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7 Core Principles to Improve Tennis Footwork and Court Movement

Mar 20, 2019
image of tennis footwork

As a tennis fitness coach or trainer, it is important to be constantly learning and growing, without this approach, not much will change. We call this the “Growth mindset”. We strongly encourage everyone to have a growth mindset. We know as Tennis Fitness Coaches we need to be constantly looking for ways to benefit our players, this means being open, willing to try new things, and being creative in what we do.

The past 6 months has seen some changes for us. One of the changes involved developing a structure that gave us clear guidelines on Tennis Footwork and Court Movement. We called this our “7 Tennis Movement Principles”

We did this to give us a clear definition of what we teach our athletes. We have found it has given athletes more confidence in what they are doing and helps educate them on the importance of breaking down movement and focusing on weaker movement patterns.

To keep it simple, we highlighted 7 areas that affect overall movementthen broke them down individually and have specific ways of improving tennis footwork and court movement. Think of a chain with 7 links, we target the weakest links and then encourage the chain to move more effectively, with less chance of damage (injury).

This allows us to focus on areas that need improvement. Whether it be co-ordination, deceleration, training intensity, etc. We have found every player needs to focus on a certain area or areas. One player may be great at acceleration, but may have inadequate braking mechanisms, improving the braking and focusing on that will improve their change of direction (COD) and tennis agility. If you just focused on their overall agility, there is a good chance their braking would not improve.



7 Tennis Footwork and Court Movement Principles 


Setting good posture enables players to move from a good platform, have better tennis balance, and maintain control of their shot. Most players know what the “Ready position” is, but what happens after this and they actually move and change direction or have to stop. Learning how to hold posture through movement and holding posture whilst hitting is what this principle is about. We have developed techniques that focus on these areas.



Tennis Coordination is often undertrained in tennis players. At a young age improving the connection within the neuromuscular system is critical for enhanced hand-eye/foot-eye coordination, ball tracking, and movement response time (reaction). One area we have seen the biggest benefit from focusing on this area is a player’s ability to take prep steps or adjustment steps. Players often either take lazy small steps or large power steps. Having the ability to take small controlled steps holding a wide base is important for getting in the right position to contact the ball. We have some fundamental drills that work well to make this happen.



This principle is definitely the most undertrained area in on-court conditioning. Everyone wants to move quicker, and we see a large number of drills targeting this. However, having the capacity to stop effectively, absorb load through the right chain (joints and muscles) is crucial in many ways – Injury prevention, better positioning for ball contact, balance, setting up a good platform to transition from. We believe improving this area can reduce the number of injuries players can incur due to hitting the ball in a bad position, overloading certain areas of the body, and not allowing the body to effectively adapt to the negative loads associated with slowing down and stopping. It is very important to train this principle in a controlled environment, get the technique right, overload the body, and then let it recover. This is how we build a robust player, that can stop on a dime!




Having dynamic movement is important, the first 1-3 steps of court movement determine how effective you get from point A to point B. Players on average cover distance using what we call tennis power steps between 2-6m each movement. So, the first steps set up the speed and therefore are crucial in determining how quickly you get around court. Every athlete loves training acceleration. I do believe a lot of players can be doing their tennis drills a lot more effectively if they focus on some key areas. Contact with the ground needs to be focused on. Strong forceful steps, using a wide base. Training these two points alone, we have seen dramatic shifts in first step speed.



We found once we improve a players reaction capabilities their anticipation improves (ability to read the play or shot). This is due to the fact that once a player is highly reactive and co-ordinated, they have the capacity to focus on more than just the ball, they start to be able to read body language better and almost have more time (think being in the moment and everything seems like slow motion). What we encourage is to push a players reactive training past the point they can manage. This overloading of the sensors related to the drill stimulates the nervous system and challenges the response time, this leads to rapid improvements in reaction time. It is important to only train 5-10min of reactive drills. There are other key elements that need to be followed in order to gain maximal results.



Change of direction and tennis agility training are 2 highly sort after areas for players. In short change of direction (COD) is when you move following a sequence where you know what you are doing and where you are going. Agility involves stimulus, it is more reaction-based movement. We use the change of direction drills to focus on certain chains of movement and movement techniques. We use tennis agility drills to focus on direct specificity to court movement and match play. This principle is where we pull everything together and encourage players to move using their targeted areas as focal points. It is more specific and allows players to understand how isolating movement and then incorporating it into more specific movement is so effective. We enjoy this principle, we get to have fun and always see the gains players have achieved.



Principles 1-6 are futile if we do not adopt the right attitude towards the movement. I do not care if a player is relaxed off-court, however when they step on court every player needs to have a good “Movement Attitude”. It is one of the responsibilities of a tennis fitness coach/trainer to educate and motivate players to make this happen. If you cannot develop this skill you will be so limited with your progress as a tennis trainer/coach. We have developed some great techniques to encourage aggressive, proactive, and high-intensity movement. I will share the most basic with you. Using a stopwatch to time a player’s movement will change how they move, they will always want to improve their time, this leads to more effort and a higher intensity mindset. The more they are exposed to it, the more comfortable it will become, and the more their bodies will adapt in a positive way.

There are a few reasons why players do not move as hard and intensely as they can. They do not know their physical capabilities (this is why testing for tennis is important). They have not been encouraged to work at a higher intensity and most importantly IT HURTS. Players need to be exposed to their limits, recover and realize it is ok. Especially with young athletes gradually exposing them to their threshold and encouraging them to go there a few times a week is important to develop both physically and mentally. 


We hope you can incorporate all if not some of these principles into your training regimes. They work extremely well for us and we know they will for you too.

 For more help and advice on this topic please get in touch.


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