds.
Before you do perform your next tennis agility or speed drills, ensure that you have the following…. 3 must do’s in all your tennis speed and agility programs-
1. Braking or Decelerating (Tennis Speed Drills)
We usually start to teach our players to decelerate or brake before we get them doing any other tennis speed or agility drills. We have some great fun drills we use with our players, which over time have seen to be very effective. It's great if you are able to accelerate and have explosive first steps, but if you can’t brake efficiently, then your explosive first step isn’t as effective.
The best players in the world have a great braking mechanism, which gives them that edge. You may hear people say ‘wow he can stop on a dime’. Unfortunately, we do tend to train acceleration more than deceleration, which isn’t always the best. It’s all good and well if you go down the park and do a few 5 or 10m sprints, however, if you are unable to decelerate or brake effectively on the court, your court movement will be inhibited.
We believe training deceleration drills are as important, if not more important than acceleration drills. Especially when we get a bit older, you may find it a little harder to stop, when hitting out wide or running to the net for a drop shot. It is paramount that players learn how to accelerate, but more importantly decelerate. Deceleration loads the body a lot more than acceleration, during deceleration our bodies need to absorb a lot of load.
Learning how to brake effectively and hold good postural alignment is needed if we want to produce movement efficient, injury-free players. Doing specific tennis agility drills is the best plan of action, once the technique is established.
2. Specific and Purposeful (Tennis Agility Drills)
Following a program that specifically and purposefully targets acceleration and deceleration is the best place to start. You see it is not just about doing any exercise, it is about doing specific agility exercises for tennis. The main question we always ask ourselves at Tennis Fitness is ‘WHY’ are you performing this drill. Make it specific and focus on what you are trying to achieve. 75% of the court movement is lateral and between 0-7m in distance.
When performing your tennis agility drills ensure they are predominately lateral and under 7metres in distance. It’s ok if you mix it up a little but the majority of your training should be within these boundaries.
We have highlighted the importance of getting better at taking off and stopping. It doesn’t just happen, it takes dedication and focuses whilst performing tennis agility and speed drills. Not by just doing the drills, but consciously doing them know why you are doing them and what to stay focused on. This is how we create the movement habits that will crossover into practice and match play.
Try this change of direction drill above in the video and time yourself. Go all out and give 100% and try to beat your time. Let’s be honest if you’re not performing your agility or change of direction drills at 100%, you are really not getting the benefits from it.
Rather than just running through the drill, without any goal or purpose. We always like to get our players running against each other or timing each drill. We find we will get an extra 20% out of the players for that session if they have some incentive or something to chase. Which in the long run adds up… Give it a go!
3. Reactive Movement (Responding to a Stimulus)
There are two types of drills you can perform to improve court movement:
a- Change of Direction (COD) - is used to describe a pre-planned drill or movement, whereby athletes change movement direction and velocity without the inclusion of perceptual-cognitive processes. They know what they are going to do.
b- Agility – is used to describe a “rapid whole-body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus” (Sheppard & Young, 2006). There are multiple ways of doing this - Verbally, Auditory, Visually.
Now we can break it down to reactional and non-reactional drills or we like to use the terms predictable or unpredictable drills. We obviously train both, however in some cases, predictable may come more natural to some players than others and the same with unpredictable.
Have you ever noticed some tennis players are really quick off the mark, but may not have that reaction or anticipation? Then you have other players that don’t have that first step quickness, but really make up for it with their reaction and anticipation.
There is one player that really stands out to me when I was traveling on tour. Whenever I had some spare time I would walk the practice courts and this is when I noticed Martina Hingis. I would always see Martina on-court running through a number of specific agility exercises for tennis. I wouldn’t say she was the quickest on tour, but her reaction and response to a stimulus were exceptional.
They both are important when implementing your court movement drills. However, when we design our programs we like to ensure there are enough specific tennis agility drills that need a response to a stimulus, rather than running between cones with no purpose.
We always like to incorporate as many predictable drills as unpredictable drills, especially during tournament time. It isn’t always easy, especially if your training on your own, as it is common that we see players only ever incorporate drills that don’t require any direct stimulus.
However, make the effort to introduce these agility drills that require direct stimulus, as it makes it more transferable in match play, as players are required to execute directional changes in direct response to changes in their environment (e.g. opposition player).
Some great tennis agility drills we like to use with our players are tennis ball agility drills, Verbal cueing, Agility belt drills, tennis agility ladder drills or light reaction agility drills that are more reactive. (see some of these drills in the below video).
Grab a partner and perform some agility drills with them. Have them in front of you and have them react to your movement. (respond to each, others movement)
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for all players, no matter their age, gender or tennis level to work on these 3 areas in all your tennis speed and agility programs. This is your blueprint to better court movement!
If you do want some more ideas or you would like a more specific change of direction, tennis speed and agility programs, that contain the above 3 musts, then see below our new tennis speed, agility, and reaction program for doubles and singles.
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